The moratorium on fracking has officially been lifted by the government to “bolster the UK’s energy security.”
Applications for Hydraulic Fracturing Consent will now be considered where there is local support, with developers are still required to have the necessary licences, permissions and consents in place.
The significant change was announced by Prime Minister Liz Truss on 8 September when she rolled out a number of support measures for consumers and businesses in light of the surging energy prices.
This includes the Energy Price Guarantee, which caps electricity unit prices for domestic customers at 34.0p/kWh, and the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, which caps the electricity unit rates for businesses at £211/MWh.
Energy prices have surged throughout 2022 to record highs, driven by the volatility created by Russian’s invasion of Ukraine. As such, there has been a push to increase domestic productions, with Truss also announcing a new target for the UK to be a net exporter by 2040.
“In light of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponisation 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,” said Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg.
“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 to realise any potential sources of domestic gas.”
The change to the moratorium has been met by significant criticism by opposition groups, environmental organisations, those in the energy industry and those in Rees-Mogg’s own party.
Additionally, recent government polling found just 17% of the public support fracking – dramatically lower than technologies like solar, which is popular with over 80% of the public.
The end to the moratorium coincides with the British Geological Survey publishing its scientific review of shale gas extraction, which was commissioned earlier this year by the government. This highlighted the limited understanding of UK geology and onshore shale resources currently, as well as the challenges to modelling the complex geology found in the country.
“There have only been 3 test wells which have been hydraulically fractured in the UK to date,” the government noted in a statement.
“It is clear that we need more sites drilled in order to gather better data and improve the evidence base and we are aware that some developers are keen to assist with this process.”
Along with the change to the moratorium on fracking, the government has also confirmed its support for a new oil and gas licensing round, which it expects to be launched by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) in early October.
This is expected to lead to 100 new licenses spread across a number of new ‘blocks’ of the UK Continental Shelf. These licenses will allow developers to search for commercially viable oil and gas sources, and will still require regulatory approval for any activities conducted within the licensed areas.
Along with the end to the moratorium on fracking and the oil and gas licensing round, Truss committed to drive forward the acceleration of new sources of energy supply including nuclear, wind and solar, when she addressed the House of Commons earlier this month.
No further details have yet been released as to what form this support will take.