The report, commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), concludes that, ‘it would not be possible to state categorically that no further earthquakes will be experienced during a similar treatment in a nearby well’.
Though seemingly damming, a report that focuses the minds of the press and public on minor seismic events could be seen as a PR coup for a company whose extraction method of choice has consistently been linked to groundwater contamination, severe methane leakage, air pollution, accelerated climate change, industrialisation of the countryside and potentially radioactive waste.
By concentrating on just one aspect of the shale gas extraction process (earthquakes) attention is being diverted from the host of reasons why shale gas is a threat. Companies involved in the search for, and extraction of, other types of unconventional gas in the UK are also likely to be enjoying the superficial investigation offered by the report.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a process used not just to get gas from shale rock, but also to get at gas trapped in un-minable coal seams (Coal Bed Methane). There is also a third form of unconventional gas extraction threatening the UK, known as Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), where un-minable coal is burnt underground and gas is collected at the surface.
All three extraction processes involve elements which are highly destructive. However, what is not being addressed is the what it would mean for all three of these processes to be in full production in the UK.
Elsie Walker, a Frack Off activist, said,
‘This report is a seriously dangerous distraction. People need to understand that the wave of unconventional gas development that is threatening the British Isles will bring with it far greater consequences than a number of small earthquakes’.
‘The scale of development proposed is being completely ignored. Cuadrilla want to drill 800 wells in Lancashire alone. They are one company going after one type of gas. There are several companies going after several types of unconventional gas in the UK and all potentially on a similar scale to Cuadrilla. If we allow this to happen, we will witness the total industrialisation of the British countryside and the destruction of the ecosystems we rely on for our survival. We cannot allow this to happen’.
‘Even within the narrow context of earthquakes, this report misses all the real issues such as sub-surface damage to wells causing them to leak, the much larger earthquakes seen in the US as a result of wide spread shale gas development and the potential effects on sensitive infrastructure like nuclear power stations and railway lines’.
For more details see frack-off.org.uk
- Known that fluid injection can cause earthquakes since at least 1967 (www.sciencemag.org/content/
- Many earthquakes linked to fluid injection since then, e.g. Ashtabula, Ohio in 2001 (www.bssaonline.org/content/
- Maximum likely size of induced earthquakes extrapolated from UK coal mines where no fluid injection takes place without any justification:
- Multiple magnitude 4/5 earthquakes linked to fracking or frack-waste disposal in the United States last year
- In Europe linked to gas extraction include a magnitude 5.0 in the Ekofisk Field, North Sea in 2001 and a 4.4 near Rotenburg, Germany in 2004
- Largest earthquakes linked to gas development are magnitude 7.0 and 7.2 in Gazli, Uzbekistan in 1976 and 1984
- Six-fold increase in >3.0 earthquakes in the midwest has been linked to shale gas development by the U.S. Geological Survey
- Sub-surface damage to wells more important issue than minor damage on surface
- Documented in the case of the Preese Hall earthquakes (casing significantly buckled over hundreds of feet)
- Even minor distortion of casing likely to crack cement and allow migration of fluids up well bore
- Will increase chances of methane migration and water contamination
- Only one small test frack for shale gas has been performed and it caused 3 small earthquakes
- The more fracking and waste disposal that are done the more earthquakes will be caused
- Magnitude 5.6 earthquake (and swarm of smaller quakes) in Oklahoma in Nov linked to frack waste disposal
- Caused significant damage to people’s homes (www.csmonitor.com/
Environment/2011/1108/ Earthquakes-in-Oklahoma-Is- fracking-to-blame-or- something-else)
- Similar magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Virginia shutdown of 2 nuclear reactors (www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/
- The unusual geological conditions in that part of Lancashire that caused this problem are that they do have earthquakes
- Not a single earthquake in the area since modern records began
- Therefore very hard to deny that the 3 earthquakes during Cuadrilla’s fracking operations were induced
- Due to very small amount of onshore oil and gas activity so far in UK there is almost no specific regulation of industry
- Lead regulator is DECC whose main purpose is to promote oil and gas development
- In reality Cuadrilla’s temporary fracking suspension is voluntary for PR reasons
- Environment Agency has so far ducked all responsibility for issue
- Health and Safety Executive only really interested in onsite safety of workers
- All monitoring of fracking activities is done by companies themselves (no independent checks)
- Many dispersed sites means monitoring would be difficult even if there was will to do it