Britain calls halt on fracking following government U-turn

Anti-fracking activists stage a protest near the entrance to the Preston New Road drill site in north west England last year. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2019

Britain calls halt on fracking following government U-turn

  • Move follows a report by Oil and Gas Authority into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road

LONDON: The British government called a halt on Saturday to the controversial process of “fracking” due to fears it could trigger earthquakes in a surprise U-turn just weeks before a general election.

Until now, Britain had hoped that fracking — banned in many countries, but booming in the US — could help secure its future energy independence.

But with just a few weeks to go before Britain goes to the polls — where environmental issues are expected to feature prominently —  Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom announced a “moratorium” at what is currently the UK’s only operational shale gas well in Lancashire, northwest England.

“I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect,” Leadsom said.

“It is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.”

The U-turn follows a report by Britain’s Oil and Gas Authority into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, a site operated by exploration and production company Cuadrilla.

The OGA report found that it was not currently possible to accurately predict the technology’s potential for triggering earthquakes.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had “very considerable anxieties” about the extraction of shale gas.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dismissed the government’s about-turn as merely a PR stunt ahead of the general election.

“The Conservatives’ temporary pause of fracking is an election stunt to try and win a few votes,” he tweeted.

“Boris Johnson described fracking as ‘glorious news for humanity’. We cannot trust him.”

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is used to release oil and gas locked deep underground.

It is carried out by blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground to release shale oil and gas.

Environmentalists argue that the process contaminates water supplies, hurts wildlife, causes earthquakes and contributes to global climate change.

It is banned in many countries, including France and Germany, and the UK’s other constituent members — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are opposed to it.

Nevertheless, eyeing the boom in fracking in the US, the British government still views the technology as a potential opportunity to reduce its dependence on gas from Norway and Qatar.

When asked on BBC radio on Saturday why the government was not banning it altogether, Leadsom insisted that fracking represented “a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom.”

The British Geological Survey estimates that the Cuadrilla site holds up to 2,300 trillion cubic feet (90 trillion cubic meters) of shale gas, which could theoretically fill Britain’s natural gas needs for more than a thousand years.

In 2016, the Conservative government estimated that some 20 shale wells could be opened by the middle of next year, but only three wells have been drilled to date. Public mistrust of shale gas extraction is rising sharply. 

According to the National Audit Office, opposition among Britons has risen to 40 percent from 21 percent since 2013. 

“Public concern has centered on the risks to the environment and public health, from fracking-induced earthquakes, and the adequacy of the environmental regulations in place,” it said.


Russia vows cooperation with OPEC to keep oil market balanced

Updated 21 November 2019

Russia vows cooperation with OPEC to keep oil market balanced

  • Moscow not aiming to be world’s No.1 crude producer, Putin tells annual investment forum

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have “a common goal” of keeping the oil market balanced and predictable, and Moscow will continue cooperation under the global supply curbs deal.

OPEC meets on Dec. 5 in Vienna, followed by talks with a group of other exporters, including Russia, known as OPEC+.

“Our (common with OPEC) goal is for the market to be balanced, acceptable for producers and consumers and the most important — and I want to underline this — predictable,” Putin told a forum on Wednesday.

In October, Russia cut its oil output to 11.23 million barrels per day (bpd) from 11.25 million bpd in September but it was still higher than a 11.17-11.18 million bpd cap set for Moscow under the existing global deal. Putin told the forum that Russia’s oil production was growing slightly despite the supply curbs deal but Moscow was not aiming to be the world’s No. 1 crude producer. Currently, the US is the world’s top oil producer.

“Russia has a serious impact on the global energy market but the most impact we achieve (is) when working along with other key producers,” he said. “There was a moment not that long ago when Russia was the world’s top oil producer — this is not our goal.”

Russia plans to produce between 556 million and 560 million tons of oil this year (11.17-11.25 million bpd), Energy Minister Alexander Novak said separately on Wednesday, depending on the volume of gas condensate produced during cold months.

Russia will aim to stick to its commitments under the deal in November, Novak told reporters.

Russia includes gas condensate — a side product also known as a “light oil” produced when companies extract natural gas — into its overall oil production statistics, which some other oil producing countries do not do.

As Russia is gradually increasing liquefied natural gas production (LNG), the share of gas condensate it is producing is also growing. Gas condensate now accounts for around 6 percent of Russian oil production.

Novak told reporters that in winter, Russia traditionally produces more gas condensate as it is launching new gas fields in the freezing temperatures.

“We believe that gas condensate should not be taken into account (of overall oil production statistics), as this is an absolutely different area related to gas production and gas supplies,” he said.

Three sources told Reuters on Tuesday that Russia is unlikely to agree to deepen cuts in oil output at a meeting with fellow exporters next month, but could commit to extend existing curbs to support Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, Novak declined to say that Russia’s position would be at upcoming OPEC+ meeting. Reuters uses a conversion rate of 7.33 barrels per ton of oil.