England fracking ban lifted – with limits on seismic activity set to be raised | Fracking

The ban on fracking in England has been lifted, after Jacob Rees-Mogg called the current limits on seismic activity “too low” and admitted they were likely to be raised.

Applications for new shale gas drilling can now be made, following confirmation from the government on Thursday that the moratorium in place since November 2019 had been lifted.

Ministers gave the green light for the controversial practice to resume in an attempt to boost domestic energy production given spiralling costs caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but said fracking would only be allowed with “local support”.

The Guardian revealed last week that a leaked government-commissioned report found there had been little progress in reducing and predicting the risk of earthquakes caused by fracking.

Given there are only three test wells in the UK, the government said on Thursday that “we need more sites drilled in order to gather better data and improve the evidence base”, and added “some developers are keen to assist with this process”.

But the decision to end the moratorium will reignite claims of another broken 2019 Conservative manifesto promise, which said fracking would only resume if “the science shows categorically that it can be done safely”.

Rees-Mogg, the business secretary, revealed on Wednesday that the current limit on seismicity – 0.5 on the Richter scale – was likely be increased.

“The seismic limits will be reviewed to see a proportionate level,” he told the BBC’s Newsnight.

“At 0.5 on the Richter scale, which is only noticeable with sophisticated machinery, it’s quite right – the fracking would not take place. That level is too low. But I can’t confirm the new level because that’s being looked at.”

Pressed on how community consent will be judged, Rees-Mogg said Hinkley Point was not far away from his home in Somerset, and “the local community is very strongly in favour of the further development” of the nuclear power station.

“So it is possible to understand what local communities wanted to work with them,” he added.

The business department indicated it had not bowed to calls to make fracking a national infrastructure project, by saying developers would still need to have the correct licences and permissions before they could commence drilling.

Claims that fracking would bring down heating bills was disparaged by Kwasi Kwarteng, now the chancellor, when he was business secretary.

In a letter to the British Geological Survey commissioning a report into the practice in April, Kwarteng said it was “not the solution to near-term price issues”. In February, he tweeted: “Additional UK production won’t materially affect the wholesale market price. This includes fracking – UK producers won’t sell shale gas to UK consumers below the market price. They’re not charities.”

As well as resuming fracking, the government confirmed on Thursday a new oil and gas licensing round would be launched in early October by the North Sea Transition Authority.

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