The U.K. government formally lifted a ban on fracking for shale gas in England on Thursday, citing Russia’s war on Ukraine and the “weaponization of energy” as justification for exploring “all avenues” to achieve energy security.
A moratorium on shale-gas production has been in place in England since 2019, amid concerns about minor earthquakes set off by the hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — process. The U.K.’s goal of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 had also seen fracking fall down the agenda in recent years.
However, new Prime Minister Liz Truss has placed a much stronger emphasis on energy security, is pushing for the U.K. to exploit more of its remaining fossil fuel reserves, and has a target for the country to become a net exporter of energy by 2040. Despite warnings from energy analysts that any significant gains from shale-gas production could be many years off, Truss has made lifting the ban a totemic element of her energy strategy.
The U.K. also confirmed its support on Thursday for a new licensing round for North Sea oil and gas, enabling developers to search for new reserves.
A formal decision on fracking had been expected following a scientific review of the impacts of extraction, including earthquake risk, by the British Geological Society, which was also published Thursday. The report concluded that forecasting the risk of earthquakes and their magnitude “is complex and remains a scientific challenge”.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, however, argued that lifting the ban would enable the further data to be collected.
Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “In light of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponization of energy, strengthening our energy security is an absolute priority, and — as the prime minister said — we are going to ensure the UK is a net energy exporter by 2040. To get there we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production — so it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause [on fracking] to realise any potential sources of domestic gas.”
Fracking has been unpopular in the U.K., with a fall 2021 government analysis finding 44 percent opposed and only 17 percent supportive. Bans remain in place in Scotland and Wales.