The UK Government announced this morning that, following a recent moratorium, exploratory hydraulic fracturing, commonly know as "fracking" for shale gas can resume in the UK, subject to new controls to mitigate the risks of seismic activity.
Readers will remember that, following two minor earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011, Cuadrilla Resources, the shale gas exploration company, postponed fracking operations in the region, and the Government proceeded to suspend such activity accross the UK. Unanimity has not been reached as to the precise cause for such seismic activity but, following a year of study and research (including the recommendations of an independent report), the Government has concluded that the seismic risks associated with fracking can be managed effectively with controls which, coupled with today's announcement, will provide a shot of enthusiasm to the shale gas industry. To date there has been no commercial shale gas production in the UK.
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change secretary Edward Davey commented as follows in his statement today:
"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. My decision is based on the evidence. It comes after detailed study of the latest scientific research available and advice from leading experts in the field. We are still in the very early stages of shale gas exploration in the UK and it is likely to develop slowly. 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."
Mr Davey announced that the new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil will oversee the regulation of this developing industry in the UK, and that a study is to be commissioned immediately in relation to the possible impacts of shale gas development on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has explained that new controls to mitigate seismic risks will include:
- a pre-fracking review to be carried out to assess seismic risk and the existence of faults;
- a fracking plan to be submitted to DECC showing how seismic risks will be addressed;
- seismic monitoring to be carried out before, during and after fracking; and
- a new "traffic light" system to categorise seismic activity and an ability to stop fracking operations in certain circumstances.
These controls, along with the rest of the recommendations in the independent report into seismic activity and fracking commissioned by the Government and published in March this year, have been accepted by Ed Davey.
Today's announcement is likely to mark the recommencement of fracking operations in the UK, which will likely receive a cautious welcome by unconventional gas developers, wary of the need to comply with increasingly focused regulation.