The boss of energy firm Cuadrilla has accused the Government of failing to back up recent “rhetoric” on keeping the door open to fracking.
Chief executive Francis Egan said work to concrete up the UK’s only shale wells in Lancashire will have to start “imminently” in the absence of any official confirmation that the Government wanted to halt the move.
He urged the Government to withdraw its instruction to plug the wells, lift the moratorium on fracking and use the site to produce domestic shale gas.
Ministers have raised the prospect of rethinking the UK ban on fracking amid soaring gas prices and efforts to end reliance on Russia imports, weeks after Cuadrilla said it had been ordered to plug and abandon its two shale wells at Preston New Road.
Last week, Downing Street said Boris Johnson was “looking at all options” on fracking, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he agreed with the Prime Minister that it did not make sense to concrete over the wells as planned.
Mr Egan said there had been repeated contact with the Business Department and the Government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) since last Wednesday, but the only “clear and unambiguous response” was confirmation from the OGA that June 30 remains the legal deadline to plug both wells with cement.
If the Prime Minister and Secretary of State’s words are to count, then officials must be instructed to stop dragging their heels and frustrating the Government’s wishesFrancis Egan
“As it takes between two and three months to complete the work we must start on site imminently,” he said.
“If the Prime Minister and Secretary of State’s words are to count, then officials must be instructed to stop dragging their heels and frustrating the Government’s wishes.
“In the absence of any action to back up the rhetoric we have had to press ahead with preparing and moving a rig to our Preston New Road site to plug these wells.”
He urged the Business Department and the OGA to formally withdraw their instruction to plug the wells.
He added: “They should also put sensible protections in place to ensure that companies like Cuadrilla and others aren’t forced to suffer the risk and financial cost of operating in a position where a Government can keep changing its mind and require wells to be cemented whilst they are eminently useful.
“If we are serious about energy security, as a very basic first step we must not concrete up these wells, and then we need urgently to lift the shale gas moratorium and use these and additional wells to produce domestic shale gas.”
Suggestions that the ban on fracking could be reversed received an angry response from environmental campaigners who warn it is unpopular with the public, damaging to the climate and will not bring down bills.
The independent Climate Change Committee has warned that high oil and gas prices are driven by global markets and increasing UK fossil fuel extraction would have virtually no impact on bills.
The best approach to reducing consumers’ exposure to volatile prices is to cut demand for fossil fuels through home insulation, heat pumps, electric vehicles and more wind and solar power, the advisory committee has urged.
The PM’s spokesman said: “We want to keep all options available to us, given these unique circumstances we find with the war in Ukraine, to help us move away from Russian gas.
“Beyond that we haven’t provided any further updates but we will do so if that changes. While we are developing our plans, which we are going to be set out this month, the moratorium on shale gas does remain in place.”