Britain will impose an immediate stop on fracking, the government announced on Saturday, saying the industry risked causing too much disruption to local communities through earth tremors.
The government has banned fracking with immediate effect in a watershed moment for environmentalists and community activists.
Ministers also warned shale gas companies it would not support future fracking projects, in a crushing blow to companies that had been hoping to capitalise on one of the new frontiers of growth in the fossil fuel industry.
The decision draws a line under years of bitter opposition to the controversial extraction process in a major victory for green groups and local communities.
The government had previously signalled its support for the shale gas industry as it seeks ways to cut Britain’s reliance on imports of natural gas which is used to heat around 80% of Britain’s homes.
But fracking, which involves extracting gas from rocks by breaking them up with water and chemicals at high pressure, is fiercely opposed by environmentalists who say it is at odds with Britain’s commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Saturday’s announcement comes as Johnson gears up for an election on Dec. 12.
Fracking as cost the taxpayer at least £32m so far without producing any energy in return.
“Exploratory work to determine whether shale could be a new domestic energy source in the UK … has now been paused – unless and until further evidence is provided that it can be carried out safely here,” the business and energy department said in a statement.
The decision follows a report on an incident at a site run by British energy company Cuadrilla near Blackpool, northern England where a 2.9-magnitude tremor shook houses in August.
An anti-fracking campaign by local people emerged as a flashpoint in a growing climate activist movement opposing new fossil fuel projects around the world. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested over the past few years for trying to disrupt Cuadrilla’s operations.
Andrea Leadsom, the business and energy secretary, said the government has always been clear that shale gas exploration in the UK must be carried out safely.
“After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community. For this reason, I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect,” she said.
The ban marks a major U-turn for the Conservative party and the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who once referred to fracking as “glorious news for humanity” and urged the UK to “leave no stone unturned, or unfracked” in pursuit of shale gas.
The government ended its support for the struggling industry less than a week after a damning report from Whitehall’s spending watchdog found its plans to establish fracking across the UK was dragging years behind schedule and had cost the taxpayer at least £32m so far without producing any energy in return.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said it has “been clear for some time that the government’s big bet on fracking is bust”.
The decision has been welcomed as a “victory for common sense” by green groups and campaigners who have fought for almost a decade against the controversial fossil fuel extraction process.
Craig Bennett, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth, said: “This moratorium is a tremendous victory for communities and the climate. For nearly a decade local people across the country have fought a David and Goliath battle against this powerful industry. We are proud to have been part of that fight.”
However many people see this as a cynical attempt that distracts away from a contentious issue giving the Tories breathing space on environmental arguments.