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Shale gas fracking: MPs call for safety inquiry after tremors

08 June 11 19:29
Shale gas drilling near Blackpool

The government is facing calls for an investigation into the safety of shale gas extraction over fears of a link to recent earth tremors in Blackpool.

Energy company Cuadrilla has suspended fracking operations near the resort while experts examine data from two minor earthquakes in the area.

A Commons select committee has backed the controversial process, which is opposed by environmentalists.

Now two local MPs are demanding an inquiry into the possible risks.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, involves injecting sand and fluids into underground hard shale rocks to force them apart and release gas trapped inside.

Environmental impact

The process has caused controversy in the US where some householders claim that shale gas leaking into their drinking supply causes tap water to ignite.

Since Cuadrilla began operations there have been two small earthquakes - magnitudes 2.3 and 1.5 - centred on nearby Poulton-le-Fylde which, according to the British Geological Survey (BGS), shared a "similar location and mechanism".

Fracking was being carried out before both tremors, the BGS said, adding: "The timing of the two events in conjunction with the fluid injection suggests that they may be related."

Gordon Marsden, the Labour MP for Blackpool South, has written to Energy Secretary Chris Huhne to argue that the government's chief scientific advisors should look "closely and afresh at the potential issues".

"I'm not making a pre-judgement about the process one way or the other," he said.

"But I do believe for both reassurance and public information that processing an independent investigation should be given as a priority.

"I think the things that people are interested in is viability of the process as well as the safety and environmental impact."

'There are concerns'

Eric Ollerenshaw, Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, echoed Mr Marsden's calls for independent scientists to investigate the safety issues.

He said: "I have met representatives from Cuadrilla, who have talked me through the process, but clearly there are concerns about the effects of this experimental drilling.

"I need to find out more and see unbiased evidence about the pros and cons involved in shale gas extraction."

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said shale gas exploration, like other oil and gas projects, was subject to a series of checks.

"We have discussed with Cuadrilla and agreed that a pause in operations is appropriate so that a better understanding can be gained of the cause of the seismic events experienced in the Blackpool area," he added.

"A geomechanical study is being undertaken, along with further work by the British Geological Survey and Keele University, and we will need to consider the findings into the cause of the event."

Cuadrilla expects the study process to take up to eight weeks and will examine the findings before deciding whether to resume fracking.

"Clearly we would have liked to complete the fracking at the site but obviously when this situation came up we thought it was prudent and responsible to stop it," said a spokesman.

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