Flip Flop: UK Halts Fracking in England, Effective Immediately, Over Earthquake Fears

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

The UK on Saturday halted all fracking in England, following publication of a report by the Oil And Gas Authority (OGA) into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, a site operated by exploration and production company Cuadrilla.

According to Phys.org in Britain calls halt on fracking following government U-turn:

The OGA report found that it was not currently possible to accurately predict the technology’s potential for triggering earthquakes.

As the Guardian reports in, Fracking halted in England in major government U-turn:

The government has halted fracking in England with immediate effect in a watershed moment for environmentalists and community activists.

Ministers also warned shale gas companies it would not support future fracking projects, in a crushing blow to companies that had been hoping to capitalise on one of the new frontiers of growth in the fossil fuel industry.

The decision draws a line under years of bitter opposition to the controversial extraction process in a major victory for green groups and local communities.

The new moratorium applies to England only; Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales already have anti-fracking measures in place, according to the Guardian.

The FT reports in UK halts all fracking after report fuels earthquake fears

The government said there would be a “moratorium” on fracking until “compelling new evidence” showed that it was safe.

The new policy is a sharp reversal of the government’s stance, with [Boris]  Johnson and Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, both voicing support for fracking in the past. In 2013, George Osborne, then chancellor, announced “the most generous tax regime in the world” for shale gas, saying he wanted “Britain to be a leader of the shale gas revolution”.

The FT notes that in addition to the OGA report,

…[The fracking moratorium] also follows the biggest UK earthquake yet, at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, where Cuadrilla, the shale gas group, suspended operations after a tremor shook nearby houses. The tremor measured 250 times the level permitted by the government.

Tory Flip Flop: Johnson, et al

The ban comes during the first week of the UK’s general election campaign – and provided an excellent opportunity to execute a flip flop.

As the FT reports:

The Conservatives need to win seats in constituencies across the midlands and north of England, an area where the majority of licences for shale gas exploration have been granted.

But a recent YouGov survey found that two-thirds of respondents had an unfavourable view of shale gas, according to the poll of 1,662 British adults, while local people have protested at every well site.

As Forbes notes in Fracking Dumped: U.K. Campaigners Rejoice, But Urge Caution:

But fracking is extremely unpopular among voters, as concerns about climate change, as well as the possible local effects of the industry, such as tremors and water source pollution, have risen. Renewable energy initiatives, by comparison, have been shown in polls to be almost universally popular.

As the Guardian reports:

The moratorium marks a major U-turn for the Conservative party and the prime minister Boris Johnson, who once referred to fracking as “glorious news for humanity” and urged the UK to “leave no stone unturned, or unfracked” in pursuit of shale gas.

The government ended its support for the struggling industry less than a week after a damning report from Whitehall’s spending watchdog found its plans to establish fracking across the UK was dragging years behind schedule and had cost the taxpayer at least £32m so far without producing any energy in return.

Shamelessly, Boris is now singing a different tune. According to Phys.org:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had “very considerable anxieties” about the extraction of shale gas.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dismissed the government’s about-turn as merely a PR stunt ahead of the general election.

“The Conservatives’ temporary pause of fracking is an election stunt to try and win a few votes,” he tweeted.

Corbyn hammered home the point:

“Boris Johnson described fracking as ‘glorious news for humanity’. We cannot trust him.”

The present government has at present halted fracking, but the Tories have left the door open to allow fracking operations to resume. According to Phys.org:

Nevertheless, eyeing the boom in fracking in the US, the British government still views the technology as a potential opportunity to reduce its dependence on gas from Norway and Qatar.

When asked on BBC radio on Saturday why the government was not banning it altogether, Leadsom insisted that fracking represented “a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom.”

The British Geological Survey estimates that the Cuadrilla site holds up to 2,300 trillion cubic feet (90 trillion cubic metres) of shale gas, which could theoretically fill Britain’s natural gas needs for more than a thousand years.

By contrast, Labour intends to ban fracking entirely. Over to the Guardian:

Rebecca Long Bailey MP, the shadow business and energy secretary, said the moratorium was a victory for local people and the government owed them an apology. She said: “When the Tory government overruled local democratic decisions to halt fracking, communities did not give up. When fracking protesters went to jail, communities did not give up. And now they have forced the government to U-turn.

“The Tories owe the public an apology, and an explanation of how much public money they wasted while ignoring the science.”

Long-Bailey said the government could yet allow fracking to restart. “The next Labour government will ban fracking – whereas the Tories will only call a temporary halt to it. You can’t trust a word the prime minister says.”

Others also urged skepticism as to ultimate Tory intentions. According to Forbes:

But many in opposition interpreted the halt as a temporary political ploy intended to shore up votes ahead of the December 13 general election. And some noted that David Cameron’s coalition government lifted a previous moratorium on fracking in 2011.

Quoting Leadsom, Labour Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood Cat Smith warned in a tweet: “Always read the small print, ‘Until we have compelling evidence it’s safe’ … Labour will BAN fracking—whereas the Tories will only call a temporary halt to it.”

France banned fracking outright in 2011, and Germany largely halted such operations in 2017, according to Deutsche Welle in Germany largely bans fracking with new laws.

United States and Fracking: Not Just a Trump Phenomenon

Meanwhile, across the pond, US producers continue to expand their fracking operations, global warming be damned and despite the failure of the industry to show a profit (see Justin Mikulka’s excellent series for DeSmogBlog on fracking follies; Will the Fracking Revolution Peak Before Ever Making Money? is a representative sample of his work and notes that other outlets – such as the FT and the Wall Street Journal – are beginning to take increased notice.)

We shouldn’t forget that the surge in fracking began well before Trump became president. As AP notes in Obama takes credit for U.S. oil-and-gas boom: ‘That was me, people.:

Mr. Obama told the audience at a gala for Rice University’s Baker Institute that he was “extraordinarily proud of the Paris accords” before saying “I know we’re in oil country and we need American energy.”

“You wouldn’t always know it ,but it went up every year I was president,” he said to applause. “That whole, suddenly America’s like the biggest oil producer and the biggest gas that was me, people.”

If you haven’t seen it already, take a minute to view the embedded video in this tweet. Smug, narcissistic, shameless, smarmy with self-regard. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; these are by no means unique characteristics for successful politicians and seem to be part of the job description.
If you haven’t seen it already, seem to be part for successful politicians.

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  1. notabanker

    I’d also like to thank the beacon of hope and change, Barack Obama, for the 36 inch high pressure gas pipeline going through my sister’s neighborhood, which is now an incineration zone. And for the new compression station built on previous farmland 10 miles away, that will only release the EPA maximum of 74 tons of VOC’s, including methane, annually.

  2. upstater

    New York State banned fracking in 2014… which is a great thing. The Marcellus shale ends here and the Utica shale beckons with gas and oil all the way into Quebec.

    But part of the ban is that counties and towns have considerably more power to regulate all forms of land use in NY, unlike states such as PA, OH and WV that had huge extractive industries going back 2 centuries in some cases. Law in those states is very favorable to extractive industries in ways that NY is not.

  3. Clive

    Yes, it wasn’t Conservative Party eco-warrior’ing wot done it, it was pure economics which has heralded this ban (or suspension).

    It is simply far cheaper to import LNG than any source of supply from fracking could ever deliver in the foreseeable investment timeframe. LNG imports are as high as I have ever seen them go, currently 30% of daily demand — and that’s in the winter heating season stock build up period, never mind the summer lull. And prices from the imported LNG are at rock bottom. Consumption of imported LNG is limited only by regassification capacity. Imported LNG is cheaper than North Sea piping. The world is awash in a glut of it.

    Even the dumbest of dumb money wouldn’t take big positions in U.K. fracking in these market conditions. The Conservatives are getting in front of the the miscreants fleeing from the scene and calling it bidding a fond farewell at the end of the evening’s dinner party with a kiss on the cheek and promising we must all do this again soon, we shouldn’t leave it so long next time.

    1. John A

      Plus, the only reason Britain needs to import gas from Norway and elsewhere is because the Thatcher revolution totally spunked away all Britain’s North Sea gas.
      Harold Wilson presciently said in the mid 1970s when the North Sea oil and gas fields were being discovered, that ‘whoever wins the next election will be in power for 20 years’. Sadly he was spot on. Unfortunately, the election was won by Thatcher who wasted all the bonanza on tax cuts and destroying manufacturing industry and the unions. Labour had planned a kind of sovereign fund like Norway created with their North Sea oil assets. And still people, like Jo Swinson, want a statue of Thatcher….

  4. Synoia

    UK Houses are built from Brick and Mortar. Any set of “small earthquakes” would destroy large numbers of houses, large and small.

    I doubt the Conservative Government is very concerned about small houses…

    US stick built houses are more tolerant of low magnitude earthquakes than brick houses.

    In Wales, where old coai mines emit page amounts of methane, the local governments will not allow any use of this methane to generate electricity.

    1. Clive

      Very astute observation. U.K. housing stock is predominantly brick/block insulated cavity or solid wall construction, usually now slab on grade or, pre-war, perhaps a basement or crawl space. There is zero seismic resistance in designing or building — and no code requirements of course.

      Presently, fracking test sites are in the north of England where property prices are comparatively low. Comparatively. But repairing damage to buildings is still costly. A house where seismic events necessitate a demolition and rebuilding would, even in northern areas, run to $200,000+ so a few hundred claims is serious money.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Blackpool had their largest earthquake to date this year and I saw on a map a coupla months ago how the fracking was being done right on the edge of that city.


        Maybe the Conservatives worked out that even if they have a subservient media, that having a town totally devastated by a massive earthquake would not do their electability any good for the north.

      2. John A

        Plus, the government previously announced, for the benefit of the fracking industry, that home owners did not ‘own’ the land on which their house stood. Namely that horizontal drilling under housing was not an infringement of homeowner rights.

    2. Tyronius

      Since the methane is already leaking anyway, what’s their excuse? Don’t want competition for those drilling new holes in the ground?

  5. JBird4049

    1.55 and 2.1 on the Richter Scale? And somehow someone noticed? What? Possibilities of massive destruction? I went over to the articles expecting something, but I don’t. Fracking should be opposed because of pollution, but I really don’t see the earthquake dangers.

    I am not trying to be ass and it’s not my life that is threatened. I just really do not see any there, there. Help me out here. Anywhere in the Western United States, it might be worth a mention on the back page of the Nowheresville Gazette.

    I know that brick buildings are a thing locally and really, I am just a jaded Californian, living in a state on the Ring of Fire; it has serious and enforced earthquake codes going back a century, but we do have some serious dangers here. I probably wouldn’t even notice or at least bother remembering anything not at least 4 something. And while a building that has its load bearing done by brick would *not* happen in California, the state also expects to have public infrastructure hardened to resist an 8.0 That level would almost certainly obliterate any major city in Europe.

    I know that in many poorer countries, massive destruction is normal, but that is because both the building standards are really lacking and quite often ignored anyways. If the tremors are that small and the local construction is good, then there should not be any reason to panic.

    But what do I know? Flame away.

    1. Clive

      Please see the above comments. The U.K. building stock has zero seismic resistance. We simply don’t get earthquakes here, at least not anything other than occasional minor and localised mini-tremors say once every five years.

      U.K. buildings can be structurally impaired by poorly planned tunnelling — let alone fracking-induced quakes.

  6. PlutoniumKun

    Just to clarify on one point, the Guardian is incorrect about Northern Ireland, there is no ban on fracking there, although there is in the Republic, which complicates things as the main methane bearing geology is in the border areas.

    Brexit was very good news for frackers as EU rules on protecting groundwater was one of the major obstacles to any permits. But my guess is that this is that this is down to economics, the industry is simply losing interest and the Tories saw this as a good move politically.

  7. witters

    I think the Obama quote should be completed. He then went on: “Sometimes you go to Wall Street and folks will be grumbling about anti-business. I said, ‘Have you check where your stocks where your stocks were when I came into office [and] where they are now? What are you complaining about. Just say thank you please.'”

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Good point: the video includes that bit as well. I was trying to stay focused on the fossil fuel stuff.

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