Seismic fears: UK govt reverses ban on fracking

Demonstrators hold placards in front of their mock fracking rig in protest against hydraulic fracturing for shale gas outside the Houses of Parliament in London on December 1, 2012. (AFP Photo/Justin Tallis)
The UK has lifted a ban on the gas extraction technique known as fracking amidst activist outcry. Fracking was prohibited a year ago after it caused two minor quakes, but lawmakers maintain new safety measures reduce the risk of seismic activity.

­The move concerns the company Cuadrilla, who want to exploit shale gas reserves in the northern county of Lancashire. The company was forced to put a halt to gas extraction back in 2011 after fracking caused two minor earthquakes in the North of Great Britain.

Cuadrilla is currently the only mining firm that conducts fracking in the UK.

The technique, which has been widely criticized by environmental groups, uses explosives to create fractures underground into which water and chemicals are pumped to allow access to shale gas reserves. However, UK lawmakers have said fracking is now subject to uncompromising safety regulations that minimize environmental impact.

The measures will include a traffic light system that obliges fracking to stop if seismic activity increases to over 0.5-magnitude on the Richter scale.

British Energy Secretary Edward Davey extolled the virtues of shale gas exploitation, saying that it could be a viable alternative to gas deposits in the North Sea that are quickly depleting. He praised it as a step towards weaning England off energy imports that have increased in recent years.

"It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment,” he said, whilst at the same time conceding that the “UK is still in the very early stages of shale gas exploration and is likely to develop slowly.”

Davey expressed hope that the UK would follow the US model that saw gas prices plummet after shale gas exploitation was given the green light. The us of fracking has also come under fire in the US and has been connected to the contamination of water supplies and increased seismic activity.

A dangerous gamble?

Environmental groups opposed to the lifting of the fracking ban have slammed the measure as counterintuitive in the UK’s push to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental organization Friends of the Earth believe that the UK should be concentrating energy and funds into exploiting Britain’s ample renewable resources.

"Developing our huge clean power potential and cutting energy waste will create jobs, reduce our fossil fuel dependency and keep the lights on," campaigner Tony Bosworthto told Sky News, stressing that "gambling on shale gas is a risk we don't need to take.”

While Liberal Democrat MP, Tessa Munt said that the fracking debate could either make or break the UK green energy policy.

"Even as a small part of the energy mix, a push for shale gas will swiftly descend into a commercial stampede and investment will leak away from the renewable sector,” she said.