Fracking firm Cuadrilla will not have to seal up the UK’s only two shale gas wells at the end of June, as previously instructed by regulators. Regulators have lifted an order for the controversial wells near Blackpool to be capped with concrete. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been under pressure from Conservative MPs to end a 2019 moratorium on fracking.
The move comes ahead of the publication of the government’s delayed energy strategy. The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said the firm now had until the end of June 2023 to evaluate options for the Preston New Road and Elswick sites.
Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said: "I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary [Kwasi Kwarteng] 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.
Greenpeace said fracking would not improve energy security, because any gas extracted would belong to Cuadrilla, not to Britain, and it would be sold on international markets.
“Trying to restart fracking now would only mean wasting more time when we have little,” a Greenpeace UK spokesperson said. 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."
Campaign group Friends of the Earth said: “Fracking would do little to nothing for energy prices or energy security.”
The NSTA said Cuadrilla applied for consent to keep its wells on 28 March, and it approved that just three days later.
“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. “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.”
The organisation, which is a Government Company and an executive agency for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said the name change will “reflect its evolving role in the energy transition”.
Overseeing oil and gas will remain the Authority’s primary remit, and it will continue to argue that fossil fuels need to be “an essential part of the energy mix for some time to come”. Its primary workstreams include stewarding ongoing production, licencing and stewarding new developments and scoping out locations for future oil and gas projects.
“Our values remain the same while the organisation is adapting to meet the UK’s changing needs,” said the Authority’s chief executive Dr Andy Samuel. "Oil and gas remain vital for energy security as we transition. The North Sea Transition Authority is ideally placed to support both.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is understood to be planning increased North Sea oil and gas production as part of the strategy, despite being warned against this step by an array of environmental groups, trade bodies, citizens groups and its own climate change advisors.
Johnson has repeatedly rubbished calls for a windfall tax on big oil and gas companies to help ease the price crisis, stating that these companies need to continue to attract investment to scale clean technologies. This is despite research repeatedly showing that most fossil fuel majors only allocate a small proportion of their investments in low-carbon energy. Shell, for example, is reportedly set to spend just 12% of its investments on renewables and energy solutions this year.
Tory vested interests at work …