UK Fracking Ban Lifted as Government Gives the Green Light

on Dec 13, 2012

Shale gas fracking in the UK can resume after the government decided to lift the ban on exploratory hydraulic fracturing. The Energy secretary Ed Davey however announced new controls to mitigate the risks of earthquakes associated with the controversial shale gas extraction technology.

**Fracking Ban Lifted**
On 13 December 2012, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced in a press release that exploratory hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, popularly known as fracking, can resume in the UK.
The technology of pumping water and chemicals into rocks to release shale gas was suspended in the UK in 2011 after Cuadrilla Resources Ltd, the only company to have currently conducted the process in the UK, triggered two small tremors near Blackpool. The Financial Times reports that since then studies have indicated that the tremors could have been avoided if more stringent safety measures had been in place. “Fracking must be safe and the public must be confident that it is safe,” noted Mr Davey in DECC’s press release.

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**Tighter Rules**
To achieve the abovementioned goal, the government announced new controls for shale gas exploration. Some of the measures include a requirement for seismic monitoring before, during and after shale gas drilling, as well as a “fracking plan” to be submitted to DECC showing how seismic risks will be addressed. A new traffic light system will be applied to categorise seismic activity and a trigger mechanism will stop fracking operations in certain conditions.

!m[Shale Gas Seen As “Promising” Energy Resource](/uploads/story/1029/thumbs/pic1_inline.png)The Times reports that Cuadrilla Resources, which now will be able to resume operations, will have to stop fracking if tremors reach a magnitude of 0.5 on the Richter scale. The largest tremor triggered near Lancashire last year measured 2.3. The company plans to frack two more sites near Lancashire and is also expected to do the same at its site near West Sussex. “Today’s decision will allow continued exploration and testing of the UK’s very significant shale resources in a way that fulfils the highest environmental and community standards,” said Cuadrilla’s CEO Francis Egan, as quoted by Reuters.

DECC’s decision predictably spurred negative comments from environmentalists, with The Times quoting Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth as saying that giving fracking the green light “will send shock waves across the UK.”
**Shale Gas Potential**
Although there has been no commercial shale gas production in the UK so far, unconventional gas is seen as having an important place in the UK’s energy mix. “Shale gas represents a promising new potential energy resource for the UK,” noted Mr Davey in DECC’s press release. “It could contribute significantly to our energy security, reducing our reliance on imported gas, as we move to a low carbon economy.”

While at present only Cuadrilla has a shale gas exploration licence in Britain, the UK government expects that lifting the ban on fracking will prompt other companies to come forward. “I think with this announcement that there are other companies who will apply for exploration licences,” noted Simon Toole, DECC’s head of licensing, exploration and development, as quoted by Reuters. In a ministerial statement, Mr Davey said that he was “in principle prepared to consent to new fracking proposals for shale gas, where all other necessary permissions and consents are in place.”


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