The government is planning to review rules designed to reduce the risk of earthquakes from fracking operations, a civil servant said this morning.
Following earthquakes in Lancashire caused by fracking at Cuadrilla’s well at Preese Hall, the government introduced a traffic light monitoring system. This requires fracking to stop immediately if seismic activity monitored at a site is 0.5 or higher on the Richter scale.
But an official at the Department of Energy and Climate Change told councillors in East Sussex: “It is worth noting that pretty much everybody thinks this is too stringent. It is a very low level.”
The official, who works in DECC’s Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, added: “We will be reviewing the level once some operations have come forward.”
The traffic light system was implemented after recommendations in a government-commissioned report in 2012 by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering.
Last week, academics at Glasgow University said fracking firms must be allowed to cause more significant earthquakes if the government wanted the shale gas industry to succeed. They said the 0.5 limit was deterring investors.
That report, in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, was criticised by Tony Bosworth, energy campaigner of Friends of the Earth. “Any move to weaken safety rules on fracking will send shock-waves around local communities who face the threat of shale gas extraction under their homes”, he said.
“Further watering-down of regulations on the safety of fracking would be deeply unpopular and show that the Government is putting the interests of shale gas firms ahead of people.”
Recommendations to government
The DECC official also told councillors that the government had accepted all the recommendations of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report. She added: “Most of them are implemented and we will be looking at the rest as we go along.”
In the summer, a peer-reviewed short article in the Lancet by engineer and regulatory adviser Michael Hill said only one of the recommendations had been implemented in full. He said: “Other recommendations have been ignored or the opposite has been put in place”.
When asked about who was liable in the event of an accident, the official said: “The operator is ultimately responsible but the Association of British Insurers has confirmed that it [fracking] does not need to be specifically covered [in home insurance]: the risk is considered to be low.”
When asked whether home insurance premiums would rise, she said: “I cannot confirm that but they would not be expected to increase.”
Consultation on environmental permits
The Environment Agency, which was also at the meeting, explained the purpose of public consultation on environmental permits. “Consultation is to enable the community to raise issues that we have not considered. It is not a matter of do you object or not”, a spokesman said.
Fracking in East Sussex
There are currently no planning applications for fracking in East Sussex and no expired applications or pre-application discussions.
Cuadrilla relinquished its Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence in the county earlier this year. There is now just one remaining PEDL, covering 20 sq km (or 1.2% of the county). However, areas of East Sussex were included in the 14th licensing round, the outcome of which is expected early next year.