The UK government on Thursday officially lifted a moratorium on unconventional natural gas extraction in England and announced a new round of oil and gas licensing for offshore blocks in the North Sea.
“In light of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponization of energy, strengthening our energy security is an absolute priority, and – as the prime minister said – we are going to ensure the UK is a net energy exporter by 2040,” said energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg. To get there, we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production. So, it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realize any potential sources of domestic gas.”
The moratorium was enacted in November 2019 following a small earthquake in North England, where the Bowland-Hodder Shale formation was being tested. The government said it would again consider applications for hydraulic fracturing, noting developers would need to have the necessary licenses, permissions and consents. Among the requirements is local support, which is known to be weak in the country.
The decision to lift the moratorium followed an announcement from Prime Minister Liz Truss shortly after she took office earlier this month. Truss said at the time that ending the moratorium could “get gas flowing in as soon as six months, where there is local support.”
A 2013 British Geological Survey (BGS) report estimates the Bowland-Hodder holds 37.6 trillion cubic meters of gas.
The government commissioned a study to further research unconventional gas extraction in the country earlier this year. The BGS found there is a limited understanding of UK geology given that just three test wells have been drilled and hydraulically fractured to date.
UK-based Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. drilled horizontal wells into the Bowland in 2018 in Lancashire and was given permission that year to complete them using hydraulic fracturing. The company reported encouraging initial results in early 2019. The tests were suspended after tremors in the area.
The government also said Thursday that a new licensing round would be launched by the North Seas Transition Authority in early October. It is expected to yield more than 100 new licenses for development in new blocks of the UK Continental Shelf.
Russia has curbed exports of natural gas to Europe following its invasion of Ukraine, forcing the continent to scramble for alternate supplies after years of declining domestic production made it dependent on imports.
Governments across the continent are working to diversify supplies and roll out policies aimed at curbing soaring energy costs and their impact on the region’s economy. The UK, which imported about 4% of its natural gas from Russia last year, has also announced a cap on household energy bills for heating and electricity, the easing of liquidity requirements for energy companies and plans to accelerate nuclear and renewable energy projects.
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