Labour branded the decision ‘appalling’ and accused the Government of pressuring the regulator to give a reprieve to fracking firm Cuadrilla
Image: Rod Harbinson/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock)
The UK’s only shale gas wells will not be sealed up by the end of June as Boris Johnson comes under pressure to tackle the energy crisis.
Fracking firm Cuadrilla had been ordered to permanently seal its wells in Lancashire within months but it has now been given a year-long reprieve, in a U-turn by regulators.
Speculation has been mounting that Boris Johnson could ditch a moratorium on fracking due to the energy crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Tories’ 2019 manifesto promised: “We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
But there have been reports that ministers could ditch the ban.
Labour branded the decision “appalling” and accused the Government of pressuring the regulator.
The move comes ahead of the publication of the Government’s delayed energy strategy, which the Prime Minister promised to publish “in days” at the start of March.
The blueprint has been held up by Cabinet in-fighting as the cost-of-living crisis escalates but it is expected in early April.
One of the issues being considered is the future of fracking and whether the moratorium should remain in place, with Downing Street insisting that the situation in Ukraine meant considering all options to increase energy independence.
Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said: “I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary for seeing the light and realising – just in time – how absurd it would have been to force us to pour concrete down Britain’s only two viable shale gas wells in the middle of an energy crisis.
“But this suspension will have a cul-de-sac ending unless we now reverse the moratorium preventing us from using the wells (and others like them) to get shale gas out of the ground and flowing into British households.”
The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said Cuadrilla applied for consent to keep its wells on March 28.
“The NSTA has looked carefully at this application, alongside recent developments, and agreed to withdraw the requirement to decommission the wells by the end of June,” the regulator said.
“Cuadrilla now have until the end of June next year to evaluate options for the Preston New Road and Elswick sites.
“If no credible re-use plans are in place by then, the North Sea Transition Authority expects to reimpose decommissioning requirements. “
Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband said: “This is an appalling decision by the regulator, made after pressure from Government.
“This has nothing to do with the energy needs of the country and everything to do with the Conservatives bowing to their backbenchers.
“The Government itself concluded that fracking is unsafe, and will not help our energy security or cut bills. And fracking is strongly opposed by local communities.
“It is a sign once again that this government cannot be trusted to make decisions in our national interest on energy security, bills, or the climate crisis.”
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A Greenpeace UK spokesperson said: “Trying to restart fracking now would only mean wasting more time when we have little.
“It will take many years to develop and if it ever gets produced, it will be sold to the highest bidder on the international market, with no impact on our energy bills.
“If the UK and Europe want to end their dependence on Russian gas, the quickest way to do that is by insulating homes, installing heat pumps and boosting renewables. “
Another contentious issue which the strategy may address is whether more onshore wind farms should be permitted to generate clean electricity.
The Prime Minister appeared to limit his support to offshore development when he appeared before MPs on Wednesday.
“Renewables are fantastic: offshore wind – and I stress offshore wind – I think has massive potential,” he said.
Mr Johnson was due to meet leaders from the wind industry on Thursday.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I can’t get into the detail of what will or won’t feature in the strategy itself.
“In terms of onshore wind, it remains an important part of the energy mix… it accounts for around a quarter of installed renewable capacity in the UK.
“We have committed to a sustained increase of locally supported onshore wind alongside other renewables such as solar and offshore in the 2020s and beyond.”
The Government has faced calls from campaigners to remove planning restrictions to make it easier to create new onshore wind farms but Mr Johnson would face political difficulties getting his Cabinet and Tory MPs to support such a move.
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