Fracking: environmental campaigners in Lancashire say they will return to the barricades if Liz Truss lifts the ban on extracting shale gas

Anti-fracking campaigners say they will be back at the barricades if the ban on shale gas extraction in Lancashire is lifted by new Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Protesters resisting a return to drilling in the countryside between Preston and Blackpool insist that, while a return to exploration is not expected in the county due to intense local opposition, they are still prepared to stand and fight if necessary.

"We are just as determined to keep fracking out as we were in years past," said Eve McNamara who was a leading member of pressure groups Frack Free Lancashire and Ribble Estuary Against Fracking.

"I retired from the group about three years ago, but if it starts again I'll be back. I don't think it will happen. But we will be ready if it does."

Fracking and farming sat side-by-side on Preston New Road when drilling was allowed. Prime minister Liz Truss is expected to overturn the ban of extracting for shale gas this week, opening the way for a return to fracking in Lancashire.

Fracking was suspended across the UK in 2019 after a series of earth tremors in Lancashire. Three happened within five days, increasing from 1.6 magnitude, to 2.1 and then 2.9.

They followed two tremors in 2011 which registered 1.4 and 2.3 and caused test drilling to be temporarily suspended.

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Why is Liz Truss expected to lift the ban on fracking?

Protestors staged demonstrations every day when fracking trials were in operation.

A report by the North Sea Transition Authority found it was not possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to hydraulic fracturing operations.

At the time, ministers confirmed the pause would remain in place unless and until further evidence was provided that shale gas extraction could be carried out safely.

But now, in the face of soaring energy bills, the Prime Minister is looking at a return to shale gas exploration despite the fact that the Conservative Party's 2019 election manifesto promised fracking would only be re-introduced "if the science shows categorically that it can be done safely."

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng said in June, when he was the Business and Energy Secretary: "We have always been, and always will be, guided by the science on shale gas.

Aerial view of the fracking rig in Preston New Road.

"It remains the case that fracking in England would take years of exploration and development before commercial quantities of gas could be produced for the market, and would certainly have no effect on prices in the near term.

"However, there will continue to be an ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming decades as we transition to cheap renewable energy and new nuclear power. In light of Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, it is absolutely right that we explore all possible domestic energy sources.

"However, unless the latest scientific evidence demonstrates that shale gas extraction is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby, the pause in England will remain in place."

What do environmental campaigners say about the fracking ban?

Police put on a show of force at the site on Preston New Road.

Opponents of fracking say they are expecting the government to publish more details of its plans to lift the moratorium on shale gas extraction later this week, as promised by the Prime Minister in a speech earlier this month.

But Friends of the Earth says it will hold Liz Truss to her pledge that it would only be reintroduced "where there is local support."

In Lancashire the county council voted in 2016 to refuse planning permission for fracking test sites, only for the local voice to be over-ruled by Whitehall.

Azhar Ali, leader of the opposition Labour group on Lancashire County Council, said: "I cannot imagine that there is going to be community support for fracking anywhere - it’s political suicide, but more than that, the damage to the environment is huge.

“There are questions around health and wellbeing, there have been tremors and mini quakes - and I can see communities coming together across the North of England to oppose it.

“It’s also going to take years to produce the volumes of gas that are required to bring to the market.

The drilling rig was dismantled when fracking was suspended by the government.

“You've got wind and solar [power] which could create a lot more [energy] a lot quicker. We need jam today - not in 10 years’ time."

Eve McNamara added: "It's just a dead cat (in Lancashire). I don't think there is enough enthusiasm from MPs in the regions who will be affected by this.

"It was something which was popular a few years ago, but not now. It won't be happening.

"It will take at least 10 years for the process to flow and the reserves are so miniscule they wouldn't make a dent (in the demand)."

How many oil and gas licenses are there in Lancashire?

Most of Lancashire's local authority areas are covered by oil and gas licenses, according to Friends of the Earth. Across England there are 91 out of 333. There are also 138 parliamentary constituencies covered by licenses.

It is believed that only a small number of MPs would support fracking in their constituency area.

Friends of the Earth has published a map showing the areas of the country which could be threatened by onshore extraction, including fracking.

The charity's fracking campaigner, Danny Gross, said: “Shale gas extraction causes earthquakes and contributes to climate breakdown and will do almost nothing to reduce energy bills.

“Fracking is by far the most unpopular and least effective way of generating energy in the UK and has been opposed by communities wherever it has been attempted.

“Any attempt to water down the rules that help safeguard people from the threat of fracking will only fuel its unpopularity.

“If Liz Truss wants to build a strong economy for the future, she should champion home insulation and the UK’s plentiful renewable resources. They are cheap, quick to develop and are popular with the public.”

Companies who hold the licenses have the right to explore for oil and gas. Many of the licenses cover the Bowland Shale Formation, a geological area of interest, which stretches across the North of England and the Midlands.

The government is expected to publish a report by the British Geological Survey in the next few days - leaked to the Guardian newspaper last week - which suggests little progress has been made on the risk of earthquakes caused by fracking.

According to the Guardian the report says forecasting fracking-induced earthquakes and their magnitude "remains a scientific challenge."

It also says there are "significant existing knowledge gaps" in the process and problems remain in identifying potential new fracking sites that could handle earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0.

Greenpeace has said it believes there have been no "significant" scientific breakthroughs since 2019 for the government to change its mind.

"For the Truss government to reverse its position on shale gas on the back of this would simply be breaking a clear promise on which they were elected,” said Dr Doug Parr, the charity's chief scientist.

What does Cudrilla say about the fracking ban?

Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, the exploration company which began fracking in Lancashire, said lifting the ban was “the right call”.

"This is an entirely sensible decision and recognises that maximising the UK’s domestic energy supply is vital if we are going to overcome the ongoing energy crisis and reduce the risk of it recurring in the future.

“The last few months have highlighted the risks associated with ever increasing reliance on expensive, uncertain, and higher emission gas imports. Without the strong measures set out today, the UK was set to import over two thirds of its gas by the end of the decade, exposing the British public and businesses to further risk of supply shortage and price hikes down the line."Any rational analysis of UK energy supply, including those put forward by the Climate Change Committee, recognise that our transition to net zero will require the continued use of gas until at least 2050. The (government) announcement sets the foundation for us to move towards gas self-sufficiency, and not be reliant on the whims of dictators, or the vagaries of international supply lines and prices."A thriving shale gas industry will drive job creation across the North of England, generate much-needed tax revenues for central and local government and benefit local communities financially."

The abandoned site with reminders left by protestors.