The Government is facing growing calls to make its fracking ban permanent, as opponents raised concerns the major U-turn could be an election ploy.
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom on Saturday described the moratorium imposed after a damning report as “disappointing”, and made it clear it will only be in place “until the science changes”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said imposing the moratorium in the run-up to the December 12 poll is an “election stunt”, and reiterated a pledge that his party would “end fracking”.
The suspension is a reversal of years of support from the Tories, including from Boris Johnson who has consistently praised shale gas extraction and hit out at its opponents.
It came after research from the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) raised concerns over the ability to predict fracking-linked earthquakes.
Speaking to reporters in Swindon, Mr Corbyn said: “I think it sounds like fracking would come back on December 13, if they were elected back into office.
“We’re quite clear, we will end fracking.
“It seems to me like an election stunt and I think it’s what’s called euphemistically a bit of greenwash.”
The Liberal Democrats raised similar fears, with leader Jo Swinson telling the PA news agency the announcement was “a bit of a distraction”.
She added: “A moratorium is half a step in the right direction but at the end of the day this is a Government that has abolished the department of climate change and has been making it harder and preventing on-shore wind farms being built.”
Former Tory energy minister Sam Gyimah, who defected to the Lib Dems, said he does not take the announcement “seriously at all”.
He told PA: “Boris Johnson’s conversion to environmentalism is skin deep.
“It’s interesting that just as we approach an election he has decided he is against fracking.”
Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett welcomed the suspension as a “tremendous victory for communities and the climate” – but he too called for legislation to make it permanent.
The Government announced on Friday it is ending its support for fracking, a process which has provoked particular outrage in counties such as Lancashire and Yorkshire.
On Saturday, Ms Leadsom defended the suspension despite praising the “advantages” of fracking, which she hailed as “a huge opportunity”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a disappointment but we’ve always been clear that we will follow the science.”
Pressed on why a permanent ban is not being imposed, she replied: “Because this is a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom.
“We will follow the science and it is quite clear that we can’t be certain. The science isn’t accurate enough to be able to assess the fault lines, the geological studies have been shown to be inaccurate, so therefore unless and until we can be absolutely certain, we are imposing a moratorium.”
⚡ YOU'VE WON! WE'VE WON! ⚡The government has just announced an official end to their support for #fracking in England, after years of tireless campaigning. Fracking isn't wanted, isn't needed, and now – isn't happening.
Huge congratulations to all amazing campaigners! 🎉🍻💪 pic.twitter.com/XAZ7ZnDbSd
— Friends of the Earth 🌍 (@friends_earth) November 2, 2019
The OGA report found it is not possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking.
The PM has previously hailed fracking as a potential “answer to the nation’s prayers”, and called its critics’ reactions as “ludicrous” and “mad denunciations”.
But he has now followed Labour’s pledge for a ban and conceded he has “very considerable anxieties” about it, amid growing public opposition.
The climate crisis is one of the issues Mr Corbyn wants to focus on in the winter election campaign, with the party announcing a raft of measures including the creation of thousands of green jobs.