A wave of municipal opposition, on the heels of falling natural gas prices, is raising serious questions about the future of hydraulic fracturing in the United Kingdom, just days after the company with the most extensive exploration rights in the country warned that it won’t proceed unless regulations to protect communities from fracking-related earthquakes are eased.
The latest opposition comes from the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester, a region of 2.7 million people that also became the world’s first nuclear-free city in 1980. “It’s a firm position on behalf of the 10 boroughs and Greater Manchester as a whole, where we have large numbers of potential sites,” Mayor Andy Burnham told the Manchester Evening News, adding that “the region’s ‘radical policy’ would send a message to firms considering applying to frack in the region,” iNews reports.
Planning policies enacted by the 10 communities will now include a “presumption” against drilling that amounts to an effective ban on fracking. Shale gas companies will be allowed to appeal when their applications to frack are rejected.
“The news comes amid growing concern about more than 50 tremors that have repeatedly halted hydraulic fracturing by Cuadrilla at Preston New Road in Lancashire—including a 1.5 magnitude quake last month described by the firm as ‘like dropping a melon’,” iNews notes. “London is also finalizing a similar scheme, and there is discontent among councils elsewhere, including Conservative-controlled authorities.”
Fracking moratoria are already in place in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
“The planning measures that will be put in place should boost the confidence of other councils to also implement a presumption against fracking,” said a spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire. “Fracking is a social pariah, with more and more communities rejecting it. Climate change is real and it’s here now. We urgently need green energy solutions, not the dirty, carbon-intensive fossil fuels of old.”
In late December, the petrochemical giant Ineos declared that shale gas deposits in the UK won’t likely be developed unless governments relax restrictions on fracking after an earthquake. The Times of London identifies the company as the biggest holder of shale exploration rights in the country.
“Ministers have enthusiastically backed the development of shale gas, but have also set strict limits on the earth tremors caused by fracking, the process used to extract the gas,” the Times states. “The government’s rules force companies to cease fracking for 18 hours after causing a tremor measuring more than 0.5 on the Richter scale.”