The UK has cited the crisis in Ukraine as a reason to revisit shale gas fracking, otherwise known as fracking, on British soil, in a move that has sparked controversy among environmental activists and the government. opposition from political parties.
Hydraulic fracturing has been banned in the UK since 2019, when shale gas extraction in Lancashire caused minor earthquakes and environmental and local community groups raised concerns about the fledgling industry.
In a letter sent on Tuesday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng asked the British Geological Society, or BGS, to conduct a three-month investigation and report on any “new developments in the science of fracking” that could “reduce the risk and magnitude of seismic events.” Kwarteng also asked the BGS to review any new sites outside of Lancashire County that may have less “problematic geology.”
Kwarteng said that while fracking was not a solution to the current rise in gas and oil prices, the conflict in Ukraine meant that the government had to “keep all possible methods of generating and producing energy on Table”.
Last month, Kwarteng also cited the conflict in Ukraine as justification for expanding drilling operations in the North Sea, where the government is expected to greenlight six new oil and gas projects this year.
Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned all nations for considering new fossil fuel projects, after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, released a dire warning about the state of global warming.
Caroline Lucas, a British MP and former leader of the Green Party, called the government’s decision on fracking “totally absurd”.
“The very day after the IPCC declared emissions to be at their highest level in human history, and that we are on a fast track to climate catastrophe, our government decides that the response to our crisis energy is hydraulic fracturing,” Lucas tweeted.
Ami McCarthy, a political campaigner with Greenpeace UK, said she feared Britain’s energy strategy, which is due this week, could be bad news for climate efforts.
“Less than 24 hours after the UN called new fossil fuel investments economic folly, the government has launched a review of fracking,” she said. “That doesn’t bode well for Thursday’s upcoming energy strategy.”
Andy Mayer, an energy analyst at the British conservative think tank Institute of Economic Affairs, backed the fracking review.
“The core issues are simple. The UK needs gas…the UK can either fracture that gas or import it from somewhere else,” Mayer said. “If we fracture, we can use the tax to fund our low-carbon transition and compensate local communities.”
Some experts have questioned whether the UK is suitable for commercial fracking, and there are questions about the timing of possible renewed exploration, as the UK has pledged to decarbonise its electricity system by 2035 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
“The risks associated with fracking in the UK are manageable within a strict regulatory framework,” said Andrew Aplin, professor of geosciences at Durham University. “But shale gas would only have a significant impact on UK imports if, over the next few years, thousands of successful wells were drilled at hundreds of sites across the north of England.”