Fracking (earthquakes)

I want to draw your attention to the wording of a letter to the Government that I recently signed, amongst other Members of Parliament who are concerned about recent demands from the Shale Gas industry.

Please find the wording below:

We write regarding the recent demand from the shale industry that the Government relaxes the rules governing the size and intensity of earthquakes generated as a result of fracking.

The Government has always been keen to highlight that the UK has a “world class” regulation framework in place for fracking.  A cornerstone of that regulation has, rightly, been the limitations placed on the earthquakes / seismic events that fracking can generate.  As you know, an 2.3 richter earthquake was the reason that the last UK moratorium on fracking was imposed in 2011.  In our view, communities have an absolute right to expect that the Government will protect them from earthquakes which cause both surface impact and threaten the sub-surface integrity of the fracking well.  The traffic light monitoring system introduced in 2012 ensured that any earthquake in excess of 0.5 richters would see activities suspended.

The recent attempt to conduct fracking in Lancashire caused 57 seismic events over just 57 days – with the largest being 1.5 richters (around 10 times larger than the regulation permits).  Industry experts have suggested that the Preston New Road was only around 2% fracked before the site was abandoned, meaning that significantly larger earthquakes would likely be needed to extract gas on a commercial level.  The industry itself have talked about a new limit of 4.0 richters – around 3,100 times larger than the current limit.

As MPs, we recognize there is a diversity of opinion on shale gas in the House of Commons and, as a group, we take different views with regards to the principle of hydraulic fracturing.  We are, however, united in agreement that the 0.5 richter limit is a vital element of regulation and must be maintained – both because it was agreed to by the industry and to give any semblance of comfort to communities affected by it.  Moreover, we believe it would be highly inappropriate for either the Government or the regulator to assent to industry demands to lift the upper cap on seismic activity purely for commercial reasons.

We strongly welcome the recent announcement by the Government that there are “no plans” to relax the 0.5ML limit or replace the traffic light system, despite industry demands.  We ask now that you direct the Oil & Gas Authority to retain the limit and recognise there is no appetite in Parliament or the community for any loosening of these regulations.