Fracking row over whether plans to seal up Lancashire wells should go ahead

The fracking site at Preston New Road

Questions over whether the UK's only fracking wells should be permanently abandoned in three months' time have been raised in parliament.

Fracking was banned in 2019 over concerns about earth tremors, but there have been calls to revisit the policy to reduce dependence on Russian imports.

The energy firm Cuadrilla, which owns the two fracking wells at Preston New Road in Lancashire, had previously been ordered to plug the wells by June 30th. They say that work would have to start "imminently" in the absence of other instructions.

Chief executive Francis Egan had previously urged the Government to withdraw the order to pour concrete into the wells, lift the moratorium on fracking, and use the site to produce domestic shale gas.

There were large protests at Preston New Road site before fracking was halted in 2019.

The Government says applying for an extension to the current deadline would be a "straightforward application".

Minister Greg Hands told the House of Commons: "The oil and gas independent authority has proactively approached Cuadrilla to ask if they will apply for an extension...they are ready to consider their potential application and the government hopes they would consider it favourably."

His comments came in a response to an urgent question in parliament on the Government's current stance on shale gas production in the UK.

However, opposition and Conservative MPs have questioned why a practice deemed "unviable" three years ago should be reconsidered now.

Lancashire Conservative MP Mark Menzies, whose constituency in Fylde is affected, told the House of Commons he recognised the need to end the reliance on overseas fossil fuels but told the Commons: "Fracking is not a solution."

He asked the Government to outline the steps it is taking to ensure investment in domestic renewable and nuclear energy instead.

Treasury minister Helen Whately replied: "Now is the moment for us to go full-steam ahead with our transition away from fossil fuels. We're investing in nuclear, we're accelerating our progress on renewables and we're boosting energy efficiency in homes across the country.

"This is how we're going to bring bills down, improve our energy security, and we're tackling climate change."

Meanwhile, Labour MP Cat Smith said "the people of Lancashire do not want fracking", as she called for a ban.

She said: "The member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) in his question characterises his constituents as being real people. Can I reassure the member that the people of Lancashire are real people, the people of Lancaster and Fleetwood that I represent are completely opposed to fracking in Lancashire."

She called for the minister to be sure "he is hearing loud and clear from Lancashire that Lancashire said no, the people of Lancashire do not want fracking."