The UK government has said it may ‘consider’ re-evaluating the UK’s strict regulations on fracking as it reiterated its support for shale gas exploration.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) hinted in a statement that it is open to considering changing the Oil and Gas Authority’s current ‘traffic light’ monitoring system for fracking, one of the most stringent systems on the practice in the world.
The statement marks a development in the government’s position after it previously said it had no plans to relax the UK’s regulations on fracking-induced seismic activity.
A BEIS spokesperson said: ‘Shale gas could be an important new domestic energy source reducing the level of gas imports while delivering broad economic benefits, including through the creation of well-paid, quality jobs. It could also support our transition to net zero emissions by 2050.
‘We have world-leading regulations that ensure shale gas exploration happens in a safe and environmentally responsible way. The Oil and Gas Authority is currently undertaking a scientific assessment of recent industry data which we will consider once completed.’
The government’s clarified position comes after the shale gas exploration firm Cuadrilla resumed fracking at its site in Preston New Road in Lancashire last month.
Cuadrilla had been actively fracking at the site until it was forced to stop drilling late last year after tremors exceeded the 0.5 magnitude limit.
The firm hopes to provide more data to support the Oil and Gas Authority’s review of the threshold, which experts have said could be safely increased.
Since Cuadrilla recommenced drilling at Preston New Road, the British Geological Survey has linked several tremors to activity at the site although none have yet breached the safety limit.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) described the government’s shift in position as ‘deeply concerning’, saying it could open the door to ‘more and stronger’ earthquakes caused by fracking.
A recent survey of people in the UK found very low support for relaxing fracking regulations, as only 8% said the UK’s current system is too strict.
Daniel Carey-Dawes, Head of Rural Economy and Communities, at CPRE, said: ‘A decision to relax seismicity regulations would further undermine public confidence and come with significant environmental risks.
‘It is therefore imperative that the government attempts to restore public faith by making a firm commitment to uphold these regulations. It must demonstrate to local communities that it is actually listening to voices other than those from the fracking industry.’
UK Onshore Oil and Gas, which represents the UK’s oil and gas industry, said it was ‘delighted’ with the news that Cuadrilla had restarted fracking at Preston New Road.
The trade body added that the UK shale gas industry has the potential to create new jobs and help the UK hit its climate targets.
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