Seismic Surveys: The Fracking Spearhead


  • Frackers planning new seismic surveys
  • IGas survey done already in East Midlands
  • Now plans for survey at Glazebury, Warrington
  • Aurora planning survey near Formby in May
  • Survey data used to facilitate future fracking
  • Survey process itself can be highly intrusive
  • Impacts from noise to structural damage
  • Involves coating area in cables, geophones etc.
  • Explosives often used to create sound waves
  • Companies trespass on gardens and fields
  • Surveys have spawned global resistance
  • From tearing up cables to blocking roads
  • Informed, organised communities crucial

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“Thumper” Trucks Which Are Usually Used To Generate Sound Wave For Seismic Surveys In Vehicle Accessible Locations (Click To Enlarge)

The renewed efforts by fracking companies to kick start unconventional oil and gas extraction in the UK is not confined just to drilling exploration wells. In fact, for large parts of the country residents most likely first contact with the frackers will be in the form of seismic surveys. In recent months a rash of plans for such surveys has begun to emerge, with many more likely to follow. With shale and coal formations under large parts of the UK, fracking compnaies need some idea of where best to drill and seismic data is often their first port of call.

Survey Crews Laying Cables And Geophones Across A Farmer’s Field In Lancashire During Cuadrilla’s Seismic Survey In 2012 (Click To Enlarge)

Leading UK fracker IGas Energy, backed by money from french oil giant Total, has already completed a 3D survey in a 68 square kilometre area of South Yorkshire/North Nottinghamshire around Bawtry. IGas have announced their intention to acquire “extensive 3D seismic surveys across a number of licence areas”. IGas’s seismic contractor of choice appears to be Canadian company Tesla Exploration. IGas now appear to have their sights set on obtaining 100 square kilometres of 3D data near Glazebury, Warrington, between Manchester and Liverpool (see map at bottom).

It is unclear exactly when IGas will try to push ahead with this survey, but another company, Aurora Energy Resources, has more immediate plans. While Aurora has been drilling for small scale conventional oil near Formby to the north of Liverpool for a while, it has also been touting for investors so it can exploit the deeper Bowland Shale. Aurora intends to conduct a survey to acquire 51 square kilometres of data between Formby and Ormskirk within the next month (see map at bottom).

While the greatest threat from these surveys is the data they provide to facilitate future fracking, the survey process itself is not without consequences. Complaints from local residents about impacts from seismic surveys have been documented around the world, including in Colorado, Ohio, Texas, Poland, Trinidad and Tobago, Bangladesh, and India. These impacts span the range from rattling windows and noise pollution to structural damage to buildings and subsurface structures, such as water boreholes, pipes and septic tanks.

Blockade Of SWN Resources Seismic Survey Trucks On Route 625 Near Stanley, New Brunswick, Canada In August 2011 (Click To Enlarge)

It is worth understanding what a seismic survey actually involves. The basic principle is to create sound waves at the surface which travel down into the ground, reflect back off the rock formations and are detected at the surface. In practice this means coating large areas in arrays of detectors (geophones), usually connected with miles of cabling, before creating the sound waves. In vehicle accessible areas (on or near roads) “thumper” trucks can be used to create the vibrations. In other areas explosive charges buried in the ground are used to create the same effect.

Seismic surveys are by their very nature highly intrusive, requiring access to large areas of land, for which the companies do not want go to the trouble and cost of obtain permission for access. The seismic survey carried out by Cuadrilla in Lancashire between April and June 2012 is a typical example. Many residents complained of contractors trespassing on their gardens and fields to lay cabling, or even to plant explosive charges. In one garden only the owner chasing them off stopped an explosive charge being planted near a gas main.

After Ripping Up Seismic Survey Cables People Drag Them Into The Transylvanian Village Of Mosna In Romania In November 2013 (Click To Enlarge)

Across the globe there are numerous examples of resistance to seismic surveys. Two particularly pertinent examples are those of SWN Resources in New Brunswick, Canada and Romgaz in Sibiu County, Romania. In New Brunswick tactics centred around blocking survey vehicles from moving on roads, beginning with a two day blockade in August 2011. Resistance continued, with the native Mi’kmaq people taking the lead, and culminated in a series of blockades (and other actions) through much of 2013, which incurred significant state repression.

In the Romanian region of Transylvania attempts by seismic contractor Prospectiuni SA to conduct a survey for state owned Romgaz have been met with a campaign of sabotage and denial of access to land. In the face of sustained intimidation from police and security contractors hired by Romgaz, miles of seismic cabling has been ripped up while farmers have repeatedly chased testing crews off their land. Even under this intense scrutiny the invasive nature of seismic surveys was clear to see, with the company leaving numerous undetonated explosive charges unguarded for anyone to stumble over.

At present in the UK very few people even know that these surveys are happening, and fewer still understand exactly what they involve and their importance to the fracking companies. However, the examples above demonstrate not just the invasive nature of the surveying process but its vulnerability to local resistance. The company needs unfettered access to land across the whole survey area and an informed and organised community is in a very good position to deny them that.

Flyers for raising awareness about Seismic Surveying (Black & White or Colour). Designed to be printed 4 up, double sided, on A4 paper.

Flyers for raising awareness about Seismic Surveying (Black & White or Colour). Designed to be printed 4 up, double sided, on A4 paper.


For guidance on opposing a survey in your area read this useful FAQ. Use these Seismic Survey Flyers for raising awareness about the threat posed by seismic surveys in your area. There is also a Seismic Spotter Sheet that highlights the signs and activity that indicate that a survey may be carried out in your area.

An organised community is THE best defence against the Fracking industry. Get our step-by-step guides and start planning an effective Anti-Fracking campaign where you live here…

The most significant factor in what happens next is building a community response in this area. If we can be of any assistance please email or call 07858 614861.

This Map Shows Seismic Survey Areas & Contractors in the UK


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