Ineos chief Sir Jim Ratcliffe urges Kwasi Kwarteng to approve fracking test site
Billionaire industrialist Sir Jim Ratcliffe has asked Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng for permission to drill a shale test site.
The founder of Ineos is offering to develop a fully functioning test site to demonstrate that the technology can be safe, according to The Times.
Ratcliffe said it was a “ridiculous situation” to have “so much gas under our feet” with the UK in the “midst of an energy crisis with ever increasing prices driving people into fuel poverty whilst giving huge sums of money to oppressive regimes”.
He argued the test site would show that a “competent operator can be trusted to develop the technology safely”.
Last weekend, Ratcliffe criticised the government for abandoning fracking in 2019, without the “decency of an apology.”
Fracking gains momentum after survey announcement
This follows the Kwarteng announcing a new survey into fracking last week, which will be undertaken by the British Geological Society.
It will focus on whether the process is safe and if new technology makes potential tremors more predictable.
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 imposed a moratorium on fracking in 2019, after a report from the Oil and Gas Authority – now known as the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) – concluded it was not possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.
NSTA then ordered Cuadrilla to plug and abandon two shale wells – the only operating and licensed sites in the UK – in Lincolnshire earlier this year.
However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the increasing need for energy security has changed the mood music at Downing Street.
Household energy bills have spiked to nearly £2,000 per year – leading the government to roll out plans to boost domestic energy production over the coming decades.
While fracking was not included in the government’s energy security strategy, the NSTA have since lifted its plugging order while the government has unveiled a new survey – delaying the closure of both sites until at least July 2023.
Kwarteng remains doubtful of fracking’s value
Cuadrilla, alongside industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) has pointed to estimates that there was 37.6tn cubic meters of shale gas potentially available nationwide.
It argued that if 10 per cent was recoverable, this could meet the UK’s energy needs for 50 years.
Andy Mayer, energy analyst at the Institute of Economic Affairs, argued fracking could significantly reduce the UK’s reliance on overseas imports – which make up around half of the country’s natural gas supplies.
Last month, he told City A.M.: “The UK needs gas, we either frack or import. These are the choices, with North Sea reserves a small fraction of the potential onshore. If we frack, we tax, and use the money to pay for the low carbon transition. If we import, we fund Russian tanks through the EU interconnectors. The economic and moral choice is to frack.”
However, Kwarteng has been sceptical of the value fracking could provide to the UK’s energy mix since taking over as Business Secretary.
Earlier this year, he said on Twitter: “UK production won’t materially affect the wholesale market price. This includes fracking – UK producers won’t sell shale gas to UK consumers below the market price. They’re not charities.”
In the announcement of a review he warned that “unless the latest scientific evidence demonstrates that shale gas extraction is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby, the pause in England will remain in place.”
A government spokesperson said: “We do not currently know how much shale gas can be extracted safely and economically as testing has been limited to a few initial test wells. That is why we have commissioned the British Geological Survey to advise on the latest scientific evidence around shale gas extraction.”
It also confirmed its policy on fracking has not changed and unless the latest scientific evidence.