Ban on gas fracking lifted in UK in push for energy independence

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  • Britain is pushing to increase its domestic energy supply
  • The moratorium is effective from 2019
  • Further research is needed to assess the risk of tremors
  • The BGS study says there are challenges in predicting impact

LONDON, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Britain on Thursday formally lifted a ban on shale gas in England from 2019, saying strengthening the country’s energy supply was an “absolute priority”.

Energy prices have soared in Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine, and Britain is subsidizing bills for homes and businesses at a projected cost of 100 billion pounds ($113 billion).

New Prime Minister Liz Truss said earlier this month that the extraction of shale gas by fracking rocks – where supported by communities – would be allowed.

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Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said Thursday that all energy sources should be explored to boost domestic production, “so it is right that we lift the pause to realize potential sources of domestic gas.”

Fracking, opposed by environmental groups and some local communities, was banned after the industry regulator said it could not predict the magnitude of earthquakes it could trigger.

Rees-Mock, however, said the practice was “safe” and that the limits of seismic activity should be reevaluated. read more

Quadrilla is 96% owned by Australia’s AJ Lucas (AJL.AX)It had the most advanced fracking wells in Britain and found a natural gas resource, but rules around earthquakes required it to suspend operations, meaning neither of its wells had been fully flow-tested.

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The company welcomed the decision and pledged to return a portion of shale gas revenues to local communities.

“Lifting the ban will enable the shale industry to unlock sufficient quantities of UK offshore natural gas to meet UK demand for decades,” Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan said.

Chemicals and energy company INEOS, which holds several British shale gas exploration licences, said the government should treat shale gas development as a “national infrastructure priority”.

Experts say restarting the industry will do nothing to lower energy prices this winter, however, as an industry will take years to develop and it is unclear whether significant amounts of gas can be extracted. read more

“Even if the risks prove manageable and acceptable, shale gas will only have a significant impact on UK supply if thousands of successful wells are drilled over the next decade,” said Andrew Aplin, honorary professor at Durham University.

Their devolved governments have said bans on fracking in Scotland or Wales will continue.

Trembling

A report commissioned by the government and published by the British Geological Survey (BGS) on Thursday said it was “challenging” to assess the potential seismic impact due to small cracks in the country.

In 2011, Cuadrilla’s site in Blackpool, northern England, was hit by the biggest tremors from fracking, recorded at 2.3 on the Richter scale, and residents reported waking them up at night.

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After this, the government introduced a traffic light system that shuts down if seismic activity of 0.5 or more on the Richter scale is detected.

PGS said the threshold is the most conservative of any region where fracking has occurred, with some states in the United States, where fracking is common, having a size 4 limit.

Rees-Mock said activity of 2.5 and below happened “millions of times a year around the world”, adding that the limits of ground level movement for the construction industry were twice what had been achieved in the UK.

The government said allowing drilling to restart would generate data to understand how shale gas can be safely extracted where local support exists.

It also confirmed its support for a new oil and gas licensing round expected to be launched by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) in early October.

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Paul Sandle and Susanna Twittale, reporting by William James and Mark Potter, Kirsten Donovan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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