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Government’s fracking policy will cause energy crisis, says UK’s richest man | Environment

The UK’s richest person has launched an attack on the government’s fracking rules, accusing ministers of policies that will cause an “energy crisis” and “irreparable damage” to the economy. Sir Jim Ratcliffe, chairman of petrochemicals firm Ineos, pledged four years ago to start a UK fracking revolution but the company has been bogged down in

The UK’s richest person has launched an attack on the government’s fracking rules, accusing ministers of policies that will cause an “energy crisis” and “irreparable damage” to the economy.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, chairman of petrochemicals firm Ineos, pledged four years ago to start a UK fracking revolution but the company has been bogged down in planning battles and is yet to drill or frack a single well.

The businessman, who is worth £21bn, accused the government of taking an unworkable and unhelpful position on seismicity and planning rules.

“They are playing politics with the future of the country. We have a non-existent energy strategy and are heading towards an energy crisis that will do long term and irreparable damage to the economy and the government needs to decide whether they are finally going to put the country first and develop a workable UK onshore gas industry,” he said.

Ineos, which owns significant exploration rights in the UK, said it wants the limit at which fracking operations must be paused to be raised, from its current level of 0.5 magnitude. It said the ceiling should be a “sensible” level but did not specify what that would be.

Cuadrilla, the only shale gas company to have fracked in the UK, had to repeatedly halt fracking at its site near Blackpool last year, as its operations triggered minor earthquakes above the regulatory threshold.

Geologists have said the limit could safely be raised to 1.5 magnitude, above most of the mild tremors Cuadrilla caused.

But the energy minister, Claire Perry, told the Guardian last month that she had no plans to review the rules.

In a statement issued on Monday, Ineos attacked the government for setting the limit at 0.5, which it called “a level that has no sound basis in science and betrays a total lack of understanding of the shale extraction process”.

The firm pointed to other countries that have much more relaxed rules on seismicity and fracking. But the UK government has repeatedly said that one of the virtues of a UK shale gas industry is that it would be tightly and robustly regulated.

Ineos claimed the government was “shutting down shale by the back door” and branded the planning regime “archaic, glacially slow, inordinately expensive and virtually unworkable”.

Ministers have already rewritten planning rules to speed up shale gas applications and have proposed a second batch of reforms to make it easier for shale companies to drill exploratory wells.

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However, all three Ineos shale gas sites were rejected by local authorities. Two of those – one in South Yorkshire and one in Derbyshire – have since been approved after the firm appealed. The company is appealing over a third, at Woodsetts in South Yorkshire.

Ineos argued the UK had chosen to bet “the future of our manufacturing industry on windmills and imported gas from countries which are potentially unstable”.

A government risk assessment last week concluded that UK gas supplies were “resilient to all but the most unlikely combination of high demand and supply disruption”.

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