On-shore gas drilling in Lancashire was the ‘highly probable’ cause of earth tremors detected in the area, a study has found.
The report into the controversial shale gas hydraulic fracturing or ’fracking’ operation by British firm Cuadrilla Resources was released this morning as a group of protesters halted work at the company’s drilling site near Southport, Merseyside.
The seismic events, including one in April of 2.3 on the Richter scale and one in May of 1.5, were caused by an ‘extremely rare’ combination of geological factors at the well site and would be unlikely to happen at other locations, the study said.
But the report also noted that systems to monitor seismic activity trigged by fracking — which involves injecting water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure — are already in place at sites in the Netherlands and Germany, and could be used to prevent the escalation of any future seismicity.
Mark Miller, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, said: ‘We unequivocally accept the findings of this independent report and are pleased that the report concludes that there is no threat to people or property in the local area from our operations.
‘We are ready to put in place the early detection system that has been proposed in the report so that we can provide additional confidence and security to the local community.
‘Cuadrilla is working with the relevant local and national authorities to implement the report’s recommendations so we may safely resume our operations.’
The report also said that if future drill sites did have similar geology then any seismic events as a result of fracking would be limited to around magnitude 3 on the Richter scale as a ‘worst-case scenario’. Activity of less than 2 on the scale can only be detected by seismographic equipment.
Nine protesters from the opposition group Frack Off stormed Cuadrilla’s drilling site early this morning. Several scaled the drilling rig using climbing equipment and unfurled banners. They say they plan to stay as long as possible to stop the drilling.
The Southport operation is the first hydraulic fracturing site in the UK. But fracking is well established in the US and has been the subject of much debate due to fears that the process is leading to increased seismic activity and drinking water contamination.
Jenny Boykin, a spokesperson for Frack Off , said: ‘Fracking uses huge amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals, a large fraction of which are never recovered.
‘The fracking fluid also leaches chemicals such as arsenic out of the rocks when it is used, making it even more toxic and so the fluid that is recovered becomes a big disposal problem.’
However, Cuadrilla has insisted that its methods are designed to prevent the problems experienced in the US and that the UK’s drilling regulations are some of the strictest in the world.
Cuadrilla commissioned the report in consultation with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The research was carried out by academic seismic experts directed by Dr Hans de Pater of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The firm intends to seek a peer review of the report.
A DECC spokesman said: ‘The implications of this report will be reviewed very carefully — in consultation with the British Geological Survey, independent experts, and the other key regulators, HSE and the Environment Agency — before any decision on the resumption of these hydraulic fracture operations is made.’