The UK government has been urged to withdraw its instruction to plug the country’s only shale wells and lift the ban on fracking to alleviate the energy crisis which has been worsened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The government imposed a moratorium on shale gas mining in England in 2019 after two minor earthquakes were attributed to fracking operations.
Last month, energy company Cuadrilla said the government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) had ordered its two horizontal shale wells in Lancashire to be filled and abandoned.
But there have been calls from Conservative lawmakers for the ban to be lifted to alleviate the acute energy crisis that has been going on since last year. The calls have grown louder since Russia invaded Ukraine last month, prompting the UK to commit to phasing out imports of Russian oil by the end of the year.
On March 9, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government is “open to the idea of fracking” and thinks “it didn’t necessarily make any sense” to plug the shale wells.
But Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said on March 14 that work to concrete up the wells will have to start “imminently” in the absence of any official confirmation that the government wanted to halt the move.
Egan said there had been repeated contact with the Business Department and the OGA since last week, but the only “clear and unambiguous response” was confirmation from the OGA that June 30 remains the legal deadline to plug both wells with cement.
“As it takes between two and three months to complete the work we must start on site imminently,” he said.
He urged the government to formally withdraw its instruction to plug the wells.
He also called for “sensible protections” to be put in place to “ensure that companies like Cuadrilla and others aren’t forced to suffer the risk and financial cost of operating in a position where a government can keep changing its mind and require wells to be cemented whilst they are eminently useful.”
“If we are serious about energy security, as a very basic first step we must not concrete up these wells, and then we need urgently to lift the shale gas moratorium and use these and additional wells to produce domestic shale gas,” he said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “We want to keep all options available to us, given these unique circumstances we find with the war in Ukraine, to help us move away from Russian gas.
“Beyond that we haven’t provided any further updates but we will do so if that changes. While we are developing our plans, which we are going to set out this month, the moratorium on shale gas does remain in place.”
PA Media contributed to this report.