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Liz Truss to raise fracking ban ‘regardless of little progress on earthquake threat’ | Fracking

Liz Truss is to raise a ban on fracking regardless of a leaked authorities report suggesting little progress has been made in decreasing and predicting the danger of earthquakes attributable to the observe, the Guardian can reveal.

The primary drilling licenses in almost three years are anticipated to be issued as early as subsequent week, sources mentioned, in a transfer that can reignite claims of one other damaged 2019 Conservative manifesto pledge.

Given fears about spiraling power payments, the brand new prime minister introduced final week that she would “finish the moratorium on extracting our big reserves of shale”, which has been in drive throughout England since November 2019.

A protracted-awaited report by the British Geological Survey (BGS) was promised to be revealed, but it surely has been held up owing to the Queen’s demise. The report, seen by the Guardian, admits that forecasting fracking-induced earthquakes and their magnitude “stays a scientific problem”.

It says there are nonetheless “important current data gaps” and that issues stay with figuring out potential new fracking websites that could possibly deal with earthquakes with a magnitude of three.0.

Present guidelines require drilling to cease if tremors of 0.5 or extra are brought about. However fracking firms are reportedly lobbying for that to be considerably elevated.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the previous enterprise secretary who’s now the chancellor, requested the BGS in April to look into new methods to assist cut back the danger of earthquakes and their magnitude, and whether or not websites exterior Lancashire could possibly be higher suited to drilling.

In its report, the BGS provides little proof that there was sufficient progress for the reason that fracking ban to satisfy a 2019 manifesto promise that it could solely be summarized if “the science exhibits categorically that it may be performed safely”.

A fracking rig under construction in Westby-with-Plumptons in the Fylde.
A fracking rig below building in Westby-with-Plumptons within the Fylde. {Photograph}: MediaWorldImages/Alamy

The restricted variety of fracking websites within the UK “makes it inconceivable to find out with statistical significance” the charges of “induced seismicity” and means it’s “troublesome to make a sound comparability” with different international locations, the report says.

It cites analysis from the US and Canada which discovered that 1% of fracking wells had been linked to earthquakes with magnitudes above 3.0, however in some areas this rose to as much as 30%.

Whereas modeling within the US has helped to establish faults which might be almost certainly to rupture throughout drilling, the report says, sufficient data was accessible in only some areas and “extra knowledge is required in different basins within the UK” to “apply this extra broadly”.

Given different industries are allowed to create earthquakes of upper magnitudes than fracking, the BGS says “constant threat targets” could possibly be useful “for all energy-related industries that current a threat of induced earthquakes”.

Greenpeace mentioned it was clear “there have been no important breakthroughs within the science of prediction and administration of earthquakes attributable to fracking”. The charity’s chief scientist, Dr Doug Parr, mentioned: “For the Truss authorities to reverse its place on shale gasoline on the again of this could merely be breaking a transparent promise on which they had been elected.”

Making estimates of most magnitudes earlier than and through drilling additionally “stays difficult”, in keeping with the BGS. Makes an attempt made at Preston New Highway, the place drilling was deserted, “present some promise” however “present estimates which might be decrease than the utmost noticed magnitude”, the report provides.

Fracking has proved notably contentious in Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire, and there stays some residual concern round Sussex after wide-scale protests towards a drilling try in Balcombe a decade in the past.

There’s additionally considered a cut up round Truss’ new cupboard desk – which is not going to embrace the Conservative peer Zac Goldsmith, who has been sacked as an surroundings minister – elevating additional fears about Truss’s dedication to tackling local weather change.

Kwarteng wrote in his letter to the BGS that fracking was “not the answer to near-term worth points”, whereas Jacob Rees-Mogg, who changed him as enterprise secretary, earlier this 12 months known as shale gasoline “very clear” and dismissed considerations about tremors.

Different senior Tories sought to pile stress on the federal government by calling the fracking ban “un-Conservative”. Greater than 30 MPs and friends together with the previous minister David Frost wrote to Boris Johnson in February saying drilling for shale gasoline could be a dependable power supply and convey funding to the UK.

The go-ahead for fracking firms to start out the method of exploratory drilling might come as early as subsequent week, after the tip of the official mourning interval for the Queen.

The federal government claims gasoline might begin flowing in lower than six months, however consultants say it could take years, is way much less accessible than as soon as thought and would do little to cut back power payments.

There are 93 exploratory drilling licenses already granted for 159 areas of the nation, 75% of that are associated to fracking, which will probably be mechanically reactivated as soon as the moratorium on fracking is lifted. Areas that might see drilling stretch from Sussex, Surrey and Dorset, to the Midlands, Yorkshire, Cheshire and Lancashire.

Firms have to hunt planning permission to start out drilling. Nevertheless, the Guardian revealed this 12 months that solely a handful of MPs would assist fracking of their space.

A authorities spokesperson mentioned the survey was commissioned to “advise on the most recent scientific proof on shale gasoline extraction” and mentioned any suggestion that the BGS was requested to justify fracking was “demonstrably unfaithful”, given the assessment had “clear, publicly accessible phrases of reference”.

The spokesperson added: “Benefiting from our personal gasoline assets makes us much less depending on imports and helps keep the safety of the UK’s power provide in each the brief and long-term. Drawing on classes from all over the world, we’ll ensure that it’s performed as safely as attainable and the place there’s native assist.”

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