UK Delays Closure of Controversial Fracking Sites

A protest at the Cuadrilla fracking site in Lancashire in the UK in 2019. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

When the UK government imposed a moratorium on fracking in 2019, climate campaigners breathed a sigh of relief. 

Now, however, there are concerns that the practice might be resurrected in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The government said on Thursday that fracking-company Cuadrilla did not yet have to seal and shutter two wells at its Lancashire fracking site, The Guardian reported. However, environmental advocates still warn that fracking is not the way to solve the energy crisis. 

“Trying to restart fracking now would only mean wasting more time when we have little,” a Greenpeace spokesperson said, as BBC News reported. “It will take many years to develop and if it ever gets produced, it will be sold to the highest bidder on the international market, with no impact on our energy bills.” 

Cuadrilla has had a difficult history with its Lancashire wells. Fracking at the site was halted in 2011 because of earthquakes, and then restarted seven years later. However, earthquakes also resumed with operations, and eventually the risk of seismic activity prompted the government to announce a 2019 moratorium on the controversial practice, as Sky News reported. 

Cuadrilla was supposed to permanently seal its wells by the end of June of this year, but the company appealed this decision on Monday, arguing that the two wells could boost the UK’s gas production amidst high energy prices and a push to diminish reliance on Russian fossil fuels

UK oil-and-gas regulator the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) approved the appeal.

“The North Sea Transition Authority has looked carefully at this application, alongside recent developments, and agreed to withdraw the requirement to decommission the wells by the end of June,” the regulator said, as BBC News reported. “Cuadrilla now have until the end of June next year to evaluate options for the Preston New Road and Elswick sites. If no credible re-use plans are in place by then, the North Sea Transition Authority expects to reimpose decommissioning requirements.” 

Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan celebrated the news. 

“I would like to thank the prime minister and the business secretary for seeing the light and realising — just in time — how absurd it would have been to force us to pour concrete down Britain’s only two viable shale gas wells in the middle of an energy crisis,” Egan said in a statement reported by Sky News.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been under pressure to lift the fracking ban by some Conservative members of parliament, according to BBC News. However, climate advocates maintain that fracking is not the solution. 

Greenpeace said the best way to achieve energy independence would be to promote renewable energy, improve home insulation and install heat pumps. 

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Danny Gross agreed. 

“Fracking would do little to nothing for energy prices or energy security,” he said, as The Guardian reported. “What we need are real solutions that can help lower people’s energy bills, and fracking just isn’t part of that mix.”

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