Fracking is to stop in the UK the Government has announced, following widespread concern after a series of earth tremors caused by the country’s only horizontally drilled, fracked wells, here in Lancashire.
The Government said that due to the limitations of current technology, no new licences for fracking will be issued to any companies in the UK and that the existing licences will continue, but will not be renewed when they lapse
The licence at the Preston New Road site runs out at the end of the month and, so far, gas exploration company Cuadrilla has not applied to Lancashire County Council to renew it.
The Government moratorium comes after new scientific analysis by the Oil and Gas Authority following the last tremor of 2.9 magnitude on August 26, widely felt across the Fylde.
The government said the report “found that it is not currently possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.
“Ministers have always been clear that the exploration of the UK’s shale gas reserves could only proceed if the science shows that it is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby.
“On the basis of the disturbance caused to residents living near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire and this latest scientific analysis, the Government has announced a moratorium on fracking until compelling new evidence is provided.”
Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Whilst acknowledging the huge potential of UK shale gas to provide a bridge to a zero carbon future, I’ve also always been clear that shale gas exploration in the UK 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.”
The moratorium announced late on Friday effectively means an end for the forseeable future to the 10 year experiment to see if gas could be recovered in commercially useable amounts from the deep-lying shale rock beneath Lancashire.
It also means the end to years of worry for residents living close to the drill sites who feared tremors caused by hydraulic fracturing, as well as pollution to water and air in the area.
The controversial technique to get at hard to reach natural gas involves the injection of millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand thousands of feet down into shale rock to release the gas and bring it to the surface.
It has been widespread in the USA, but sparked thousands of complaints of water pollution and earth quakes.
Environmentalists in the UK feared that it would only add to the global warming problem as well as pose a hazard to people in the more densely populated island where the thousands of wells needed would be close to many homes.
Bitter battles have been fought to oppose fracking in Lancashire since the first two tremors in 2011 felt across the Fylde which were caused by Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site near Weeton.
The planning applications by Cuadrilla to drill and frack at Preston New Road and at Roseacre Wood were opposed by parish councils, borough councils and by Lancashire County Council.
But the rejection by County Hall in June 2015 was later overturned by the Conservative Government which was keen to see the industry develop in the hope it would provide a home-grown source of gas, jobs and a boost to the economy.
Cuadrilla had said, if successful the shale gas industry could support up to 60,000 jobs nationwide.
However, strict limits were imposed when the Government gave the green light to fracking in 2012 following a moratorium after the 2011 tremors. They included a “traffic light system” whereby work had to pause if a tremor of 0.5ML was detected caused by fracking.
Cuadrilla, which had initially agreed to those limits in 2012, had since campaigned along with fracking support groups to have the limits raised.
The 0.5ML limit, which cannot be felt at the surface, was triggered scores of times by both the first and second wells drilled at Preston New Road when fracking resumed there in 2018 and again this year. The largest tremor prompted the regulator OGA to call a halt to operations.
While his Government has openly backed fracking, Fylde Conservative MP Mark Menzies has campaigned for years for robust “gold standard” monitoring and regulations.
He welcomed the decision saying that it was crystal clear that fracking was “now gone.” He said the huge cost of investment up front meant that firms were unlikely to try in the future.
Mr Menzies had secured meetings with the industry regulator the Oil and Gas Authority, and with the Minister of State for Business and Energy Kwasi Kwarteng following the August tremors.
He said today: “There will be no fracking in the UK.
“This is a necessary decision and something that, when I met with the OGA and the minister in recent weeks following the 2.9 magnitude tremor, that I have called for.
“This has come about due to the stringent regulations and transparency we had put in place, and which I fought for from day one.
“I would like to thank the Government and the regulator for looking at all of the science and the data, and acting in the best interests of people in Fylde.”
A Cuadrilla spokesman said they could not yet comment until they had studied the OGA report.
Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, on behalf of the industry said:
“We have not yet seen the report and until a detailed analysis is undertaken, it is difficult to comment further. Going forward, we are fully committed to working closely with the OGS to demonstrate that we can operate safely and environmentally responsibly.”