The revival of domestic fracking could be finalised this week, as Downing Street scrambles to boost domestic energy supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Industry sources confirmed to City A.M. the British Geological Society (BGS) will hand in its report to the Government in the coming days, providing advice on the latest scientific evidence around shale gas extraction.
Fracking involves pumping water, chemicals and sand underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release trapped oil and gas.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson first imposed a moratorium on fracking in 2019, following a devastating report from a leading industry body which concluded it was not possible to accurately predict the probability or potency of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.
However, following the eruption of war in Europe, the Government greenlit a survey into whether there have been new developments in the science of hydraulic fracturing that make the process safer.
Cuadrilla, the owner of the country’s two remaining horizontal shale wells in Lancashire, has suggested 10 per cent of its site’s 3.76tn cubic metres of gas could meet the UK’s energy needs for the next 50 years
If the report from the BGS suggest the process could be made safe, it could result in further production at the site.
By contrast, if the BGS’ findings concerning safety are negative, it will likely be the closing chapter for domestic fracking – with the North Sea Transition Authority previously ordering Cuadrilla to plug the facility.
Could fracking provide relief to potential supply shortages?
The Institute of Economic Affairs’ energy analyst Andy Mayer told City A.M. the alternative to fracking was depending on overseas imports, which would be both more environmentally damaging and more expensive.
He said: “The UK’s choice on fossil fuels today is drill and dig, or dither and import.”
Mayer argued fracking was “not an environmental or safety question” as domestic production had lower emissions and high standards than other fracking sites worldwide.
Commenting on how to ensure a positive role for fracking in the future, he explained: “To make a difference the Government can’t just lift the moratorium, they need to streamline regulation and stop tinkering with taxes. We can then use the windfall from the UK’s natural resources to fund the low carbon future.”
Charles McAllister, Director of Policy, Government and Public Affairs UK Onshore Oil and Gas, criticised the government’s “fingers crossed” approach to energy security, and argued shale gas could quickly deliver energy to help meet customer needs and ensure supply security.
Speaking to City A.M., he said: “In terms of delivering the maximum amount of energy, quickly, with the least amount of land, hydraulic fracturing is the best available technology at the UK’s disposal. The moratorium on fracking needs to be lifted without delay to allow the development of one of the greatest strategic industrial opportunities for a generation”
He further suggested fracking could help bridge the difficult pathway to net zero and drive down energy bills.
However, environmental think tanks such as Green Alliance criticised the Government for reconsidering the role of fracking and the general increase in fossil fuel solutions to both the energy crisis and manufacturing shortfalls, including the coal mine in Cumbria which awaits approval this week.
Helena Bennett, head of climate policy told City A.M.: “UK energy security shouldn’t still be depending on the old world solutions of fracking and coal. They won’t relieve the burden on households struggling to pay their energy bills due to the costs and timelines involved. And they seriously threaten climate security. Fracking is widely unpopular and the UK steel industry has shown no interest in Cumbrian coal. “
The consumer price cap spiked to nearly £2,000 per year in April – a record high – and Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley has warned prices could rise to £2,800 per year in October.
Meanwhile, Russia has cut flows into Europe, raising the prospect of an energy crunch this winter – with Europe only staving off supply shortages last winter courtesy of a top-ups in liquefied natural gas from US tankers.