Launching a new fossil fuel industry was a bad idea, and a coalition of localists and environmentalists appears close to defeating it

Less than four months after what was supposed to be a new beginning for fracking in England, when Cuadrilla resumed operations at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire, it appears increasingly unlikely that there is a future for this industry in the UK at all. Minor earthquakes rapidly halted fracking at Preston New Road, and led to a row about whether the legal limit for underground seismic activity, set at 0.5-magnitude after earthquakes in 2011, is unrealistically low. Now Jim Ratcliffe, chairman of petrochemicals firm Ineos and the UK’s richest man, has launched his own attack both on the 0.5 limit and on the planning system that has seen all three of Ineos’s applications to frack rejected by local authorities – although two were later granted on appeal. The government’s refusal to change the law in the industry’s favour, he said, means that it is “shutting down shale by the backdoor”.

Having watched the success of the shale gas industry in the US since 2000, Mr Ratcliffe and politicians including former chancellor George Osborne decided that fracking – which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals 2km underground at high pressure – should become a UK industry too. Senior Conservatives including the current energy minister, Claire Perry, agreed. They were wrong. The UK is unsuited to fracking, for political and geological reasons that have become clearer over the past few years, and all the money (Ineos alone has spent £150m) and effort expended on trying to foist a new and dirty industry on communities who do not want it has been thrown away.

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