The UK government recently announced that it would halt fracking with immediate effect — representing a huge win for environmental campaigners.
But since the announcement on Nov. 1, reports have emerged that throw in to doubt how permanent the ban might be.
A few days after the announcement, on Nov. 4, civil servants from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published a document that suggested the government would not rule out new applications, the i Paper reported.
The document published was in response to a consultation on shale gas exploration — a type of gas yielded from the process of hydraulic fracturing. The document provides advice to companies that might submit applications for future fracking sites.
"It should be noted that the government has made clear that on the basis of the current scientific evidence, and in the absence of compelling new evidence, it has taken a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents," the report reads.
"While future applications will be considered on their own merits by the Secretary of State in accordance with the law, the shale gas industry should take the government’s position into account when considering new developments," it continues.
The open-ended language regarding the possibility of future applications has troubled campaigners and opposition parties. Green non-profits have long argued that fracking is a danger to local communities and contributes to global warming.
The controversial process involves blasting high-pressure water into rock formations to fracture the rock and release shale gas or oil. Advocates of the process argue that it provides a way to access energy and bring down the price of oil and gas, but it has been blamed for dozens of small earthquakes on site and in nearby areas.
In August, three record-breaking earthquakes hit a Cuadrilla-run fracking site near Blackpool, Lanchashire — the largest measuring 2.9 on the Richter scale.
Fracking at the Blackpool site was paused following the earthquakes.
The government’s November moratorium on fracking came after a scientific study concluded it was not possible to rule out “unacceptable” consequences for the those living near fracking sites, the Guardian reported.
A report, undertaken by the Oil and Gas Authority, a government agency, also warned it was not possible to predict the magnitude of earthquakes that fracking could trigger.
In response to the document suggesting future applications might be considered, John Hobson, a campaigner for Frack Free Lancashire, told the i Paper that the ban announcement was mixed approach.
"This fudge has all the hallmarks of a government who are trying desperately to please all sides in this argument, but are failing to please anybody. It is time they applied a single approach, consistent with the evidence, and banned all fracking permanently," Hobson told the i Paper.
The Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party also criticised the move, with Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, describing the ban as “phoney,” according to the i Paper.
"Once again it's clear to see the Conservatives cannot be trusted on fracking. It should be unthinkable that in the middle of a climate emergency the Tories are keeping the door open to more fracking," Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said.
In addition, two geology academics, writing for the Conversation, have argued that the ban would not apply to developments underway in the South East anyway, as those developments involve fracturing at a lower pressure than the ones in the north of England that are subject to the ban.
Meanwhile, there is already an indefinite moratorium on fracking in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
"The government has placed a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect by making it our policy not to issue any Hydraulic Fracturing Consents. This does not technically prevent applications but it does mean that they will be refused," a Conservative party spokesperson said, i Paper reported.
"We have also ruled out any changes to the planning system, having listened to local residents. Fracking is now off the table. We would only ever change our position if both the science supported it and communities wanted it."
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the government had decided not to introduce permitted development rights for shale drilling and added that the issue of planning permission was separate to the decision to impose a general moratorium.