The government has lifted a ban on fracking for shale gas, in place since 2019 after a series of tremors, even though a review concluded that forecasting related earthquakes “remains a scientific challenge”.
Business and energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said strengthening the UK’s energy security is “an absolute priority” in light of “Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponisation of energy”.
In a bid to make the UK a net energy exporter by 2040, the country must explore “all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production – so it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas,” he said.
The government claims the gas could start flowing within six months, but experts say it could take a decade, doing little to enhance energy security or lower bills. Its climate advisors have warned of the risk of locking the country into fossil fuel infrastructure when it should be transitioning to green energy.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng said in February as then business secretary that additional UK gas production would not affect gas prices, which are set internationally.
“UK producers won’t sell shale gas to UK consumers below the market price. They’re not charities,” he said at the time.
The government has also confirmed plans for a new oil and gas licensing round, launching in October, paving the way for more than 100 new licences for exploration, which could involve fracking.
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change and net zero secretary, called fracking a “dangerous fantasy”.
“It costs far more than renewables, it is unsafe and it is deeply unpopular with the public,” he said.
The government reaffirmed its commitment to allow fracking “where there is local support” – previous attempts were met with fierce opposition from residents.
The most recent government polling found just 17% of the public supported fracking in autumn 2021, compared with 87% who backed renewable energy.
Mr Miliband accused the Conservatives of breaking a 2019 manifesto commitment that pledged not to support fracking “unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely”.
Read more: Could fracking come to your area?
In April the government commissioned the British Geological Survey (BGS) to assess whether there had been any progress in techniques to “reduce the risk and magnitude of seismic events” from the shale gas extraction method, which involves drilling into the earth and firing a high-pressure mixture at the rock in order to release the gas inside.
The peer-reviewed report, which has been with the business and energy department since July but was published today, admitted that projecting the occurrence and magnitude of large earthquakes “remains a scientific challenge for the geoscience community”.
It acknowledged some new analysis techniques that “could help to manage the risk,” but said they need development before they could be incorporated into any risk assessments.
Durham University’s honorary professor of earth sciences Andrew Aplin said the report shows “our ability to predict the magnitude of fracking-induced earth tremors has barely changed”.
He urged leaders to focus on reducing the demand for gas rather than increasing supply.
The government has resisted calls to address demand through measures such as retrofitting homes with insulation, which numerous think tanks say would also lower bills.
However, Prime Minister Liz Truss has pledged to freeze energy bills at an average of £2,500 a year, which will be paid for by borrowing.