The Government has signalled a possible rethink over strict rules that restrict fracking in a move that is likely to draw anger from environmental campaigners.
Ineos, owned by billionaire businessman Sir Jim Ratcliffe, and fellow shale gas explorer Cuadrilla, previously attacked the UK’s tough restrictions on seismic activity triggered by fracking, arguing that they would make it impossible for the industry to operate commercially.
The possible U-turn came as fracking firm Cuadrilla resumed operations at its flagship Preston New Road site in Lancashire after securing the required permits. The site suffered a number of shutdowns last year following seismic activity in the area.
Under the current rules fracking companies must stop all work at a site if they trigger a tremor above a magnitude of 0.5 on the Richter scale. The Government said previously that it had no plans to review the rules, which are among the world’s strictest.
But a spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told the Telegraph on Thursday that the Government was “open-minded” on its options once it receives the results of an ongoing scientific study of industry data by the Oil and Gas Authority.
The Government was “keen to find out what that recent industry data shows”, the spokesman said.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of drilling into the earth and then injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to crack rock and release gas that can be used for energy.
The controversial practice has been heavily criticised by environmental campaigners.
“Kick-starting an entire new fossil fuel industry when the impacts of climate breakdown are already ruining lives, including right here in the UK, doesn’t line up with the Government’s claims to be a climate leader,” said Jamie Peters at Friends of the Earth.
But BEIS said that 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”.
“We have world-leading regulations that ensure shale gas exploration happens in a safe and environmentally responsible way,” it said.