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Truss’ energy plan proves frack-tious

By Robyn Evans
23 September 2022
Planning Communications and Consultation
Public Affairs

By Robyn Evans

In her first major announcement upon becoming Prime Minister earlier this month, Liz Truss set out her plan to protect Britons against soaring energy costs and boost the country’s energy security. Along with plans to cap energy prices for two years and ramp up North Sea oil and gas extraction, Ms Truss also said she would lift England’s moratorium on fracking for shale gas, with a promise to “get gas flowing” in as soon as six months. 

Details on the plans were paused due to the official mourning period for the Queen, however, the go-ahead for fracking companies to start the process of exploratory drilling could come as early as this week.  

As well as reigniting claims of another broken 2019 Conservative manifesto pledge to keep the ban on fracking, the decision has attracted criticism from the opposition, devolved governments, climate justice activists and fuel poverty campaigners alike, who argue that the move contradicts what is needed to tackle the climate crisis. Even one of Truss’ most senior climate change advisers has reportedly said the PM should “look at the facts” on fracking, which as well as being costly, may not provide quick relief from the energy crisis we are facing. 

Fracking, a technique which involves recovering gas and oil from shale rock by drilling into the earth, was banned in England in 2019 amid concerns over the risk of earthquakes. This followed close to a decade of unsuccessful exploration for shale gas in the UK. Indeed, a major problem with developing the industry in the UK lies in the debate as to whether there is enough geological resource of shale gas for fracking to deliver real impact, notwithstanding the considerable time it would take for the practice to bear fruit and for gas to be produced on a commercial basis. 

Three years on from the implementation of the ban and questions remain on both its viability and safety. The locations across the UK in which there could be gas supply resources would be limited to a small section of England given that both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have made clear they will not use their powers to grant drilling licences. Further to this, the PM has said fracking would only be allowed where there is local support for it. With its difficult history and widespread scepticism amongst the public, fracking companies are likely to face strong opposition from local communities, and that is before we even consider the prospect of timely planning delays. 

These arguments have already been acknowledged by Ms Truss’s new chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng whilst he was business and energy secretary, stating: "Even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes – and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside. Second, no amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price any time soon.” 

Whilst the need to put all options on the table in attempting to deal with the UK’s soaring energy bills and inflation is entirely understandable, there are currently more questions than answers on how fracking will help meet the twin challenges of rising energy prices and the climate crisis. What is clear though, is that while there is no silver bullet, finding the solution is only getting more urgent.  

This article was originally published in Advocacy Local’s Politics and Planning Newsletter. To receive our fortnightly newsletter straight to your inbox, subscribe here: