The UK government on Tuesday said it has ordered a new report on the impact of fracking, the process used to extract shale gas.
The British Geological Survey (BGS) has been commissioned to advise on the latest scientific advice around the practice and is expected to submit its report before the end of June.
The decision comes two days before the government is due to publish its new energy strategy, and amid the global energy uncertainty sparked by the Russia-Ukraine war.
Fracking was effectively banned in the UK in 2019 after a study said it could not rule out “unacceptable” consequences to local communities, following tremors in Lancashire in northwestern England.
Fracking involves drilling into the earth and pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressures to fracture shale rock layer and release trapped gas.
“We have always been, and always will be, guided by the science on shale gas. It remains the case that fracking in England would take years of exploration and development before commercial quantities of gas could be produced for the market, and would certainly have no effect on prices in the near term,” said British Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
“However, there will continue to be an ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming decades as we transition to cheap renewable energy and new nuclear power. In light of Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, it is absolutely right that we explore all possible domestic energy sources.”
He stressed that the pause on fracking will remain in place “unless the latest scientific evidence demonstrates that shale gas extraction is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby.”
In a nod to public concerns, Kwarteng added that the study would be “desk-based” and that “no drilling of any further test wells or seismic monitoring will take place.”
Fracking is an issue that has split Cabinet ministers in government and remains controversial among the British public after the Lancashire tremors.
The BGS has also been asked to explore whether there are new fracking methods that can reduce the risk of tremors and if there are areas outside of Lancashire that could be at lower risk of seismic activity.
Cuadrilla, an oil and gas exploration and production company, had previously been told by the government to fill its three shale gas testing wells in Lancashire by June 2022, but last week had its deadline extended to June 2023.