Monday, October 17, 2011

Fracking Caused Earthquakes, Researchers Find

This story briefly appeared on The Guardian's website before being yanked.

Gas drilling deep beneath the Fylde coast did cause minor earthquakes, a report confirmed on Monday.

The shale gas company Cuadrilla Resources – has been urged to stop causing the tremors or face the prospect of having its operations closed down.

The company had been in discussion with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to consider a report into the risk of earthquakes associated with fracking – the process used to extract shale gas from deep beneath the Fylde coast.

The meetings followed the British Geological Survey's conclusion that two recent earth tremors felt were most likely to have been caused by fracking.

The British Geological Survey said the correlations between the earthquakes and the time of fracking operations and the proximity of the quakes to the site, all pointed towards the earthquakes being a result of the process.

Seismologist Brian Baptie said: "These were still very small earthquakes, even by UK standards and won’t cause any damage. If fracking continued I couldn't see the tremors getting much bigger."

He added that it's obviously a concern for residents.

Cuadrilla has been criticised for its drilling technique, which involves pumping high volumes of water and sand into drill holes to crack the rocks so gas can be extracted. The company commissioned a report following the tremors earlier this year.

Shortly after the quakes were felt the firm halted its operations after admitting the low magnitude tremors felt in Poulton in April and May, close to Cuadrilla's Singleton site could be connected.

And geoscientists said Cuadrilla's operations could be shut down permanently if proposed methods to reduce the risk of earthquakes fail.

Toni Harvey, a senior geoscientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "If we allow fracking to continue and their mitigation didn't work, then we would shut them down again, without a doubt. There is a lot of concern in the media and from ministers about public safety.

"DECC has requested a detailed report from Cuadrilla, which we understand they are close to finalising. When the report is received, it will be carefully considered, with input from British Geological Survey and other experts."

Last month Cuadrilla, the first company to explore for shale gas in the UK, announced the Fylde coast holds a total potential resource of 200 trillion cubic feet of gas. It estimated the discovery – between Blackpool and Southport – could be worth £6bn to the UK economy and create 1,700 jobs locally.

However protesters are campaigning to stop the drilling and the delightfully named anti-group, Frack Off, rallied outside the DECC headquarters as the company presented the study.

Philip Mitchell, chairman of Blackpool and Fylde Green Party, called on the government to halt all UK hydraulic fracturing industry activity until there had been a thorough evaluation of the risks.

He said: "Any suggestion of an acceptable level of earthquakes caused by fracking should be rejected.

"The government must realise it must stop treating our communities like guinea pigs and accept these techniques carry unacceptable risks to the British public.

"Ministers must stop the industry activity at least until parliament and the public can be guided by a full and robust appraisal of the total risk to the themselves and to the environment."

Mark Miller, the CEO of Cuadrilla Resources, said they had a useful, in-depth working session with officials on the initial findings of the report.

"There is some considerable work still to do and we absolutely share with DECC the need to have the complex issues involved addressed dealt with satisfactorily," he said.

Aiden Attewill, from Frack Off, likened the process as scraping the bottom of the fossil fuel barrel. "We need to stop putting off these problems and really address issues of resource depletion and climate change," he said.

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