The Government was accused last night of ignoring public opinion on fracking, as the controversial process of drilling into the earth to release shale gas resumed across the Pennines.
Ministers claimed the technology could “support the UK’s transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions”, despite claims by environmental campaigners that fracking “just isn’t part of the future if we are serious about avoiding climate breakdown”.
The energy firm Cuadrilla has resumed hydraulic fracturing operations on its second horizontal well at Preston New Road, which it said would be completed by the end of November.
It said flows of gas from the well would then be tested, with results expected early next year.
Operations to frack the first horizontal well at the site, the only one in Britain where the process is taking place, have had to be stopped on a number of occasions after minor quakes were recorded – prompting calls for a review of the rules, which the Government has resisted.
Its Business Department insisted that the technology could be a source of “broad economic benefits”. In a statement clarifying its position on fracking, it said: “Shale gas could be an important new domestic energy source reducing the level of gas imports. It could also support our transition to net zero emissions by 2050.”
It added that the Oil and Gas Authority was conducting a scientific assessment of recent industry data on the regulations, which the Government would consider once completed.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England warned of undermining public confidence and of “significant environmental risks” if the regulations were relaxed.
Daniel Carey-Dawes, the organisation’s head of rural economy, said: “The majority of people feel that their views are being completely ignored by the Government over the issue of fracking.
“The public also made it abundantly clear that they do not want earthquake regulations to be weakened, making this shift in position – which could open the door to more and stronger earthquakes caused by fracking – a deeply concerning development.”
Jamie Peters, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, added: “Kick-starting an entire new fossil fuel industry when the impacts of climate breakdown are already ruining lives, including right here in the UK, doesn’t line up with the Government’s claims to be a climate leader.
“Fracking just isn’t part of the future if we are serious about avoiding climate breakdown. The Government should ban it and support renewable energy and green jobs instead.”
At Kirby Misperton, near Pickering in North Yorkshire, another energy firm was given approval in 2016 to carry out fracking, but work has yet to begin.
Steve Mason, a campaigner against the Yorkshire site, said the Government’s statement was “a little disappointing but not unexpected”.
He also warned that with several fracking applications lodged by energy firms in marginal constituencies within the Peak District, the issue would become a hot potato in the event of an early election.
He said: “There are 40 seats with very tight majorities that are swingable to whichever party takes an anti-fracking stance.”
Laura Hughes, projects and operations director at Cuadrilla, said Preston New Road was one of the most monitored oil and gas sites in the world and proven to be “entirely safe and environmentally responsible”.