Campaigners have condemned the government’s “shocking” decision to resume fracking in Lancashire, saying it shows the UK is not serious about avoiding climate breakdown.
Energy firm Cuadrilla has resumed hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – operations on its second horizontal well at Preston New Road, which it said will be completed by the end of November. Flows of gas from the well will then be tested, with results expected in early 2020, the company said.
Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey tweeted: “This week a study found that fracking has caused a spike in methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – in the atmosphere. Today, our government considers relaxing earthquake rules to make fracking easier.”
The move has triggered renewed calls for the controversial process of extracting fossil fuels to be banned. Gina Dowding, Green Party MEP for the northwest said: “Fracking is not a bridge to a cleaner future – it is simply another fossil fuel. We should be banning fracking and transitioning to a low carbon society with great urgency.”
The new fracking will take place within the traffic light system which temporarily halts operations if seismic activity above a certain level is recorded.
Operations to frack the first horizontal well at Preston New Road, the only site in the UK where the process is taking place, had to be stopped on a number of occasions as minor quakes were recorded – prompting calls from the industry for a review of the rules.
But the government has previously said it had no plans to review the rules and says shale gas could support the UK’s transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Rosie Rogers, head of climate at Greenpeace UK said it was “shocking” the government was supporting fracking. “It’s time the government admitted that they backed the wrong horse and started backing the right one,” she said.
The move was also criticised by Jamie Peters, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, who said: “Kick-starting an entire new fossil fuel industry when the impacts of climate breakdown are already ruining lives, including right here in the UK, doesn’t line up with the government’s claims to be a climate leader.
“Fracking just isn’t part of the future if we are serious about avoiding climate breakdown. Instead of backing climate-wrecking fracking the government should ban it and support renewable energy and green jobs instead.”
Laura Hughes, projects and operations director at Cuadrilla, said Preston New Road was one of the most monitored oil and gas sites anywhere in the world and the company had proved “it is a well-run, entirely safe and environmentally responsible operation”.
She added: “We also know there is a reservoir of recoverable high-quality natural gas beneath our feet that the UK needs if we are to reach net zero by 2050.”
As fracking resumed at Preston New Road, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “Shale gas could be an important new domestic energy source reducing the level of gas imports while delivering broad economic benefits, including through the creation of well-paid, quality jobs.
“It could also support our transition to net zero emissions by 2050. We have world-leading regulations that ensure shale gas exploration happens in a safe and environmentally responsible way.”
The spokesperson added that the Oil and Gas Authority was undertaking a scientific assessment of recent industry data on the regulations, which the government said it will consider once completed.
The government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change has said gas would continue to play a role in a net zero economy. But gas consumption would fall by around a third, with substantial cuts in buildings, power and industry partially offset by new demand for gas to produce hydrogen.
The committee has also previously said fracking is not compatible with the UK’s climate targets unless emissions such as methane from production are strictly controlled and overall gas consumption stays within the targets.
Additional reporting by Press Association