Fracking companies have failed to use all available geological data when applying for planning permission, according to a report launched at Westminster this afternoon.
The study, by a former Downing Street adviser, shows that historic coal mining data has been overlooked or ignored.
It calls on planning committees to consider detailed maps of faults when deciding applications.
Anti-fracking campaigners have called for a moratorium on fracking in mining areas and a public investigation.
The report’s author is Professor Peter Styles, a former President of the Geological Society of London and Head of Geology at Keele University. He established the link between fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall well and the Blackpool earthquakes of 2011. He also advised David Cameron on seismic regulation of fracking.
“It is critical that this high resolution, carefully mapped data set should be included in any planning process for unconventional oil and gas activities.”
In an interview with DrillOrDrop last month, he warned of the risks of fracking near geological faults in former coal mining areas. The said the operation could trigger earthquakes and should not take place without assessment of all available geological data.
He recommended a gap of 850m – described as a respect distance – between fracking wells and known faults.
His report, launched this afternoon to MPs and peers at the Houses of Parliament, overlaid historic mining data from South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire, where Ineos proposes to drill for shale gas, onto maps from the British Geological Survey (BGS), which show only major fault lines.
Professor Styles said:
“I have looked at a number of these applications and they, probably as they have been advised, have used BGS geological maps and existing seismic reflection data of early vintage (BP acquired mostly) to formulate their planning applications.
“BGS surface fault maps are excellent but are limited as to the scale of faulting they show.”
He said surface seismic surveying equipment used by the shale gas industry cannot detect smaller faults that might give rise to seismic events that would stop shale gas operations.
But he said there was detailed geological information, particularly on faulting, had been compiled in mining areas.
“When these detailed mine mapping data is plotted together with locations of historic and relatively recent seismic events it is clear that they lie close to or on these smaller faults in many instances.
“These small but potentially active faults which are capable of generating seismic events which would exceed the Traffic Light Thresholds can be seen to occur much closer to proposed borehole sites than the 850m respect distance proposed.”
“In many areas proposed shale gas activities lie beneath historic coal mine workings which have already experienced subsidence and sometimes fault rejuvenation.”
Ministers “careful not to single out particular report”
The conclusions of Professor Styles’ report were put to ministers at a select committee hearing on fracking planning guidance last night. DrillOrDrop report
Asked whether planning committees should consider the report, the Energy Minister, Claire Perry, replied:
“Of course there should always be scientific debate but we should be very careful not to single out any particular report and prejudice any individual application on that basis because we have had the world’s best scientists review this industry for many years.”
Asked again, Mrs Perry said local authorities should take account of the ”overwhelming bulk of academic and on the ground evidence”.
The Liberal Democrat peer, Lynne Featherstone (right), who hosted this afternoon’s event, said this aftyernoon:
“This report asks some serious questions of the government and the fracking industry.
“Ministers must take heed and listen to the growing weight of evidence on fracking and, at the bare minimum, implement a moratorium on fracking in coal mining areas and review fracking across the UK.”
The campaigner, Joe Corre, (left) whose Talk Fracking organisation promoted the report, said:
“Professor Peter Styles report shows beyond any doubt that our Regulations are a farce.
“The fracking industry, with the help of their government friends, are about to stampede all over this beautiful country and they haven’t even bothered to consider the highly accurate and available data from our coal mining history.
“The North of England, in particular, is riddled with old mine workings and fault lines already severely weakened by coal extraction, right beneath where they intend to frack.
“I hope finally, that with this report the government starts to act responsibly and exercise their duty of care. A moratorium should be put in place immediately and a full public investigation into all the available evidence on fracking should be carried out as Scotland and our neighbours have done.”