Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reignited talk that fracking — a practice that is currently banned in the UK — could be back on the cards.
Ministers have said the conflict in Ukraine means that the UK needs to wean itself off Russian oil and gas, as prices soar and fears mount that Vladimir Putin could turn off the taps to Europe.
Boris Johnson will soon set out a new energy strategy to end all dependency on Russian hydrocarbons.
One way for the UK to become self-reliant for its gas supply is to lift the ban on fracking — something Tory MPs on the right of the party are agitating for as a way to ease the cost of living crisis.
But some, including business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, remain sceptical that lifting the moratorium on fracking is the right thing to do.
So what is fracking and why is it controversial?
Here HuffPost UK explains what it is and why it is back on the agenda.
What is fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a process in which water and chemicals are injected into rocks at high pressure to extract gas and oil.
Production giants like Cuadrilla believe vast quantities of shale gas may be hidden underneath shale rock surfaces across the UK, giving the country access to an untapped energy resource.
Why is it controversial?
Fracking faces huge opposition in some areas after a trial at a site in Lancashire triggered a mini earthquake with a magnitude of 2.8 in 2019, forcing Cuadrilla to halt its work.
On top of this, campaigners argue that the drilling process could force carcinogenic chemicals into the atmosphere, potentially contaminating drinking water.
Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP for Bristol East, told HuffPost UK: “Fracking would completely undermine our climate commitments and there is also a significant risk of air and water pollution.
“It also wouldn’t come close to supplying the level of gas needed to stabilise energy prices — it would be far better to invest more in renewables.”
Are there any benefits to fracking?
According to Forbes, fracking in US has contributed to a gas boom that has pushed down energy prices and provided greater energy security.
Fracking, as a more certain domestic supply of gas, could also cushion the UK from geopolitical shocks like the one we are currently experiencing.
Building new sites could also create new job opportunities and boost the economy.
How likely is it that the fracking ban will be lifted?
Kwarteng insisted that the UK’s position on fracking had not changed.
“The government has always been clear that we will take a precautionary approach and support shale gas exploration if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way. That remains our position.”
A further bump in the road to any potential easing of the ban is the opposition it faces in local communities across the country.
As many fracking sites are located in the north of England, there are fears that local opposition could damage the Tories in red wall seats.
Will it solve the cost of living crisis here in the UK?
Not in the short term, according to Kwarteng.
In a recent Twitter thread, he said: “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.”
A spokesperson for Labour leader Keir Starmer agreed.
“We’ve spoken out against fracking — it is clear it is not something that has public support and we don’t see it as a solution to the current problem.
“As the business secretary has himself said, increasing exploration is not going to deal with the crisis that we have at the moment.
“If you look at the average timeframe from a site being identified to it actually being developed, it is something like 28 years on average, so an increase in exploration is not going to deal with the current crisis.”