Government ‘disappointed’ by fracking suspension as campaigners push for permanent ban

Government ‘disappointed’ by fracking suspension as campaigners push for permanent ban

Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom has admitted the fracking suspension imposed by the government is a “disappointment”, as the Conservatives face escalating pressure to introduce a permanent ban.

Her remarks came as environmental campaigners hailed the announcement of a moratorium on fracking in England last night, declaring it a victory for communities and the climate. 

Boris Johnson also revealed he had “very significant anxieties” over the issue, despite previously claiming that no stone should be left “unfracked” while he was mayor of London.

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But speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Leadsom, the business secretary, praised the “advantages” of fracking, adding: “Yes, it’s a disappointment but we’ve always been clear that we will follow the science.”

She said it was clear the government “must impose this moratorium until the science changes”, but added shale gas is something the UK “will need for the next several decades”.

When pressed on why a permanent ban is not being implemented by Number 10, she replied: “Because this is a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom”.

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“We will follow the science and it is quite clear that we can’t be certain. The science isn’t accurate enough to be able to assess the fault lines, the geological studies have shown to be inaccurate so therefore unless and until we can be absolutely certain we are imposing a moratorium,” she added.

The only fracking site in the UK, Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road well in Lancashire, was wound up in October after the work was blamed for minor earthquakes over the summer, including a 2.9 magnitude event near Blackpool on 26 August which led to the suspension of operations.

Devolved authorities have already turned their backs on fracking in Scotland and Wales.

Now the government’s upcoming energy white paper is expected to prioritise renewable energy over fracking, which involves releasing natural gas from deep underground by blasting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale rock deposits.

Ms Leadsom said on Friday that the Oil and Gas Authority’s report into seismic activity linked to the Lancashire site made clear that it was impossible to rule out “unacceptable” impacts on the local community if operations continued.

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Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats urged the government to go further, demanding Mr Johnson make the fracking suspension in England permanent.  

“We’ve been arguing for this for some time and it’s good to see the Conservatives laying catch-up now,” Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 

He continued: “This appears to be temporary. This may not be a real reprieve. You’ve got to remember that Boris Johnson once said he wanted to leave no stone unturned and not stone unfracked so this I fear could be a gambit at the start of the election and we may see that he does something different to what he says now.”

“This stop is welcomed but the big question in this announcement and in this campaign is can you trust Boris Johnson to stand by his word?”

Lib Dem former energy secretary Ed Davey, said: “Liberal Democrats back an immediate ban now – given the evidence we are now in a climate emergency.

“The law Liberal Democrats passed to protect communities from earthquakes and seismic tremors caused by fracking has done a lot to prevent the Conservatives pressing ahead with fracking.

“But this belated, eve of election policy pause won’t distract voters from the Tories’ shocking record on the environment – not least the prime minister’s, when he lobbied to relax air pollution laws. The Tories are about as eco-friendly as a dustbin fire.”

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