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 approved the resumption in an attempt to boost domestic energy production given soaring costs caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but said fracking would be allowed only with “local support”.
The Guardian revealed last week that a leaked government-commissioned report found 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 that “some developers are keen to assist with this process”.
But the about-turn will reignite claims of another broken 2019 Conservative manifesto promise, which said fracking would resume only 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 to 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 would 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 drilling.
Claims that fracking would bring down heating bills were dismissed by the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, when he was business secretary.
In a letter to the British Geological Survey commissioning a report into fracking 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.