The UK government has lifted a moratorium on fracking for natural gas despite widespread public opposition and several previous failed attempts to kick-start a domestic onshore drilling campaign.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the business secretary, said the UK was committed to becoming a net energy exporter by 2040. He argued the country needed to pursue every option for boosting its energy security following Russia’s decision to cut gas supplies to Europe.
“In light of [President Vladimir] Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponisation of energy, strengthening our energy security is an absolute priority,” Rees-Mogg said.
“To get there we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production. So it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas.”
The industry retains doubts however over whether the UK will be able to scale up fracking.
While prime minister Liz Truss has backed a renewed push to increase domestic oil and gas production, the Conservative party has consistently said it will only take place where there is “local support”.
A YouGov poll in May showed 27 per cent of the population was in favour of shale gas extraction, though that number has risen from about 19 per cent before the energy crisis.
The moratorium on fracking was imposed in 2019 after shale-focused driller Cuadrilla triggered a number of earth tremors, including one that reached 2.9 on the Richter scale, while attempting to develop a site near Blackpool in Lancashire.
Rees-Mogg told the BBC on Wednesday that seismic limits for fracking were “too low” and would need to be altered from the 0.5 threshold on the Richter scale that triggers a stop in activity.
Truss has suggested fracking could boost UK gas supply within six months despite advice from previous ministers.
The government on Thursday confirmed its support for the launch of a North Sea oil and gas licensing round, expected in early October.
The British Geological Survey, tasked with assessing the seismic risk by the government, said in a report on Thursday that “forecasting the occurrence of large earthquakes and their expected magnitude is complex and remains a scientific challenge”.