Minister updates fracking “myth buster” on earthquakes

181016 Claire perry

Energy minister, Claire Perry, talking about shale gas at Westminster on 16 October 2018. Photo: Parliament TV

The energy minister, Claire Perry, has revised her “myth buster” about shale gas and fracking, apparently to take account a series of earthquakes near Cuadrilla’s site in Lancashire.

The document, distributed to MPs and constituents, originally included this from “Myth#7:

“The risk of an earthquake from shale gas extraction is very low.”

But an updated version now says:

“Seismic events below magnitude 2.0 on the Richter scale are usually not felt”.

Since the first version, Cuadrilla began fracking at its shale gas site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.

In the past fortnight, the British Geological Survey has listed 30 seismic events close to the site on its online webpage Earthquakes around the British Isles in the last 100 days.

Two of the events triggered a red light in the traffic light regulations on induced earthquakes under which Cuadrilla was required to stop fracking. The earthquake with the greatest magnitude was 1.1ML (local magnitude) yesterday (29 October 2018).

Myth revisions

Sep 2018 Myth buster on earthquakes

Extract from pdf of “myth buster” published in September 2018

The original version of the myth buster’s “Myth #7” said in full:

“The risk of an earthquake from shale gas extraction is very low. The Oil and Gas Authority regulates for seismicity and requires operators to stop activity if any seismicity in measured, even if it is lower than tremors caused by a rollercoaster.” pdf version of the original “myth buster” downloaded on 30/10/2018 from a Conservative website

Ms Perry had suggested in the summer that the threshold for seismic activity at which fracking must pause could be raised above the current level of 0.5ML.

But on 16 October 2018, the day after Cuadrilla began fracking, she confirmed she was “not considering weakening the monitoring controls on seismicity”.

This statement was added to the new version of “Myth#7”, currently on Ms Perry’s website:

“Seismic events below magnitude 2.0 on the Richter scale are usually not felt. The Oil & Gas Authority uses a Traffic Light System to monitor seismicity caused by shale operations and at their Preston New Road site, Cuadrilla must pause activity for a minimum of 18 hours if an event of magnitude 0.5 or above is detected.  This is lower than the readings caused by a rollercoaster.  According to the British Geological Survey, we have on average 166 events of magnitude 2.9 or below each year in the UK.  The Traffic light System thresholds are set at a very low, precautionary level and we have no plans to review these.”

October 2018 Myth buster on earthquakes

Extract of “myth buster” published in October 2018

A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, told DrillOrDrop this afternoon:

“This is not a static document and is regularly updated. We are aware there has been interest in potential minor seismic events associated with hydraulic fracturing. The changes have been made to offer the public transparency about the government’s position and the regulations that govern shale seismicity.”

30/10 Typo corrected in minister’s name
30/10 Text edited to remove reference to Cuadrilla breaching limit

63 replies »

  1. Ruth / Paul,

    Perhaps you should read the information in the following BGS link – in fact, publish a post specifically on it so readers of this BB can learn the significance of the seismicity at PNR, why it is being recorded (it is the only place that has such sensitive sensors), how frequent these levels of seismicity are across the UK. Balanced view? Or are the BGS in on a great cover up? We should be told. The reporting is getting incredibly biased.


    How big are the events?

    The largest event that we have detected to date had magnitudes of 1.1 ML. Earthquakes with magnitude less than 2 are not usually felt and if they are felt then by only a few people very close to the earthquake. Earthquakes with magnitudes less than 1 are hardly ever felt. The smallest earthquake felt in the UK had a magnitude of 0.5 and was felt by one person.

    The magnitude 0.8 ML event at 11:36 UTC on 26 October was around 200 times smaller than the magnitude 2.3 ML event that stopped hydraulic fracturing operations at Preese Hall in 2011. The maximum recorded ground motion was around 0.1 mm/s. This is well below the limits set for quarry operations (6 mm/s). The BGS network of sensors across the UK routinely detects many blasts from quarry operations around the UK with magnitudes of up to around 2 ML every day.

    How often do earthquakes of this size occur?

    Earthquakes have an exponential frequency-magnitude distribution, so for unit decrease in magnitude there are approximately ten times as many earthquakes. On average there are around 20-30 earthquakes with a magnitude of 2 ML or greater every year somewhere in the UK or immediate offshore area. That means we should expect several hundred earthquakes with a magnitude of 1.0 ML or above and several thousand with a magnitude of 0 ML or above. The number of earthquakes also roughly scales proportional to an area, so a small region of the UK will have fewer events.

    Why are BGS able to detect such small earthquakes?

    A dense network of temporary seismic sensors around Blackpool allows us to detect much smaller earthquakes than we are typically able to do in other parts of the UK. The BGS permanent network of sensors across the UK is usually able to detect most earthquakes with magnitudes of 2.0 ML or above anywhere in the UK, though this may vary from place to place and also at different times. All of the events detected near Preston New Road have magnitudes that are far below our normal detection threshold.

    Why does hydraulic fracturing cause seismicity?

    The injection of high pressure fluid into intact rock generates cracks. The cracks grow as a result of tiny seismic events at the tips. This process increases the permeability of the rock, allowing trapped hydrocarbons to be extracted. These events are often referred to as induced and the energy for them is limited by the amount of energy in the injection process. This means the magnitudes are generally small.

    The injected fluid can also change pore fluid pressures and deformation in the rock mass. Increased fluid pressures can trigger slip on pre-existing faults by reducing the stress that stops the rocks on either side of the fault from sliding. These are often referred to as triggered events and the energy for them comes largely from previously accumulated strain energy. The earthquakes that occurred during hydraulic fracturing operations at Preese Hall, near Blackpool, in 2011 are thought to have been triggered events. The largest of these had a magnitude of 2.3 ML.

    What other activities can induce earthquakes?

    Activities such as underground mining, impoundment of deep artificial water reservoirs, oil and gas extraction, geothermal power generation, waste water disposal in deep wells and groundwater abstraction have all resulted in cases of induced seismicity. In addition, activities such as blasting during quarry operations can also result ground vibrations that are comparable to small earthquakes. Mining is by far the most common cause of induced seismicity, followed by reservoir impoundment

    Tremors in the coalfields of Britain have been reported for at least the last hundred years, and work by the BGS and others led to the conclusion that these events were related to ongoing mining activity and that these were quite distinct from the natural background seismic activity of the UK. In the 1980s and 1990s mining events accounted for approximately 25% of all the earthquakes recorded in the UK. Since the rapid decline of mining activity in the UK there has been a sharp decrease in the number of these events.

    • The largest of the Preese Hall earthquakes was 2.3 magnitude.

      Extract from a report for AJ Lucas 2018

      “There are only two documented cases of stronger events, of magnitude 1.9 ML and 2.8 ML, from massive hydrofrac treatments in South Central Oklahoma”

      Extract from the BGS report on Preese Hall

      “The initial threshold for cessation of operations proposed was 1.7 ML. This was based on the critical magnitude 2.6 ML and a maximum post-injection magnitude increase of 0.9”

      Cuadrilla now want a 2 magnitude threshold. If you add to that the maximum post-injection magnitude increase of 0.9ML suggested by the BGS there would be a critical 2.9 magnitude earthquake.

      I hope I am not reading this right because a 2.9 magnitude threshold, if reached, would become the


        • Check out the facts of the Canadian earthquakes.

          The earthquakes in Canada are from areas that have waste disposal wells. We all know that those wells cause substantial earthquakes because of the huge volumes of water injected.

          “The research looked at 12,289 fracking wells and 1,236 waste-water wells in an area along the B.C.-Alberta border. It linked 39 fracking wells and 17 wastewater disposal wells directly to several earthquakes of magnitude 3 or larger'”

          The 2.9 magnitude request by Cuadrilla is from fracking only not waste water well disposal and fracking.

          See the enormous difference. It’s not hard to spot.

          You would need to post hard facts to disprove that the 2018 report to AJ Lucas is incorrect.

          • Check out the facts? Are you reading something different John? You should be using this information to promote your cause not denying it? Or are you worried CP will read it (she hasn’t yet) and raise the red light trigger to 4 as in Canada?

            Did you miss this in the link?

            “In British Columbia and Alberta, any earthquake of magnitude 4 or higher related to fracking triggers an immediate shutdown of operations until a management plan has been approved by regulators.

            Although there has been one fracking-induced earthquake of 4.6 magnitude and one of 4.4 magnitude in British Columbia and two 4.4 magnitude quakes in Alberta in recent years, so far none has caused any damage.”

            Facts like in this peer reviewed paper:



            The development of most unconventional oil and gas resources relies upon subsurface injection of very large volumes of fluids, which can induce earthquakes by activating slip on a nearby fault. During the last 5 years, accelerated oilfield fluid injection has led to a sharp increase in the rate of earthquakes in some parts of North America. In the central United States, most induced seismicity is linked to deep disposal of coproduced wastewater from oil and gas extraction. In contrast, in western Canada most recent cases of induced seismicity are highly correlated in time and space with hydraulic fracturing, during which fluids are injected under high pressure during well completion to induce localized fracturing of rock. Furthermore, it appears that the maximum‐observed magnitude of events associated with hydraulic fracturing may exceed the predictions of an often‐cited relationship between the volume of injected fluid and the maximum expected magnitude. These findings have far‐reaching implications for assessment of induced‐seismicity hazards.

            • ‘Although there has been one fracking-induced earthquake of 4.6 magnitude and one of 4.4 magnitude in British Columbia and two 4.4 magnitude quakes in Alberta in recent years’

              Recent years being the key words.

              In the report to AJ Lucas 2018 (this year) it states,

              “There are only two documented cases of stronger events, of magnitude 1.9 ML and 2.8 ML, from massive hydrofrac treatments in South Central Oklahoma”

              I presume the report to AJ Lucas is factually correct? If not what other misinformation could there be in that detailed report?

            • John – why did you miss out the first four words of the sentence you are quoting from AJ Lucas- see page 24 of linked document? “In US shale plays…”

              Canada is not in the US? What you should have written is:

              ” In US shale plays, fracture treatments of a similar size have yielded events of lower magnitudes, up to 0.8 ML, and there are only two documented cases of stronger events, of magnitude 1.9 ML and 2.8 ML, from massive hydrofrac treatments in South Central Oklahoma…”


              There is some information on economics if you want to read it – but you keep telling us it will never be economic…….

  2. The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, along with Claire Perry, are being advised by the members of the oil and gas industry. Who may have produced the National Academies of Science, Engineering Medicine report ‘Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies’ published in 2013, https://www.nap.edu/download/13355. Which states; ‘Earthquakes attributable to human activities are called induced seismic events or induced earthquakes. In the past several years induced seismic events related to energy
    development projects have drawn heightened public attention. Although only a very small fraction of injection and extraction activities at hundreds of thousands of energy development sites in the United States have induced seismicity at levels that are noticeable to the public, seismic events caused by or likely related to energy development have been measured and felt in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.’ But the report states;
    Three major findings emerged from the study:
    1. The process of hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas
    recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.
    2. Injection for disposal of wastewater derived from energy technologies into the sub-
    surface does pose some risk for induced seismicity, but very few events have been
    documented over the past several decades relative to the large number of disposal
    wells in operation.
    3. CCS, due to the large net volumes of injected fluids, may have potential for inducing larger seismic events.

    Remember, the geology of the UK, is totally different than that of the USA oil and gas field sites. Despite stating further in the report, that; ‘Although induced seismic events have not resulted in loss of life or major damage in the United States, their effects have been felt locally, and they raise some concern about addi­tional seismic activity and its consequences in areas where energy development is ­ongoing or planned. Further research is required to better understand and address the potential risks
    associated with induced seismicity.’

    A more recent report from a Stephen Hicks, Southampton University, about a cluster of seismic events in South Surrey, April 2018, https://sphicks.weebly.com/2018-surrey-uk-earthquakes.html. He concluded; ‘Based on our knowledge of activities at the nearby drilling sites of Horse Hill and Brockham, as well as our knowledge of human-induced seismicity around the globe from the scientific literature, there is no clear reason why these earthquakes should have been directly caused industry. Injection volumes and pressures appear to be too low, whilst the distances and timescales involved do not indicate a clear, physical link. Whilst earthquakes have been shown to be induced over long distance and timescales due to fluid injection in Oklahoma, the injection rates and volumes are much higher than what we know to have occurred in the Weald Basin.’
    The Brockham and Horse Hill are approximately inline with the Balcombe site. And at Brockham, they reinject waste water, which the USA report states does pose a risk of induced seimicity?
    They cam to these conclusions, despite evidence globally of seismic activity due too oil and gas exploration. In 2013, of the coast of Valencia, over 100 earth tremors were felt, including one over 4, when they were trying to use an empty oil field as a gas storage facility. The Spanish Government stopped the project, and unbelievably were reimbursed €1.35 billion: http://dundee-energy.com/Spain/Overview/index.php! There were the earthquakes that affected the Groningen area, Holland due to gas exploitation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groningen_gas_field. Shell and Exxon had to pay compensation and reduce the rates of production. And if you look at the BGS earthquake monitor, there has been an increase of seismic events in the North Sea, where there has been an increase in oil and gas exploitation.

  3. The problem with low strength earthquakes not felt above ground is that the damage is inflicted to well integrity, existing faults and water sources deep below ground unseen.
    All this industry and political propaganda is just delaying the inevitable conclusion to this tragic saga on the Fylde, continuous swarms of earthquakes, increasing in strength, will be found to have enabled major health and environmental damage to be inflicted on present and future generations. Just as in mature fracking locations elsewhere.
    Notices of Liability for harm done have been lodged with those responsible.

  4. If they let Cuadrilla revise the TLS upward to 2ML which can’t be felt or do any damages on the surface or well pipe then Cuadrilla can finish in less time 4 days instead of 4 weeks of news reports bombarding the publics with stories of earthquake everday. It is good for everyone and even save the media money of reporting it daily.

  5. “Unprincipled investors”.

    Interesting slant to it. So, now we are to have investor policing to see whether they meet someone else’s “standards”?

    Well, that’s the COE, most Councils, most Governments and most Unions in the dock. And the pensioners are just collateral damage.

    Hungry, this anti god, isn’t he/she.

  6. The ‘policing’ of investors is your suggestion, Martin. Investors, I would suggest, are primarily motivated by the desire individually to make money, money which serves to enrich the few at the expense of the many. The few may in some cases also use their wealth altruistically which unfortunately while benefiting some only serves to entrench the model. And yes, many of those you suggest should be “in the dock”, should indeed be in the dock. Many governments, yes, most Northern governments; and yet many others are there because they have been forced to accept the ‘structural adjustment’ model the rich nations have forced upon them via trade agreements and aid agreements designed to protect the rich. Perhaps the model is at fault, I wonder! Isn’t climate change a shock warning to us to review the model? As somebody said, aren’t we all in this together? Isn’t it time the individualistic anthropology was replaced by a model which recognises that if we are to survive, none of us can make it without the rest? Your ‘anti god’ who sees the planet as there to be exploited for the benefit of individuals, is indeed hungry, the god that is who favours the few against the many ,not the God many of us try to serve.

    [Previous version of this comment with error removed]

  7. Well, good luck with your review. It has been done many times before.

    What it always ends up with is a smattering of communities who wish to live a certain way, and good luck to them. The rest of the world usually accept that is how a minority see their future but do something somewhat different themselves.

    It certainly does not make any of them worse humans, or less intelligent. This repeated dogma by a few antis simply shows intolerance to those who disagree, and that has been tried many times before as well.

    If I look at ‘photos of PNR I usually see cows in the background being “exploited” or entertainment edifices in the background “exploiting” certain groups ie. resources being operated by a few for the benefit of many. That is exactly the same objective at PNR.

    • Tried many times before, Martin, yes, but always falling foul of the individualistic ethic of which you approve. Examples might be the WTO, Trade Agreements purporting to help the poor, loans foisted on ‘developing’ countries’ which incur unpayable debts, the Communist revolution etc.etc.
      Do you seriously believe that PNR and your entertainment edifices are intended for the benefit of the many?I would respectfully suggest that their goal is to benefit the few by, in the case of the ‘edifices’ entertaining the many, and in the case of PNR, by supplying a spurious national need. The cows you suggest we see as exploited are supplying a need for meat which has been created by those who can profit from it. No, Martin, we, you are being exploited. The difference is that some of us know it and are resisting.
      There is no anti’s ‘dogma’ of the inferiority of parts of humanity as you state, Martin. The contrary is the case. I also think that the intolerance of disagreement is more prevalent amongst those you call ‘the rest of the world’, although we could argue fruitlessly I suspect about the numbers of those supporting the status quo by their exploitative actions, those who support it by inaction, those who see the need for change – perhaps ourselves – and those actively trying to create change for the good of the planet, for the good of all, not the few.

  8. So, Patrick, why has the tremor cluster in Surrey ceased whilst seismic monitoring has increased together with exploration activity??

    Following your “logic” at connecting dots it might imply the more oil you extract then the tremors go away! Yep, makes “sense”. Remove that slippery lubricating stuff that is allowing the shale to jiggle about below ground and Bob’s your uncle, everything settles down. Ahh, I see a precautionary principle should be applied-get the stuff out as quickly as possible.

    Come on SCC, you know you want to. Precautionary principle plus 6% of revenue. What’s not to like?

  9. DBEIS say “This is not a static document and is regularly updated”. Does anyone know how often this document has been ‘updated’…… regularly… since it was first fabricated? One can but wonder how many regular updates will be needed before it has been completely rewritten.

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