Fracking 'should continue with checks'

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A controversial gas extraction method which triggered two earth tremors near Blackpool last year should continue, but under strict conditions, a government-named panel of experts says.

The process - fracking - involves pumping water and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas.

Shale gas is seen as a way of ensuring relatively cheap energy supplies.

But critics have warned of possible side effects - including the contamination of ground water.

Test fracking (short for "fracturing") by the Cuadrilla company near Blackpool stopped in 2011 when two earthquakes were felt at the surface.

Start Quote

We don't need earth tremor-causing fracking to meet our power needs - we need a seismic shift in energy policy”

End Quote Andy Atkins Friends of the Earth

The government-appointed panel believes there will probably be more quakes but that they will be too small to do structural damage above ground. It recommends more monitoring.

The panel's report now goes out for a six-week consultation period, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) issuing a firm set of regulations at some point after that.

The panel agrees with a Cuadrilla report from late last year that test fracks at the company's Preese Hall site did cause two earthquakes of Magnitudes 2.3 and 1.5 in April and May.

"[Cuadrilla's experts] said there was a very low probability of other earthquakes during future treatments of other wells," said one of the report's authors, Prof Peter Styles from Keele University.

"We agree that [last year's] events are attributable to the existence of an adjacent geological fault that had not been identified.

"There might be other comparable faults, (and) we believe it's not possible to categorically reject the possibility of further quakes."

Report author Prof Peter Styles says any earthquakes are "not likely to cause significant damage"

Such events might well be felt at the surface but are extremely unlikely to be significant, he said.

Shale gas is found in layers of relatively weak sedimentary rock, typically several kilometres underground.

Coal mining has generated thousands of earthquakes down the years; and on the basis of all the data gathered from this, the panel says, fracking is unlikely to produce anything larger than a Magnitude 3.

"There's no record of a quake at this size doing any structural damage," said Prof Styles. "But they would be strongly felt, and there is a possibility of superficial damage."

When asked on the BBC's Today programme whether he was any more concerned about fracking than coal-mining, Dr Brian Baptie, head of seismology at the British Geological Survey (BGS) said: "No; given appropriate guidelines and appropriate monitoring, I see no reason why it shouldn't go ahead."

The panel recommends four precautions regarding Cuadrilla's Preese Hall operation and other projects in the Bowland Shale area of Lancashire:

  • all injections of fracking fluid must include a preliminary injection, followed by monitoring
  • the growth of fractures in the shale should be monitored
  • operations should monitor seismic events in real time
  • operators should observe a "traffic light" regime, with quakes of magnitude 0.5 or above triggering a "red light" and an immediate halt, followed by (unspecified) remedial action.

Magnitude 0.5 is a considerably lower threshold than the 1.7 proposed by Cuadrilla's experts, though the panel emphasised that other countries such as Switzerland use the still higher threshold of 2.3.

"We've opted for a much lower, more conservative option," said Dr Baptie.

"Even with real-time monitoring, there will be a time lag between what we've put into the ground and what we get back out in the form of earthquakes."

Operators should also minimise quakes by allowing the fracking liquid to flow back up the well soon after injection, the panel says, rather than keeping the rock under prolonged pressure.

Fracking graphic

It also recommends that seismic hazards should be properly assessed before new exploration is permitted.

This would involve seismic monitoring to establish what levels of activity are normal in that location, analysis of geological faults, and the use of computer models to assess the potential impact of any induced earthquakes.

The three members of the panel - Prof Styles, Dr Baptie and Dr Chris Green, an independent fracking expert based in Lancashire - said this information should be publicly available.

Mark Miller, Cuadrilla's chief executive, welcomed the report.

"We are pleased that the experts have come to a clear conclusion that it is safe to allow us to resume hydraulic fracturing, following the procedures outlined in the review," he said.

He said the company had already begun to amend procedures in light of expert advice.

Richard Moorman, CEO of Tamboran Resources, a company with permits to frack in Northern Ireland, said the risk of tremors or water contamination was low.

"The reality of any kind of incident would be extremely local; it's also extremely uncommon."

Map showing shale deposits across the UK

The government sees shale gas as a valuable energy resource for the future.

Cuadrilla claims that the site it has explored in the Bowland Shale contains 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, more than the UK's known offshore reserve - though only a portion of this would be economically recoverable.

"If shale gas is to be part of the UK's energy mix we need to have a good understanding of its potential environmental impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts," said David MacKay, Decc's chief scientific adviser.

"This comprehensive independent expert review of Cuadrilla's evidence suggests a set of robust measures to make sure future seismic risks are minimised - not just at this location but at any other potential sites across the UK."

Other companies want to explore for shale gas in Fermanagh, the Vale of Glamorgan, Somerset, Kent and Sussex.

But local groups are concerned about groundwater contamination as well as earthquakes, while environment groups point out that basing the UK's energy strategy on gas will make it much harder to achieve climate change targets.

Speaking on the Today programme, Tony Jupiter, former head of Friends of the Earth UK, said that the recommendations needed to go further:

"I remain to be convinced... that this is a credible part of meeting the 80% reduction targets in greenhouse gas emissions that are enshrined in law in this country."

"We don't need earth tremor-causing fracking to meet our power needs - we need a seismic shift in energy policy," said Andy Atkins, director of Friends of the Earth UK.

"We should be developing the huge potential of clean British energy from the sun, wind and waves, not more dirty and dangerous fossil fuels."

But Simon Moore, environment and energy research fellow at thinktank Policy Exchange, thinks that shale gas could also be an "environmental opportunity".

"It's something that can potentially help with meeting our climate change gas goals".

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  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    Add your comment...given that there are a cocktail of 600 fracking fluids including benzene,toluene, and xylene, what is to stop further tremors breaking the cement well casing and allowing the fluids to leach out into the ground? water , once contaminated , is impossible to clean up, do you think we can afford to drink bottled water , and where is it going to come from if ours is polluted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    I have no doubt at all regarding shale extraction, home grown gas, its a pity that it a Canadian /American consortium is doing the job, but I guess they have the expertise as they are already extracting gas by this means those two countries. Good one nice to see progressive thinking by some in this country of ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Fracking has been used for years on conventional oil wells. Many of the old wells in California have been fracked and it has not caused the San Andreas fault to explode. The risk of earthquake has been completely over-stated by the doom mangers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    What a sad lot of people, object, and make comments regarding these latest endeavours to get this country towards being independent for energy.
    If the lights go out, I hope that these people will step up and admit that they were wrong. Unfortunately that will be then history.
    Before it is too late, for heavens sake, tell these people to just shut-up and consider the need of the majority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    '#344 and #350 are so depressingly accurate in reflecting a downtrodden nation governed by lobbyist representatives of our free market masters. Still think we need a new party to represent sane balanced ordinary people'

    Couldn't agree more but in the meantime - what do we do ?

  • Comment number 367.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    The problem with energy supplies is that there can NEVER be a supply - all, every and any means or mode of supply - without there being an equal measure of risk to the environment including a risk to the health of those living near the facilities.
    We must decide - do we want to live a stone age life or do we want the comforts that electricity, gas and oil provide?

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    If you campaigned for carbon taxes and other environmental charges on energy don't complain if the price went up. If you voted for it then it's your fault that old people will now die in the cold next winter, to use your own argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    The coal is still in those mines and when we have used all the other countries coal the mines will be reopened. The economics of it are not right at the moment but one day the time will come to start digging again. Why would anyone in the uk want to buy uk coal when it was so much more expensive than imported stuff.
    Until then, if it is easier and cheaper to tap into this gas what is wrong with it

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    343. Drunken Hobo

    It is just a generic term used when referring to CO2 HydroCarbons etc. which are all green house gasses.

    Shale gas is methane, CH4 , which is 25 times more potent as a green house gas than CO2. I would be far more worried about that, being released into the atmosphere than I would about CO2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    There is currently an application pending to store liquified gas in salt caverns at preesall, this relies on the integrity of the rock structure. Has the effect of fracking on these caverns been taken into account

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.


    The Nation Grid is ALREADY held together by the use of energy storage facilities, ALL forms of electricity generation feed into this ergo the arguement about wind not working when there's no wind are not relevant"

    Could you please let me know how they store the electricity,i reckon i could make a fortune if i knew how to do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    I invested in drilling oil wells in Louisiana during the 80's. Out of 11 wells drilled - we hit 8, one of which struck over 10 billion cubic feet of gas - which we promptly sold to the local gas distributor, along with some reasonable oil reserves. It was the gas that made us the money - not the oil. Fracking will ultimately release huge reserves and drive the Retail price of gas right down! Good!

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    I bet the Government spin doctors are working overtime trying to work out how they can pin this on the unions, benefit claimants and public sector workers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    We have only got one planet, lets not break it ,eh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    I live in the Blackpool area and my property was affected by the earthquakes last year caused by Cuadrilla.
    If my property is damaged by future man made earthquakes who will compensate me?
    Who will compensate me if my building insurance increases to cover this additional man made risk.
    Who will compensate me for any loss of equity in my property?

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    #344 and #350 are so depressingly accurate in reflecting a downtrodden nation governed by lobbyist representatives of our free market masters.

    Still think we need a new party to represent sane balanced ordinary people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    349 LucyJ

    If I live to be a thousand years old I don't think I'll ever read such patent rubbish as you have written again!!

    Let's get one thing straight the livelihoods of the thousands of people employed by these mines are far more important than any silly ideas about protecting Squirrel Nutkins and his little chums!

    Wake up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    NJGibbs1981 >> A resource that could make Britain great again

    I'll think you'll find that is why the watermellons and the BBC are against shale gas.

    Flames from your fawcett? Pull the other one Richard it's got UEA emails on it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    ...and I thought it was the weight of all those immigrants that was causing these earth tremors. I'm sure I read than somewhere on HYS.


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