Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has not ruled out a government U-turn on fracking – after it imposed a moratorium on the process in 2019.
Speaking in the House of Commons today, he said: “The government has always been clear that we will take a precautionary approach that supports shale gas exploration if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way. That remains our position, and we will be evidence-led. This is what we wrote and said in 2019, and we are still committed to that.”
The comments reflect a sharp turnaround in Kwarteng’s position.
As recently as last weekend, he told The Mail on Sunday fracking would have minimal effect on soaring wholesale costs and would come at a high cost for communities and the countryside.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is reportedly open-minded to the idea of bringing back fracking, despite putting the brakes on the UK’s domestic industry three years ago.
According to The Telegraph, he wants ministers to look again at whether fracking could help diversify the UK’s energy supply.
The issue is increasingly urgent following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the government’s decision yesterday to phase out Russian oil imports over the year.
The newspaper further revealed ministers now want England’s two remaining viable shale gas wells to be handed to the British Geological Survey rather than sealed up with concrete.
Last month, Cuadrilla was ordered by the Oil and Gas Authority last month to seal its two shale wells in Lancashire, while fracking was also not featured in the UK’s ten point energy plan – which is chiefly focused on renewables, nuclear and North Sea projects.
This is despite fears over supply disruptions driving up wholesale prices and powering recent rallies in the oil markets – with gloomy estimates the consumer price cap could be hiked to £3,000 per year this October.
Fracking – short for hydraulic fracturing – is a process that involves drilling into the ground and pumping down liquid at high pressure to extract oil or natural gas.
It is widely used in the US, helping the country increase its energy independence, but has met fierce opposition in the UK from green activists, amid concerns over tremors caused by the process.
However, Cuadrilla recently told City A.M. such concerns were overstated and would have been solvable with government support.
UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) has cited industry estimates 37.6tn cubic meters of potential reserves available domestically.
If 10 per cent was extracted, it argues this would help meet the UK’s energy needs for the next five decades.