Fracking in England has been banned after new research raised fresh fears over the risk of earthquakes.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had “very considerable anxieties” about fracking, which is a controversial method of extracting shale gas.
The government has withdrawn support and said it will block further proposals to change the planning process for fracking sites.
It has previously supported shale gas exploration and fracking, which it considered a means to produce a domestic, low-carbon fuel alternative.
It also marks a sharp U-turn for Mr Johnson, who once hailed fracking as “glorious news for humanity” and said energy companies “should leave no stone unturned, or unfracked”.
Fracking had been expected to feature prominently in the campaign for the 12 December general election.
The moratorium comes after a report by the Oil and Gas Authority found it is not currently possible to accurately predict the likelihood of strength of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.
There have been a series of seismic tremors at a fracking site in Lancashire this year, including a a 2.1-magnitude tremor was reported at Cuadrilla’s site near Blackpool in August – days after a 1.55-magnitude movement.
There have been regular protests at the Lancashire site.
The government’s moratorium will remain in place until compelling new evidence shows it is safe.
Andrea Leadsom, minister for business, energy and industrial strategy, said the government had been advised that the size and frequency of seismic tremors could not be predicted using existing scientific tools.
She said: “We can no longer be certain of the safety of shale gas exploration, and we always want to be led by the science. Therefore we’ve decided that we cannot take this further at the time being.”
The government’s moratorium will remain in place until “compelling new evidence shows” it is safe, Ms Leadsom added.
But Liberal Democrat former energy secretary Ed Davey, said: “Liberal Democrats back an immediate ban now – given the evidence we are now in a climate emergency.
“The law Liberal Democrats passed to protect communities from earthquakes and seismic tremors caused by fracking has done a lot to prevent the Conservatives pressing ahead with fracking.
“But this belated, eve of election policy pause won’t distract voters from the Tories’ shocking record on the environment – not least the Prime Minister’s, when he lobbied to relax air pollution laws.
“The Tories are about as eco-friendly as a dustbin fire.”
Like Mr Johnson, his comments are in marked contrast to those he previously made as secretary of state in the coalition government back in 2013, when Mr Davey said fracking was “not the evil thing that some people try to make it out to be”.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure to break up rock and extract gas.
There are currently three companies with fracking licences in the UK, all based in the north of England.
Only one, Cuadrilla, currently has an active site in Lancashire.
But the series of tremors there in August meant that fracking was suspended, pending investigation and review.
The government lifted a previous, year-long moratorium on fracking in 2011.
But fracking has become a politically sensitive issue in recent months, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying he would not hesitate to implement a full ban if his party were elected into power.
Fracking supporters say the government’s new moratorium is an over-reaction.
James Woudhuysen, visiting professor of innovation at London South Bank University, told Sky News: “It has increased the sense in the population that we’re under siege from dangerous innovations.
“And that’s not the case at all.”
The August tremors measured between 2.0 and 2.9 magnitude, with an average ground motion of 5mm per second, about a third of the level of motion that is permitted for construction projects.
But anti-fracking campaigners say the moratorium is good news for communities who have long campaigned for sites to be shut.
“This industry is poisonous, it’s toxic, it contributes significantly to climate change it has no place in our communities, ” Eddie Thornton, who lives near a proposed fracking site in North Yorkshire, told Sky News.
He added: “The moratorium represents a significant victory for communities like mine up and down the country that have been fighting fracking for so long.
“But the timing of this announcement will now be lost on anyone. It’s a cynical attempt to grease the wheels of Boris Johnson’s election bus.”
Fracking is already banned in Wales and Scotland.
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