Fracking earthquake rules could be relaxed – energy minister

traffic light system

The government may relax regulations designed to prevent earthquakes caused by fracking, according to comments by the energy minister, Claire Perry.

The current rules, known as the traffic light system, require fracking to stop if the operation causes seismic activity at a level of 0.5ML.

But in a letter to a Conservative MP, Ms Perry said:

“The TLS [traffic light system] is set at an explicitly cautious level but, as we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls.”

Claire Perry letter to Kevin Hollinrake extract

Extract of letter from Claire Perry to Kevin Hollinrake

The letter, obtained by the Greenpeace investigative team, Unearthed, was in reply to Kevin Hollinrake. His Thirsk and Malton constituency includes the Third Energy fracking site at Kirby Misperton and 35 oil and gas exploration licences.

Mr Hollinrake, who has supported fracking if well regulated, did not back Ms Perry’s proposal to change the threshold in the traffic light system.

He told Unearthed:

“At this point in time I think we need to know a lot more before I’d support that position. The traffic light system is there for a reason.

“To be fair to this government and the responsible approach I think we do take to oil and gas exploration, we haven’t fracked for seven years as a result so clearly we do take this seriously.”

Claire Stephenson, of Frack Free Lancashire, responded to the minister’s letter:

“This move can only be beneficial to the fracking industry and not to local communities who are being forced to endure this technology.

“The fact that they are already deciding to change the safety levels to the industry’s favour, suggests fracking will likely cause seismic events.”

The traffic light system was introduced in 2014 following a series of earthquakes linked to Cuadrilla’s hydraulic fracturing at its Preese Hall site in Lancashire. One of them measured 2.3ML.

The 0.5ML threshold was recommended in a report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. The initial proposal, of 1.7M, was “undesirably high”, the report siad. But it did suggest the threshold could be “adjusted over time”.

Professor Peter Styles, a former adviser on seismicity to the then Prime Minister David Cameron, has argued that current seismic testing techniques would not reveal faults that could result in fracking-induced earthquakes measuring 0.5-1ML. Even faults likely to induce 1.5ML earthquakes were challenging to detect, he said.

He proposed setback distances of 850m between known faults and fracking, particularly in former mining areas.

Ms Perry referred to Professor Style’s research in her letter, saying the Oil & Gas Authority had commissioned research on historic coal mines, focussing on the area round IGas sites at Tinker Lane and Springs Road in Nottinghamshire.

She said:

“The traffic light system, which is designed to help regulators monitor and respond to any seismic event, is deliberately precautionary to enable the Environment Agency to ensure groundwater is protected and for the Health and Safety Executive to inspect well integrity before resuming operations.”

A BEIS spokesperson said:

“The UK’s world class oil and gas regulations, which have a track record of success that goes back decades, will ensure that shale development can only happen safely and in an environmentally responsible way.

“The seismicity levels were set low as a precautionary measure and may be reviewed in the future subject to scientific advice.”

Cuadrilla, which could begin fracking this week at its Preston New Road site, is putting seismic data online. It said measures already show there are naturally-occuring seismic events of 1.5-2.0ML across north England.

71 replies »

  1. Of course these thresholds are absurdly low and probably created for political rather than rational reasons.

    Wiki says that tremors under 2 are called Micro (very small) and that people cannot feel these.

    Wiki says that for remors between 2.0 and 2.9, people do not feel these, but seismographs are able to detect them. This fits in roughly with the experience of the Fylde tremors which were, I gather, reported by the local press as felt by around six people only.

    • I can assure you that I felt the tremors caused by Cuadrilla at their Preese Hall attempt and I live around six miles away as the crow flies. Obviously the local press didn’t think fit to ask me.

  2. So that’s what was in the recent redacted meeting minutes. A demand by the industry and a commitment by this government, to relax the so called world class, gold standard rules, by allowing higher levels of seismic activity before having to shut down operations. Standard practice, with a proven track record, by this government whenever current legislation gets in their way, they simply change it so it suits their purpose.

    • A little bed time story for you….

      Mummy! Mummy! The house has fallen down and Jimmy is all flat and he wont wake up!

      Stop whinging and help me get this amber warning traffic light off daddies head!

      But never mind controls and environmental receptors, Claire Perry says that “The TLS [traffic light system] is set at an explicitly cautious level but, as we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls.”

      After all, we are all only fracking guinea pigs and the golden rules don’t apply to us, just so long as us controls and receptors are told its world class gold standard regulations for our own protection?

      We are all flat cat fat cat frack hats to some aren’t we? Better worn at a jaunty angle, never mind the blood?

      Gold standard traffic lights anyone? Who jumped the lights?

      And before some less than smart mart….alec…decides to whinge about insomniacs, i got up to write this when i could not sleep because some less than bright spark thinks its clever to reduce safety factors.


      • And speaking of less than bright sparks….another little story for you Claire Perry.

        Does anyone remember the failure history of continuous span steel box girder bridge design?


        Well, when the concept was originated for bridges that could be reduced in weight and also to allow greater spans. The concept of continuous span steel box girders to lighten the span weight and the box girder, literally a hollow square section with a minimum safety factor of 2.5 was proposed.
        Instead of the heavy solid girders usually in “S”, “L” or “I” or any other shape. The design proposal was that joining two such shapes to form a lighter weight hollow box girder could increase span capability and reduce overall weight which was significant in both cost and engineering terms.

        Also at play was the move away from suspension bridges in the wake of the by now infamous Tacoma Narrows bridge self destructing collapse was no doubt “heavy” on engineers minds at the time, so the precautionary principle of better safe than sorry was instituted and initially adhered to.

        So far everybody happy.

        Originally the continuous span steel box girder sections, being a new technology design concept were over designed for the above reasons and also best engineering design practice, a concept that seems to have evapourated in the fracking world. As these seemed reliable at first, gradually the cross section and thickness of the steel section of the girders were reduced and reduced until several failures of bridges around the world happened, notably in one Wales when the West Gate Bridge collapse causing the deaths of four people.

        Then around the world several similar collapses were seen resulting in more deaths:

        “Failure will always be part of human endeavour – primarily because we humans are involved in it. Structural engineering, just like all professions, can never truly advance without its failures. This is a sad reality of our profession – we don’t get a chance to build prototypes and iron out the bugs. The testing of assumptions and design methodologies happens in the real world, in public view, and sometimes with tragic consequences.

        Ensuring that the lessons are learned from these tragedies, as they were with the box-girder bridges, will never bring back the people who died or take away the pain that they left behind, but it may just stop it happening to someone else.”

        Sorry for the lesson in continuous span steel box girder bridge design, but the process of reducing safety before a bridge was even built was the failure of the industry driven by cost of continuous long span lightweight design and reducing the safety factors until the inevitable happened, people died and the concept of continuous span steel box girder bridge design was forever damned in engineering history.

        Not because it was flawed from its original concept, but because cost saving, hubris of engineers thinking they had it all sown up and sorted out, and the inevitable downgrading of all the safety factors led to the deaths of many people and the design concept was again upgraded to account for all the factors that were discovered to be contributory to the collapse of continuous steel box girder bridges.

        The point of all this, is that many people died and entire bridges collapsed at great human and financial cost, because engineers, normally hard headed and cautious, thought they could reduce the form factor to a minimum until the concept literally collapsed.

        If Claire Perry wants to investigate this herself, then i would be happy to guide her to the relevant engineering documents and some expert engineers and bridge designers to help her redefine her concept of

        “The TLS [traffic light system] is set at an explicitly cautious level but, as we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls.”

        Be warned, never let a politician decide or control, or manipulate or modify engineering concepts, even engineers make mistakes as is clearly…..Clairely…..illustrated here, but the people that suffer from these mistakes are really the ones that should be remembered in any such “adjustment”.

        People were harmed in the making of this lesson Claire Perry and others.

        Oh yes, just for martin and GBH and others who think this whole debacle is funny…..

        WAKE UP!


  3. Oh yes, let’s get this clear. Fracking at PNR Is a disaster waiting to happen. The evidence is there but no one wants to admit it working for Cuadrilla, the industry or the government.

    Look at the following documents on the EA website at

    Look at the front sheet on The hydraulic fracture plan ‘PNR1z Hydraulic Fracture Plan’. NO NAMES. All titles. NO ONE WANTS TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS COS It’s DANGEROUS.

    Look at the pathetically scant approval document ‘PO3 Approval compliance assessment report 020718’. NO NAMES. NO ONE WANTS TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR APPROVING COS IT’S DANGEROUS.

    So, frack away, reduce the seismic traffic light levels ‘cos of all the tremoring faults. Eventually ‘one goes.’ If it’s the PNR 1 fault critically stressed fault that all the wells are running thru? The big complicated one with lots of horst graben fault blocks sat on the composite splay at the top of the fault with the well pad overlying?


    • And another thing, since gas is supposed to be a “bridge” between fossil fuels and renewables, this is the image we should always consider when we think of Claire Perry’s example of “relaxing” safety regulations:

      All wind and no….foundation garments……

      Lets hear Claire Perry’s sychophantic babbling circus laugh about that from the clown pit?

      “Gallopin’ Perry”

      [Comment edited at poster’s request]

    • Richard
      The documents you refer to will be signed, but those copies are not put on the web.
      You will have seen, no doubt, that they have to be signed.
      This is not frack specific.
      Or I have this wrong and the signatures can be seen on similar documents relating to wind power and so on?

  4. All the Maybe’s will soon be Clairefied!

    Moving from the world of speculation and fabrication to the world of fact. At least the majority of the minority who know little about the subject will become educated once they have an alternative to the anti truth from the minority of the minority-and the two thirds majority will also gain knowledge.

    All quite straight forward!

    • When someone decides to display any engineering qualifications regarding the dangers of lowering safety factors BEFORE THE EVENT to the detriment of the public and residents of the sacrifice zones in anything else other than the beheading chickens and PR clown for Gallopin’ Perry, i shall be pleased to hear it?

      What next? Replace the Richter scale to the “Perry scale” which removes the incriminating question from the government questionnaire of

      “Did the earth move for you Claire?”

      We all laugh out loud as the sycophantic babbling circus painted face scary clowns emerge from the clown pit out of the fog to scare the children……because the circus reduced the safety factor to zero, they happily throw buckets of fracking waste fluid over collapsed seating for the people in the front row of the audience…..

      A big hand (or at least two fingers of a big hand) for your own, your very own (you keep her, we don’t want her) GGGGGallopin’ PPPPPerryyyyy! yeeahhhh……noooooo! Boooooo! Go away! Take your circus with you!

      The sychophantic babbling circus is coming down to town! And not in a good way! No safety plan and no insurance, not to mention no support for the high horse acrobatics and the dodgy high wire act?

    • Interesting that you talk about facts. Because this is new industry in England, the fact is that all you pro frackers are just speculating and pushing a fossil fool industry when the last time fracking took place was in 2011 at prese hall which subsequently caused earthquakes also was the fact that Caudrilla sat on the evidence for 6 months. So Martin, where do you get these mythical facts from? …claire Perry perhaps???

  5. I hope Cuadrilla have massive insurance cover in place for third party damage of all kinds!
    Imagine the losses incurred by say Ribby Hall Village, just 2 miles from PNR, should they lose trade due to earthquake damage to the M55 or A583?
    Imagine there isn’t such cover in place and a well blow out occurs causing Emergency Evacuation of the Fylde?
    Imagine if the fancy new £21 million pound police hq is damaged or destroyed with staff in place?

    • Peter
      Better to consider what Third party cover Heysham Nuclear Power Station has, or indeed any of the existing COMAH sites in Lancashire. Those risks are there now, and will remain there frack or not.

      Re a well,blow out requiring evacuation of the fylde, I doubt a well blowout would require the evacuation of such a large area unknown. I would recommend a read of the buncefield report to get a flavour of the evacuation needs and post event damage of a much larger Hydrocarbon event. Then the various blow outs in the US, or the Kuwait wells damaged post the invasion of that country ( full bore ignited events ).

      For damage from tremors I would point you to the reports of the Ollerton earthquakes, while noting that all the time the area was ‘shaking’, the number of tourists visiting the major oak increased. The major oak is in that area. The roads were not affected by the tremors, although past subsidence had resulted in the odd ‘bump’ which was signed by a sign on the side of the road.

      Those bumps are not welcome on high speed rail lines though, hence the re route of the east coast main line round the Selby Coalfield ( for those who remember that ).

  6. All getting a bit desparate on here…. imaginary blow outs, huge earthquakes, bridge collapses (what has this got to do with a couple of small wells in the Fylde?), Police Stations and Motorways collapsing – just because CP stated that TLS may be reviewed post the little PNR wells. You need to watch your blood pressures – probably the highest risk for local antis with the PNR wells is a heart attack. Make sure the road isn’t blocked by swampies so the ambulance can get through.

    • It has everything to do with reducing safety factors Paul as yu very well know, or did you miss the reference? A “bridge” from fracked gas to renewables?

      Aint analogies fun?

      Just enjoying myself and laughing at the Gallopin’ Perry scary clown parade tripping over their own outrageous feet of clay?

      I notice you dont actually say anything about the inadvisability of reducing safety factor warning traffic light signs?

      Seen a red light at a traffic junction at all?

      And what about an amber light?

      Even on a green light (now there is an interesting concept?) it doesn’t stop some high as a kite suicidal maniac jumping the lights and wiping out your entire family? Lessons to be learned from box girder bridges? Dont tell me the deaths of people due to the relaxing of safety factors does not concern fracking too? Or is that a permitted development get out of jail free card?

      I never raise my blood pressure Paul, but as i am frequently told, I raise other peoples blood pressure though.

      Are we having fun yet?

      Anyway isnt raising of blood pressure a natural and reaction that is absolutely essential in times of danger?

      It feeds blood to the organs and muscles and gives you the capacity for either fight or flight, guess which i prefer?

      Hello again!

      How desperate it is to have all these crows spouting nonsense about matters they know nothing about as if its some sort of screaming cheerleading match? I dont fancy yours?

      How do you know what she does and does not read by the way? Something we should know?

      But of course engineers are are far more pragmatic and cautious aren’t we Paul? follow the science and dont allow vested interests to fiddle with the safety margins? More likely to add a few points in fact… points or digital points….another interesting concept, on the the engineering evaluation of the risk of failure?

      Is that another cheapo underspecified redacted Gallopin’ Perry box girder bridge fuel concept in your pocket? Or are you just pleased to see me?

      Such fun!

      Always a pleasure!

      Have a nice day!

    • Just to clarify Phil C – I would not have recommended / approved the TLS. Not required. I could tell you quite a bit about how this came about and it has very little to do with science and engineering. Let’s see what happens in the next few weeks. First the High Court tomorrow.

      • Fairly obvious how the TLS came about.

        Cuadrilla caused a 2.3M earthquake. That is the second largest induced earthquake in the world from fracking. The largest was 2.8M.

        The public needed reassurance that this was not going to happen again. Hence the 0.5M.

        Hide the fact that you cannot get gas out at that level of seismicity until the eleventh hour and then let the cat out of the bag.

        Results from PH1 were not formulated from 0.5M

      • Then we are agreed to a point….?

        Then why all the blood pressure and swampy rhetoric? A grubby habit that is difficult for the initiated to cast off perhaps?

        However i would rather have a safety factor designed in, and legally and regulatory enforceable, even if, ever, it turns out not to have been necessary, which incidentally i dont think is the case. Than dispense with or reduce to insignificance, such a safety factor entirely?

        Because one day it may save lives, and you know and i know, that saving life and not endangering life, is as much the responsibility of the engineer as it is for doctors and surgeons, or indeed to stretch a point, for politicians too?

  7. There is a certain “logic” though. Speculation and fabrication to be replaced by facts and then the fallback has to be-“imagine what could have happened”. There is a thread of a process-desperate as it may be.

    • It’s called planning for the worst case scenario martin, something chicken decapitators and whine cellar stalkers seem to be oblivious to?

      Twas ever thus!

      That is why years of ongoing engineering training and experience trumps…..the attempts at control of engineering safety factor concepts by ignorant politicians and uneducated opportunist expediency merchants, whose only considerations are greed and profit motives?
      No offense.

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