A British energy body had previously said that it could not accurately predict the chances or magnitudes of earthquakes linked to fracking operations, prompting the freeze three years ago.
What is fracking, and why does Britain have a moratorium on it?
Fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — involves drilling into earth and pumping water, chemicals and sand to crack underground shale rocks. Energy companies then extract fossil fuel from those fissures. The technique is widely used in countries such as Argentina, Canada, China and the United States.
Proponents say the practice creates well-paying jobs, reduces reliance on foreign energy and lowers risks from global price fluctuations. Fracking activity that took off after the 2008 financial crisis boosted domestic U.S. oil and gas production, turning the United States into an energy giant.
But fracking also requires enormous amounts of water — as much as 16 million gallons per well in the United States, according to Bloomberg News. That requirement threatens water supplies in communities near fracking sites. Critics also note fracking’s links to seismic events and potential contamination of water supplies.
Wastewater produced during fracking can lead to fluid being injected into the ground, which can raise pressure in rock formations over longer periods and over larger swaths of land than the initial fracking operations, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That can, on rare occasions, contribute to “induced earthquakes,” the agency says. Such quakes are generally small, but they have sometimes been deadly.
Why is U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak bringing back the fracking ban?
The British Oil and Gas Authority’s 2019 report persuaded the government to halt fracking “unless and until further evidence is provided that it can be carried out safely.” But Truss revisited the ban amid soaring energy prices as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Britain’s consumer price index rose 10.1 percent last month compared to the same period last year, with food inflation hitting 40-year highs. Britain is also spending billions to help households with their energy bills.
But many Conservative lawmakers are opposed to fracking. The opposition Labour Party forced a vote reaffirming the ban last week in an attempt to divide Conservatives and Truss’s government. Downing Street ordered Conservative lawmakers to vote against the bill as a show of confidence in Truss, but dozens of Tory members abstained during a chaotic sequence.
Sunak’s affirmation of the ban pleased climate activists and politically distanced himself from Truss. He had entered office promising to reverse many policies set out by his unpopular and short-lived predecessor. On Wednesday, Sunak told lawmakers that he would deliver on green policies because he cares “deeply about passing our children an environment in better state than we found it ourselves.”
Neither Sunak nor Truss have faced voters as leader of the Conservative Party. The last time the U.K. electorate voted the Tories into power was in 2019, when their manifesto included the anti-fracking pledge.
What is the status of fracking in the United States?
The United States began large-scale gas production from shale around two decades ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Fracking sites are located in states including Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Fracking has been politically controversial in the United States. Republicans have tended to support the method, noting its economic benefits. Politicians on the left are more split, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) among those who oppose it.
When seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in March 2020, Joe Biden said that he supported a ban on new fracking. His campaign later said that Biden meant that he would issue no new fracking permits for federal lands or waters, while allowing existing fracking operations to continue.
Later that year, Biden said he would not ban fracking while speaking in Pittsburgh, a city that is near heavy fracking activity. His administration has also sought to reverse a court decision that halted fracking in federal waters.