The UK has called a halt to fracking or shale-gas extraction in England as the far-right Conservative government tries to bolster support ahead of the December 12 general election, amid fears about earthquakes.
The controversial technique is largely outlawed across Europe but has enabled the US to return to its position as a fossil-fuels powerhouse.
The issue was expected to feature prominently in campaigning in the general election with the Conservatives looking to make gains in traditional Labour seats that voted heavily to leave the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The indefinite suspension comes after an Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) report said it was impossible to predict the probability or size of tremors caused by fracking.
The opposition Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party want a permanent fracking ban.
Britain’s first fracking took place in the UK in 2011, when Cuadrilla caused tremors of up to 2.3 magnitude near Blackpool. This prompted a temporary ban and the introduction of strict limits that forced companies to halt fracking if seismic activity reached 0.5 magnitude.
Fracking in England was suspended in late August after Cuadrilla Resources, the only firm licensed to frack, caused a magnitude 2.9 earthquake at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire in northwest England.
It was the largest earthquake caused by fracking in the UK and followed more than 90 tremors around the site in a month.
Sajid Javid, when he was communities secretary in 2016, approved Cuadrilla’s fracking plan at Preston New Road.
The application had been refused by Lancashire County Council but it was pushed through by the populist Conservative government. Javid, now finance minister, claimed at the time that shale gas had the potential to “power economic growth” and create 64,000 jobs.
The site has been the scene of major protests and last year three activists – a piano restorer, teacher and soil scientist – became the first environmental activists to be imprisoned since 1932 in the UK.
Fracking is already banned in Wales and Scotland.
Leftist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that the announcement was an “election stunt” and that Labour would ban the practice permanently.
“Boris Johnson described fracking as ‘glorious news for humanity’. We cannot trust him,” Corbyn added.
Ex-Conservative energy minister Sam Gyimah, who recently defected to the pro-EU Lib Dems, said Johnson’s “conversion to environmentalism [was] skin deep”.
“It’s interesting that just as we approach an election he has decided he is against fracking.”
Observers say it is hard to see a time with current technology that fracking in the UK would not create tremors.
Professor Richard Davies of Newcastle University said: “The UK is crisscrossed with faults and it’s difficult to avoid them because the current imaging techniques used by the industry do not yet provide enough resolution to detect many of them.”
Anti-fracking protesters. Picture credit: Flickr