Energy crisis: UK delays closure of shale gas wells in major fracking reversal

Labor branded the decision “appalling” and accused the government of pressuring the regulator to grant a stay to fracking firm Cuadrilla

Protesters at Cuadrilla's Preston New Road site, near Blackpool
Protesters at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool in 2018

The UK’s only shale gas wells will not be sealed until the end of June as Boris Johnson comes under pressure to tackle the energy crisis.

Fracking firm Cuadrilla was ordered to permanently seal its Lancashire wells within months, but has now been granted a year-long pardon in an about-face by regulators.

Speculation is mounting that Boris Johnson could lift a moratorium on fracking due to the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s 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 lift the ban.

Boris Johnson has promised a new energy security strategy but the release has been delayed



Labor branded the decision “appalling” and accused the government of pressuring the regulator.

The move comes ahead of the release of the government’s belated energy strategy, which the prime minister vowed to release “within days” in early March.

The blueprint has been held up by cabinet fighting as the cost-of-living crisis escalates, but is expected in early April.

One of the topics covered is the future of fracking and whether the moratorium should remain in place, with Downing Street insisting that the situation in Ukraine means all options to increase energy independence will be explored.

Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said: “I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary for seeing the light and realizing – just in time – how absurd it would have been to force us to put concrete in the only two.” Britain’s viable shale gases to pour wells in the midst of an energy crisis.

“But this suspension will end in deadlock unless we now lift the moratorium preventing us from using the wells (and other similar ones) to get shale gas up from the ground and flowing into UK households. “

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said Cuadrilla applied for approval to preserve its wells on March 28.

A drilling rig at the Preston New Road shale gas exploration site in Lancashire.



“The NSTA has carefully considered this request alongside recent developments and has agreed to withdraw the well closure requirement by the end of June,” the regulator said.

“Cuadrilla now has until the end of June next year to review options for the Preston New Road and Elswick sites.

“If credible reuse plans are not in place by then, the North Sea Transition Authority expects to re-impose decommissioning requirements.”

Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband said: “This is an appalling decision by the regulator, taken under pressure from the government.

“It has nothing to do with the country’s energy needs, it has 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 lower bills. And fracking is firmly opposed by local communities.

“It is yet another sign that this administration cannot be trusted to make decisions in our national interest about energy security, bills or the climate crisis.”

Anti-fracking protesters outside the Preston New Road drilling site in 2018


AFP via Getty Images)

A Greenpeace UK spokesman said: “Trying to resume fracking now would only mean wasting more time when we are short.

“It will take many years to develop and if it is ever produced it will be sold to the highest bidder in the international market with no impact on our energy bills.

“If the UK and Europe are to end their dependence on Russian gas, the quickest way to do that is to insulate houses, install heat pumps and promote renewable energy.”

Another bone of contention the strategy could address is whether to allow more onshore wind farms to generate clean electricity.

The Prime Minister appeared to limit his support to offshore development when he appeared before MPs on Wednesday.

“Renewable energy is fantastic: I think offshore wind – and I stress offshore wind – has enormous potential,” he said.

Mr Johnson was due to meet with wind industry executives on Thursday.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I cannot go into detail as to what will or will not be included in the strategy itself.

“In terms of onshore wind, it remains an important part of the energy mix… it accounts for about a quarter of the UK’s installed renewable capacity.

“We are committed to sustainably increasing locally supported onshore wind power alongside other renewable energies such as solar and offshore in the 2020s and beyond.”

The Government has been urged by campaigners to lift planning restrictions to make it easier to build new onshore wind farms, but Mr Johnson would face political difficulties in getting his Cabinet and Tory MPs to support such a move.

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