What was the fracking ban? Moratorium meaning - will Liz Truss energy plan allow UK fracking sites to reopen

Shale gas extraction was stopped after earthquakes linked to fracking were recorded near Blackpool, Lancashire

It comes amid the worst UK cost of living crisis for decades.

As well as an energy bills freeze, the new Conservative leader has reversed a ban on fracking in a bid to improve the UK’s energy security.

But what is fracking - and why was it banned?

Fracking was stopped near Blackpool when earthquakes were recorded (image: Getty Images)

What is fracking?

Fracking, which is short for ‘hydraulic fracturing’, is an energy extraction process that aims to release the fossil fuels shale gas and/or oil from underground pockets.

It does this by pumping liquid deep underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock.

In doing so, the theory is that the gas contained within it is released - providing a source of energy.

Fracking in Lancashire appeared to have been ended - until February 2022 (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Liz Truss argues fracking is necessary because of soaring global energy prices - although it is likely any gas extracted in this way would be subject to the same market conditions.

These include locations in: West Sussex, Surrey, Lancashire, Yorkshire, South Wales, Fife in Scotland and County Fermanagh and County Antrim in Northern Ireland.

Why was fracking banned?

Fracking exploration and testing took place in the UK over several decades between the 1970s and 2000s.

During and after it was scaled up by company Cuadrilla at a site near Blackpool, Lancashire in 2011, 120 minor earthquakes were recorded.

One of these, which happened in August 2019, measured 2.9 on the Richter scale - a tremor that was strong enough to be felt by local residents.

There are concerns fracking could pollute water supplies (image: Getty Images)

As well as concerns over earthquakes, there are fears fracking could contaminate water - something that has already happened in the USA - and increase fossil fuel emissions.

It led to a moratorium - an indefinite suspension - of fracking in November 2019.

Cuadrilla was told to plug its wells by the government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) in February 2022.

However, a backlash by Conservative backbench MPs meant this did not take place.

They argued the wells should be kept open for energy security purposes and would provide thousands of jobs.

Then-Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng - who is now Liz Truss’s Chancellor of the Exchequer - said at the time that lifting the ban “would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes — and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside.”

Boris Johnson also said he was “slightly dubious” that fracking was the “panacea” his MPs thought it was during his final weeks as Prime Minister.

It was seen as a direct warning to his successor, Liz Truss, who supports the reintroduction of the energy extraction process.

Kwasi Kwarteng supported Boris Johnson’s green agenda (image: Getty Images)

A government-commissioned review into fracking by the British Geographical Survey was conducted during the Boris Johnson administration.

It looked at whether new drilling and well technology had reduced the risk of environmental issues.

Despite being handed to ministers in July 2022, it is yet to be published.

What did Liz Truss say about fracking?

Liz Truss unveiled her energy security plan to a boisterous House of Commons on Thursday (8 September).

Among other policies, the new Prime Minister suggested the government was open to new applications for fracking sites.

Citing “huge reserves of shale gas” under the UK, the PM said new wells could see extraction “where there’s local support for it”.

She said extraction could start within six months.

The overturning of the fracking ban would “end the UK’s short-termist approach to energy security once and for all,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Greenpeace said fracking would be a distraction from the UK’s energy issues rather than a solution.

“It will not lower bills. It will not make us less dependent on volatile gas markets. It will not reduce our carbon emissions. It may well not work at all because the UK does not have the vast empty expanses of the USA,” said Georgia Whitaker, oil and gas campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

“The manifesto promise on which this government was elected was that fracking would not happen unless the science changed, which it most emphatically has not.

“Communities who have this nonsense inflicted on them in the name of an out-of-date ideology will be wondering who their elected representatives are really representing.”

Friends of the Earth said Fracking was a “false solution” to the energy crisis

The group added: “The most effective way to bring down our bills and boost energy security for good is to invest in cheap, clean renewables and a nationwide home insulation and energy efficiency programme.”