Government allows fracking to continue despite recent earthquakes

Posted on 17 Apr 2012

The controversial gas extraction technique known as fracking will continue to be allowed in the UK despite confirmation that recent earthquakes resulted from the gas extraction technique.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, pumps water and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas, has been criticised by environmental groups after two earthquakes in Blackpool were linked to test fracking by energy firm Cuadrilla in 2011.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change has published an independent expert report recommending measures to mitigate the risks of seismic tremors from fracking.

An effective monitoring system and a traffic light control regime are among measures recommended by the report, which has reviewed a series of studies commissioned by Cuadrilla and confirms that minor earthquakes detected in the area of the company’s Preese Hall operations near Blackpool in April and May last year were caused by fracking.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change’s chief scientific advisor, David MacKay, said: “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.”

“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.”

The invitation for comment runs for six weeks from today with all responses set to be considered and taken into account before any decision is taken on further fracking for shale gas.

The report recommends the following measures to mitigate the risk of any damaging seismic activity from future shale gas operations in the Bowland Basin:

  1. That the hydraulic fracturing procedure should include a smaller pre-injection and monitoring stage.
  2. That an effective monitoring system to provide near real-time locations and magnitudes of any seismic events should be part of any future hydraulic fracturing operations.
  3. That future fracking operations for shale gas should be subject to a “traffic light” control regime, similar to that recommended by Cuadrilla’s consultants. A red light at activity levels of 0.5 in magnitude has been lowered from Caudrilla’s proposed stop point of 1.7.

The review recommends that suitable actions to assess the seismic risk be put in place before any future operations take place elsewhere in the UK.

Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Mark Miller, said: “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. Many of today’s recommendations were contained in the original expert studies we published in November.”