The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has stopped government support for the fracking industry after updated scientific analysis concluded it is not possible to predict earthquakes caused by shale gas extraction.
The department was responding to an Oil and Gas Authority report that concluded further detailed analysis would be needed before hydraulic fracturing could resume.
Setting out the reason for the decision on Saturday, business and energy secretary Andrea Leadsom said while the government acknowledged the “huge potential of UK shale gas to provide a bridge to a zero carbon future”, shale gas exploration must be carried out safely.
“In the UK, we have been led by the best available scientific evidence, and closely regulated by the Oil and Gas Authority, one of the best regulators in the world.
“After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community. For this reason, I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect.”
Fracking has been taking place at a Preston New Road site in Lancashire by energy company Cuadrilla, but analysis of seismic disturbances at the site has led to a halt on fracking.
A traffic light system was introduced in 2012 to regulate seismicity caused by shale gas exploration. This led to the suspention of operations at the Preston New Road site after a magnitude 2.9 event was recorded on 26 August.
The OGA has advised the government that until further studies can provide clarity, the regulator will not be able to say with confidence that further hydraulic fracturing would meet the government’s policy aims of ensuring it is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby.
The department has therefore now introduced a presumption against issuing any further hydraulic fracturing consents until “compelling new evidence” of its safety can be produced. While future applications for consents will be considered on their own merits by the secretary of state, in accordance with the law, BEIS said the shale gas industry should take the government’s position into account when considering new developments.
OGA director of regulation Tom Wheeler said: “Since the OGA suspended hydraulic fracturing at Preston New Road we have been considering whether the operator’s plans are still appropriate to manage the risk of induced seismicity. The OGA’s considerations have been informed both by the seismic events and by independent scientific analysis of data from the first Preston New Road well.
“Based on these, the OGA believes that further detailed geomechanical analysis would be needed before we could evaluate with confidence whether hydraulic fracturing could resume in the Fylde, or elsewhere, consistent with the government’s policy aims.”
The government also confirmed it will not take forward proposed planning reforms for shale gas developments. It consulted on the proposals in 2018.
The decision comes after the National Audit Office last week said BEIS was unable to calculate the full cost of its support for the fracking industry.
In a report looking at the development of the government’s policy on shale gas extraction, auditors found at least £32.7m of public money had been spent in support of developments since 2011. This includes £13.4m spent by three local police forces on managing protests around shale gas sites, but not the cost of appeals, judicial reviews, or the time and expenses of public servants.