Fracking 'should continue with checks'

Protest in US Fracking has proved controversial in the US too, though the government supports it

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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 392.

    Why is the BBC incapable of presenting good news? Fracking can reduce CO2, reduce energy dependence on Russia and Middle East, reduce costs - what's not to like. Some small tremors are not unusual but the Beeb has to dramatise the situation and leave a negative impression - again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    ref 257.Little_Old_Me

    351 describes the principle of energy storage (not specifically electrical as it is stored as potential energy).

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    @384. Ppuj
    Sorry, did I make you choke over your Sun, or have you moved on to the Daily Mail yet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    My understanding of the 'earthquake' risk is that it is about the same level as the risk of earth movement and collapse (subsidence) caused by coal and salt mining. The risk is there but can be managed with proper care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    Water and chemicals? What chemicals are those then? And what is it that they do? And where do they go afterwards? The nothwest of England gets substantial rainfull so using a lot in this process may not restrict other users, but what about further south? I'd be lot happier about this with some answers, after all importing gas is not without its problems as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    Northerners... know your place!

    How dare you fail to believe the explanations of your superiors!

    "And touch your forelock when you talk to me!", stated Prof K R Ank Bsc. (Toolfondling, Woking Poly 1963)

    You should thank your lucky stars them 'clever' people is taking't train 'Up Norf' & buying pasties at tha local whippet'n'pudding shop.

    It's an 'onour to 'ave your house shaken by such folk!

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    Fracking is not a good Idea at all. It will ruin the waters etc. Look at the US people and then tell me how awesome this will be? One state alone you can't drink water Toxic period!

    So Don't buy in this corporate media stuff and research your self because this is too many side effects than it worth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    I doubt it would be much comfort to anyone in Blackpool if and when their house fell down to be told that it was just their bad luck as it was a long shot ...

    I wonder if such an event is calssed as an act of God and so the insurance company would then leave them homeless.

    Still, it will make a change for the oil compaines who must be bored now covevering sealife will crude oil.

    Ho hum ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    Name number 6 How can you think Maggie is responsible. What Bile. I have heard it all. Heating has always been a luxury. The financial meltdown was under the leadership of the Labour party and the Unions were stopped from bullying democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    374 Absolutely correct. Please bear in mind that the north is already polluted, full of labour voters and houses there are worthless. So it does not matter if these mines cause earthquakes or contaminate the ground water!

    Stop bleating away like a typical northener. This mine will bring some much needed employment to a deprived area of the UK! That should be welcome news!

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.


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

    Admirable sentiments Paul, however I think that the gas companies have already set up their hedges and have an informal arrangement for God to perform a bailout when the excrement enters the impellor.
    Oh that our leaders had as much of a conscience as you sir.

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    What's a few earthquakes between friends ? Surely if my house suffers cracks or damage due to earthquakes then I can sue HMG for damages since they authorised this 'safe' extraction method. Why choose this when there are wave and wind options that are much safer ? The only pipes I want gas coming out of are the gas pipes !

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Just like to point out that no damage was reported during the last massive earthquake to hit Blackpool. A set of temporary traffic lights fell over and someone fell off their motorbike, but that’s about it. They thought it had cracked a railway bridge until they found out that happened two years previously.

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    Not wanting to sound like a namby pamby earth hugger, but I don't think I'm the only one who thinks the world is somewhat unstable at the moment. If it's been scientifically proved that fracking causes earthquakes, why on earth would we want to harness something that could be so destructive for the sake of something that won't last forever anyway? Put the funding into renewable energy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    It amazes me that when opinions are posted on this hys, they can be marked up. But statements of fact are marked down.

    It seams that the opinionated are more concerned about opinions than facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    So maggies legacy is unraveling, its 20 slow long years but I always knew history would judge her unkindly. none of her policies turned out to be any good.
    Privatization - Heating and travel are now luxeries
    Relaxation on financial service rules - worldwide financial meltdown
    destroy the unions - management bullying and low pay now rife
    Close then mines - risk earthquakes for energy source

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    Regardless of whether Fracking is allowed, along with wind and solar power, there will still be a need to cover the 'base load' of electricity with conventional power stations. Fracking will produce 'fossil fuel' therefore would add to the greenhouse gases. So we will still need lots of nuclear power or allow many houses and businesses to run on reduced power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    There is no reason why a "free" resource needs to be expensive when it reaches the consumer. If the price of gas in the UK is lowered to the levels they currently pay in the US - residential = $9.55 per thousand cubit ft, industrial = less than $5 ptcft, the hard pressed consumer will have more money to spend GROWING the UK economy. Ignore the naysayers. This will be a huge benefit for all of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    The way in which this works should be no surprise to anyone from the North West of England.

    IF it is under a southerner... it is a massive and unacceptable risk to property and life.

    IF it is under a 'mere northerner'... it is a risk worth taking for the nation, nothing to worry about and you are foolish to criticize the advice from 'knowledgeable' intellectuals and commerical interests.


  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    It is good to see the Tories promoting business & enterprise, a welcome change after 13 yrs of Labour's war on economic development.

    All this talk of man made earthquakes was just drivel made up by idiots. In any case, if a few individuals suffer a minor inconvenience then so be it. The good of the country must take precedence.


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