Fracking in the UK will be impossible at any meaningful scale and will not work, the founder of the UK’s first fracking company has warned.
Chris Cornelius told The Guardian that fracking will also not help with the energy price crisis and he believes government’s support for it is merely a “political gesture.” Mr Cornelius is the founder of Cuadrilla Resources, which drilled the UK’s first modern hydraulic fracturing wells in Lancashire.
It comes as Prime Minister Liz Truss has made clear she supports fracking and hopes to see gas from fracked sites as soon as six months from now.
England’s fracking ban has been lifted as Ms Truss’s government vowed to explore all avenues to improve energy security, setting Downing Street on a collision course with environmental campaigners.
However, several Tories have previously said they are opposed to it, with levelling-up secretary, Simon Clarke quoted as saying “I don’t expect fracking to be a big supplier in the UK”.
What have Tory MPs said?
Liz Truss has made clear that she supports fracking and will lift the moratorium that has been in place since 2019, saying she hopes to see gas from fracked sites as soon as six months from now. However, it remains to be seen where and how sites will be licensed.
Jim Pickard, Chief Political Correspondent at the Financial Times, shared a series of tweets on social media on Wednesday (21 September) detailing other Tory MPs views on fracking, picking out key quotes government ministers have previously said on the issue, with several saying they are opposed to it.
Kwasi Kwarteng, now the chancellor, said: “UK has no gas supply issues. And 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.”
Alok Sharma, the cabinet minister, was quoted as saying: “Even if you were extracting more right now…the price that’s going to be generated is going to be the international wholesale gas price. Idea that…that will impact the price of wholesale gas internationally, I don’t think that is realistic”
Meanwhile, Simon Clarke, the levelling-up secretary, said: “Gas is certainly preferable to coal but I don’t expect fracking to be a big supplier in the UK” and James Heappy, defence minister, said “before the election I made an unequivocal pledge to defend our part of Somerset from fracking.”
Lee Rowley, the housing minister, also voiced his opposition on the subject, stating: “I want to place on record my complete and absolute opposition to exploratory drilling, which may lead to fracking, in the North East Derbyshire constituency and particularly at this particular site near Marsh Lane”
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson also commented on the issue this month. He said: “If we could frack effectively and cheaply in this country, that would be possibly a very beneficial thing. I’m just, I have to say, slightly dubious that it will prove to be a panacea”
Alex Stafford, MP for Rother Valley, is also againt fracking and has previouly commented: "I am resolutely and absolutely opposed to fracking in any form, so are the majority of residents across the North and the Midlands"
What did founder of fracking company Cuadrilla say?
Chris Cornelius told The Guardian that he does not believe there is any chance of fracking in the UK in the near term.
He said that when Cuadrilla had operated here, it had discovered that the geology of the UK was unsuited to widespread fracking operations. He added that “no sensible investors” would take the risk of embarking on large projects here and “it’s very challenging geology, compared with North America [where fracking is a major industry].”
Mr Cornelius said the resource in the UK is “heavily faulted and compartmentalised”, unlike the gas-bearing shale deposits in the US - which makes it far harder to exploit at any scale.
He also said that Ms Truss’s decision to give the green light to fracking “is not going to have an impact” on the UK’s energy supply, sating: “It makes good soundbites but I can’t see anything happening.”
In the longer term, Mr Cornelius said it was possible there could be a few localised operations but they would be small and could not make a meaningful contribution to the UK’s energy needs.
He added: “This is a sad situation. It is a let-down. There was an opportunity 10 years ago to look at this [fracking] sensibly, but that opportunity has now gone. It was worth looking at then, but it’s not practical now.”
Writing in today’s Guardian, Mr Cornelius and his former colleague, Mark Linder, both called for investment in key technologies which are more likely to produce energy than fracking - including geothermal energy and tidal power.
What is the company Cuadrilla?
Cuadrilla was founded in 2007 and was the first company to use modern hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology in the UK on dense shale rocks. It started first at a site in Lancashire in 2011 and carried on until 2018.
However, Cuadrilla quickly ran into problems, including its failure to report damage to an exploratory well. As public awareness of fracking grew, protests started at sites and potential sites.
In 2018, an earthquake of magnitude 1.5 at its site near Blackpool caused fracking to be halted. In February this year, the company said its wells would be “plugged and abandoned”, in accordance with instructions from the regulator.
Mr Cornelius resigned from Cuadrilla in 2014, after Lord Browne, former chief of the oil company BP, took over the chairmanship. Mr Browne left in 2015.
According to its current chief executive, Francis Egan, Cuadrilla has spent “hundreds of millions of pounds” in its efforts to start up a fracking operation. However, the company never produced any gas for sale, The Guardian reports.
Mr Egan has welcomed the announcement this month that the moratorium would be lifted, but the company has not yet said whether it will unseal any wells.