Owners of the UK’s only active fracking site are assessing whether a recent earthquake which has resulted in work being suspended damaged the properties of local residents.
Cuadrilla, which runs the Preston New Road site near Blackpool in Lancashire, has apologised for the impact of the tremor measuring 2.9 on the Richter scale - stronger than those that forced Cuadrilla to suspend test fracking in 2011 and put the country’s shale gas industry on hold for several years.
The firm says it will repair any property damage found to have been caused by the latest and largest tremor at the site which happened last Monday, August 26, and wants to continue to frack once it has worked with regulator the Oil and Gas Authority to ensure “the risk of a repeat occurrence has been properly mitigated”.
Under UK regulations, any tremor measuring 0.5 or above means fracking must be temporarily stopped while tests are carried out.
Fracking is designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock using high-pressure water mixture. The Government believes, despite environmentalists’ concerns about the increased use of fossil fuels, as well as chemicals escaping and contaminating groundwater, that “shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs”.
The situation in Lancashire has implications in Yorkshire, where seven firms hold Government licences to start exploring for shale gas. It had previously been expected that the first fracking exploration work since 2011 would start outside the village of Kirby Misperton in Ryedale before the Preston New Road site only for concerns about the finances of Third Energy, the company behind the Yorkshire plans, to put that work on hold.
New American owners took over Third Energy’s onshore operations in July, with the company saying it would make an announcement “in the near future” on its plans for Kirby Misperton.
However, the issues at the Lancashire site have led to growing calls for fracking to be banned in the UK by groups such as Friends of the Earth.
A statement from Cuadrilla about the 2.9 tremor said: “We would first like to acknowledge again that we are aware of the concern that this has caused, particularly among residents living close to the site in and around Blackpool. This event lasted for between two and three seconds and was felt by many in the locality. We are sorry for any concern this has caused. We are in the process of visiting local people who have raised concerns about minor damage to their property and will repair any damage that is assessed to have been caused by the seismic events.
“Hydraulic fracturing remains suspended and our technical team continues to work with the regulator to address a number of questions raised following the recent seismic events. We don’t have a date for operations to restart but it won’t be until both the regulator and ourselves are confident that the technical questions have been satisfactorily answered and the risk of a repeat occurrence has been properly mitigated. We continue to monitor the wells each and every day and there is no change to well integrity.”
The statement added: “The ground motion equivalents we have provided are designed to help local people and others to understand what would be felt at surface. The largest event at 2.9ML on the Richter scale lasted for between two and three seconds. The resulting ground vibration (which we measure continuously) was between 5mm and 8mm per second. For context, construction projects are typically permitted to operate at levels between six and 15 mm per second.
“People have asked why we are doing this and our answer remains unchanged, we are exploring for shale gas at Preston New Road with the aim to establish a domestic energy supply that the UK really needs. The Bowland Shale as a whole could be a very important resource for Lancashire and the UK and we would like to continue with our work to prove this. To reach net zero by 2050 the Committee on Climate Change is clear that the UK will need about 70 per cent of the natural gas that we are using today, in conjunction with carbon capture and storage for electricity and as a feedstock for the manufacture of hydrogen.
"Natural gas is recognised by the experts to be an important part of the solution. We intend to be a part of that solution in providing lower emission UK shale gas to replace higher emission imported gas whilst also generating local jobs and economic benefit.”
Following the tremor last week, local resident and employment consultant Heather Goodwin said she feared her property was going to collapse.
“The walls of my house shook, there was a really deep, guttural roar. For a moment, I really thought my house was going to fall down. It only lasted a few seconds but I felt the need to go all round the house and check for damage,” she said. “We’ve been afraid of this happening.”
Jamie Peters, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “This issue of earthquakes in connection to unwanted fracking has always been serious but now it is getting out of hand. It’s clearly not under control and at this point there is only one thing that can fix this situation: a ban, right now.”