The Daily Telegraph

Truss rips up oil and gas red tape in drive to energy independen­ce

Fracking and North Sea drilling back on the agenda in push to make UK energy independen­t by 2040

- By Matt Oliver

‘It is patently obvious that we should be using our own gas instead of shipping it in from abroad’

‘Far from being dependent on the global market, we will make sure that the UK is a net energy exporter’

LIZ TRUSS has opened the door to further drilling in the North Sea and paved the way for fracking in Britain as part of a major push to make Britain self-sufficient for its energy needs.

Under plans to make Britain energy independen­t by 2040, the Prime Minister pledged to strengthen domestic power supplies with a series of radical reforms yesterday.

The proposals put a greater focus on homegrown fossil fuel extraction, while maintainin­g the Government’s previous pledges to build more wind and solar farms and nuclear power stations.

Perhaps the most eye-catching part of the pledge was a decision to end the moratorium on fracking – in place since 2019 – with immediate effect. According to Ms Truss, the shake-up will pave the way for developers to begin extracting shale gas in as little as six months in areas “where there is local support”.

The Government is also poised to make more than 100 new oil and gas permits in the North Sea available from next week, in the first licensing round of its kind since 2020.

The changes, which could take years to bear fruit, will make no difference to supplies this winter.

But combined with existing plans to build 24 gigawatts worth of nuclear power capacity by 2050, as well as more offshore wind farms and solar farms, they aim to make Britain a net energy exporter by 2040.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Truss told MPS that the shake-up was necessary after “decades of shortterm thinking” that had left the country exposed to surging energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Far from being dependent on the global energy market and the actions of malign actors, we will make sure that the UK is a net energy exporter by 2040,” she said.

The UK has been a net importer of energy since 2004 – meaning it consumes more energy than it produces – after oil and gas extracted from the North Sea ceased to meet more than 50pc of national consumptio­n.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, involves shooting a mix of water, sand and chemicals at rocks undergroun­d to retrieve the oil and gas trapped inside them.

It was originally touted by David Cameron’s administra­tion as a way to boost domestic production, after the British Geological Survey estimated that some 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas could lie underneath the UK.

Just one tenth of that amount would be enough to meet the country’s gas needs for decades – triggering hopes in some quarters of a Us-style shale boom.

However, fracking was banned in England three years ago after drilling by Cuadrilla caused stronger than anticipate­d earth tremors. The Conservati­ves’ 2019 election manifesto said the party would not support fracking “unless the science shows categorica­lly that it can be done safely”. Cuadrilla

subsequent­ly said it planned to concrete up its wells near Blackpool but was given a stay of execution when Kwasi Kwarteng, the former business secretary who was this week appointed Chancellor, announced a review of the scientific evidence available.

The Government was unable to say yesterday whether the safety case had changed but the policy about-turn was instead presented as a response to a change in circumstan­ces brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Jacob Rees-mogg, the new Business Secretary, said resultant chaos in internatio­nal energy markets, had “exposed the need to strengthen Britain’s energy security for the good of the nation”. The about-turn was welcomed by Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla.

Tom Crotty, director of Ineos, which has lobbied to restart fracking in Britain, said shale had the potential to “transform the energy landscape” in a similar fashion to the US shale boom.

He said: “The US is well protected against the energy crisis as it is making the most of its natural resources. [Shale] can do the same here in the UK.”

Ineos said it would invest the value of the first 6pc of gas extracted “back into local communitie­s”, while also claiming it would result in a bigger tax take for the Treasury. Mr Crotty said gas “must be part of” the transition to cleaner energy sources “for at least the next 30 years”. The UK has pledged to reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.

“It is patently obvious that we should be using our own gas instead of shipping it in from abroad,” he said.

However, embarking on a new era of oil and gas extraction will prove controvers­ial. Campaigner­s in the Frack Free United group have vowed to give energy companies “no peace”, with protests against new drilling already planned.

Rosie Rogers, head of oil and gas at Greenpeace UK, said the “drilling frenzy” unveiled by Ms Truss would do nothing to lower energy bills while unleashing “more heatwaves, droughts and storms on us all” by fuelling climate change.

Brian Mullin, partner and head of planning consultanc­y Marrons Planning, said the requiremen­t for community consent to fracking could prove a major barrier, after a similar mechanism “obliterate­d” onshore wind farms.

“If the Government was serious about delivery, the evidence suggests that community consent would need to be removed as it demonstrab­ly amounts to a moratorium for delivery,” he said.

Against the backdrop of tight energy supplies this winter, which will see the National Grid depend on electricit­y imports from abroad, ministers have already taken short-term measures such as keeping coal power stations on standby to help with any shortfalls.

The Government yesterday pledged “fundamenta­l reforms” to the way the UK energy market works longer term. This will see renewable power generators face curbs on the huge profits they are making. Under historic arrangemen­ts, wind and solar farms built before 2014 can sell electricit­y at the market rate and benefit from government subsidies.

Following meetings with officials, renewable energy producers have agreed in principle to accept new longterm contracts at fixed prices well below current rates, according to the BBC.

The changes announced yesterday have the potential to strengthen Britain’s energy supplies. But they are almost certain to trigger a showdown in the courts with green campaigner­s, who say further drilling in the North Sea is incompatib­le with Britain’s net zero commitment­s.

Further complicati­ng the plans is a general hostility to fracking, which previously helped to kill off Mr Cameron’s attempts to launch a new “dash for gas”.

As officials around Ms Truss scramble to get a grip on the crisis, many will be hoping that her interventi­on doesn’t end up as yet another false start.

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