Boris Johnson has been accused of U-turning on his ban on fracking after the Government opened the door to more shale gas drilling in future.
The Tories announced they would stop all fracking in England at the start of the general election campaign – but just three days later, they quietly issued a document which contradicts that promise.
Civil servants said that “future applications will be considered on their own merits” despite the supposed ban, according to the i, The Yorkshire Post’s sister publication, And they also said there was “considerable merit” in loosening planning laws so local councils would no longer be able to block firms from drilling for shale gas.
Green campaigners and opposition politicians accused the Conservatives of trying to keep fracking alive through the back door and called for legislation to block the controversial procedure from being revived.
Hydraulic fracturing involves blasting liquid into shale rock formations to open cracks in the rock and allow natural gas to escape. It has been blamed for causing dozens of small earthquakes when it has been carried out in England, principally in Lancashire. Third Energy did not receive consent to frack its well at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire amid fierce local opposition.
Defenders insist the technique could bring an energy revolution to the UK similar to that experienced in America, bringing down the cost of gas.
But on November 1 the Tories bowed to pressure and announced fracking would be banned “until compelling new evidence is provided” that shows it can be done safely.
There is already an indefinite moratorium on fracking in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government later published a response to a consultation on shale gas exploration which appears to contradict the new policy.
It warns firms that the Government is generally opposed to fracking but does not rule out accepting new applications.
The document says: “It should be noted that the Government has made clear that on the basis of the current scientific evidence, and in the absence of compelling new evidence, it has taken a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents.
While future applications will be considered on their own merits by the Secretary of State in accordance with the law, the shale gas industry should take the Government’s position into account when considering new developments.”
A Conservative party spokesperson said: "The Government has placed a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect by making it our policy not to issue any Hydraulic Fracturing Consents. This does not technically prevent applications but it does mean that they will be refused.
"We have also ruled out any changes to the planning system, having listened to local residents. Fracking is now off the table. We would only ever change our position if both the science supported it and communities wanted it."
Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said: “You can’t trust a word the Tories say on fracking. In just over a week their policy has evolved from a “ban” to a “temporary pause” and now, seemingly, an extreme “frack-at-will” policy imported from Trump’s USA.
“Communities have fought back hard against the Tories' efforts to force through dangerous fracking in their backyards. After years of the Tories cooking the evidence and ignoring court rulings on fracking, they won’t be taken in by a phoney ban. A Labour government will ban on fracking.”