LONDON (AP) — The British government on Tuesday ordered scientists to take a new look at the risks of fracking, as soaring fuel prices and squeezed supplies prompt a rethink about the country’s energy supply.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng asked the British Geological Survey to review the evidence and report by June “on the geological science of shale gas fracturing and the modelling of seismic activity in shale rocks in the U.K.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas. The process has long been controversial in Britain, with attempts to establish a fracking industry meeting strong opposition from environmentalists.
The government suspended fracking in November 2019, saying it was not possible to accurately predict tremors associated with the drilling. That looked like a fatal blow to the industry as Britain sought to move away from fossil fuels and cut U.K. carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia, a major oil and gas supplier — have made countries including the U.K. rethink their energy supplies with the goal of reducing dependence on imported fuel. The fossil fuel industry and some lawmakers are pressing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government to end the fracking ban and to increase the extraction of North Sea oil and gas.
Kwarteng said it was important to keep “all possible energy generation and production methods on the table.”
He added that the pause on fracking would remain “unless the latest scientific evidence demonstrates that shale gas extraction is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby.”
Cuadrilla Resources Ltd., which operated Britain’s only active shale wells until 2019, welcomed the review as a “tentative first step” towards overturning the moratorium.
“We trust that this review will allow Britain’s huge shale gas resources to be exploited,” said chief executive Francis Egan.
But Friends of the Earth energy activist Danny Gross said “energy efficiency and developing the U.K.’s vast renewable power potential are the best ways to deal with the energy crisis and bring down soaring fuel bills.”
On Thursday the U.K. government will release its long-term energy strategy, which is expected to call for more nuclear power plants and offshore wind farms — but not more onshore wind farms, which are seen by some Conservative lawmakers as vote-losing eyesores.
The United Nations’ climate panel warned Monday that temperatures on Earth will shoot past a key danger point unless greenhouse gas emissions fall faster than countries have committed to. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed “a litany of broken climate promises” that “put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world.”
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