Fracking gets green light as shale makes comeback in the UK

Hydraulic fracturing for shale gas will resume after the Government today lifted a ban on the practice, known as fracking.

The practice had been suspended since it induced two seismic tremors in the country's only fracking operations in Lancashire in May last year. 

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey said his decision to reintroduce shale exploitation in the UK was "based on the evidence", and that it would be subject to new controls to mitigate any risks involved.

Davey said: "Shale gas represents a promising new potential energy resource for the UK. It could contribute significantly to our energy security, reducing our reliance on imported gas, as we move to a low carbon economy."

Considerable concerns over the environmental impact of shale gas have been voiced with experts claiming that it could cause earthquakes, water pollution and would hinder the role of renewables

Davey was therefore eager to reassure the public that fracking in the UK would be safe and environmentally-friendly.

"We are still in the very early stages of shale gas exploration in the UK and it is likely to develop slowly. It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment," Davey said.

He added: "We are strengthening the stringent regime already in place with new controls around seismic risks. And as the industry develops we will remain vigilant to all emerging evidence to ensure fracking is safe and the local environment is protected."

Davey also announced that the new Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, led by The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), would focus on regulation, while a new study would analyse the possible impacts of shale gas development on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The news that shale is back on the agenda will come as little surprise, after George Osborne's continuous vocal support for shale gas and Prime Minister David Cameron's confirmation on Tuesday that he intended to pursue the practice.  

Despite this, green campaigners have reacted angrily, with Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins saying the decision threatens to contaminate the UK's air and water whilst simultaneously undermining national climate targets.

"Giving the green light to fracking for shale gas will send shock waves across the UK.

"George Osborne's short-sighted dash for gas will leave the country dependent on dirty fossil fuels - MPs must stand up for a safe and affordable future by insisting on clean British energy from the wind, waves and sun," he said.

Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen added: "George Osborne's dream of building Dallas in Lancashire is a dangerous fantasy. He is not JR Ewing and this is not the US. Energy analysts agree the UK cannot replicate the American experience of fracking, and that shale gas will do little or nothing to lower bills.

"Pinning the UK's energy hopes on an unsubstantiated, polluting fuel is a massive gamble and consumers and the climate will end up paying the price."

The Government however, will be hoping that new controls to mitigate seismic risks, which were announced today, will placate some shale critics.

Some of the controls include the introduction of a mandatory prior review before fracking begins which assesses the seismic risk and the existence of faults.

In addition, a fracking plan must be submitted to DECC showing how seismic risks will be addressed and monitoring must be carried out before, during and after fracking.

Conor McGlone


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