Lancashire fracking earth tremor was like “dropping a bag of flour on the floor” – government report


A report commissioned by the government has compared recent fracking-induced earth tremors in Lancashire to doors slamming and falling frying pans.

The research, published today by the University of Liverpool, likened the largest tremor recorded so far at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site to dropping a 1kg bag of flour on the floor from the height of a kitchen counter.

The report looked only at the equivalent vibrations that would be felt at the surface. It did not examine impacts of seismic activity on the borehole or the integrity of the well. Anti-fracking campaigners in Lancashire have described it as “pseudo-science” and “an attempt to distract the public with childish comparisons”.

Cuadrilla’s fracking operation at Preston New Road has caused 36 small tremors since pumping began on 15 October 2018. They happened on 13 days and the company has stopped operations because of seismic activity at least three times. DrillOrDrop tremor tracker

vibration from a bag of flour

Extract from University of Liverpool report on vibrations from a bag of flour falling to the ground, likened to a 1.1ML earth tremor

According to the report, vibrations from the largest tremor so far, (1.1ML recorded on 29 October 2018) would be the equivalent of three pans or the 1kg bag of flour dropping to the floor.

A 0.8ML tremor, which was recorded on 26 October 2018, was likened to vibrations at the surface of one person jumping.

The 0.5ML threshold at which fracking must stop under the government’s traffic light system, was compared with vibrations from mixed traffic on a busy road or slightly less than that from a door slamming.

Smaller earth tremors recorded near the site were compared with closing a window, a delivery van arriving or a washing machine on spin cycle. Seven of the examples involved dropping items to the floor but did not specify the type of floor.

The University of Liverpool said the report was commissioned by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) but paid for by the university. The research was carried out by the School of Environmental Sciences. One of the authors, Ben Edwards, contributed to Cuadrilla community newsletter, distributed to Lancashire homes last month.

The report said the purpose was to:

“Provide a context to induced seismicity and the associated traffic light system (TLS) for hydraulic fracturing operations in the UK.”

It gave results from 39 scenarios, ranging from a tremor of -0.4 (bus passing on the opposite side of the road) to 2.1 (a toddler playing on a wooden floor). It acknowledged that earth tremors might be more likely to be felt in quiet areas or at night than the vibrations from the examples it gave.


The report’s findings were dismissed by the campaign group, Frack Free Lancashire. A spokesperson said:

“It is very interesting to see how these academics have passed their time, but having studied their findings, we can’t see where they look at the potential impact of seismic events on the well bore underground.

“The larger seismic events (1.5Ml and 2.3Ml) at Preese Hall in 2012 resulted in ovalisation of the well bore over a considerable distance. In that context, whether the size of the quake involved is the equivalent on the surface of a honeydew melon dropping is wholly irrelevant.

“We need a proper informed debate on these issues and not pseudo-science which ignores the relevant issues and attempts to distract the public with childish comparisons.”

In a guest post published by DrillOrDrop yesterday, engineer Michael Hill said:

“The industry is endeavouring to focus the media and public’s eyes on “felt” seismicity. It is talking about the level of earthquakes that actually shake our houses.

“But the risk at the moment is not to construction above the ground but to what lies below: the wellbore itself.

“We do not know the intensity of the ground movement at the borehole but it is immediately clear that the intensity at the wellbore must be greater than at the surface.”

When did Cuadrilla last frack?

The report is dated 6 November 2018, two days after the most recent seismic activity recorded near the site by the British Geological Survey (BGS).

This was a 0.7ML event on 4 November, which happened when fracking was not taking place and was described as a trailing event. DrillOrDrop understands that Cuadrilla had not fracked for 48 hours before that event. This was a mini frack on Friday 2 November 2018.

Since the 0.7ML event, the BGS has recorded no seismic activity in the area (BGS online data). Cuadrilla reportedly told a meeting last night of the Preston New Road community liaison group that it did not frack last week (5-10 November 2018).

DrillOrDrop asked the company to confirm this. A Cuadrilla spokesperson would not comment on the meeting until formal minutes were published. The spokesperson previously said:

“With regards to our operations at Preston New Road, we are continuing to test our exploration well in Preston New Road, Lancashire, including testing the responsiveness of the shale to fracturing. We are also analysing the recent natural gas flow at the surface and other data which is available to us following the start of our hydraulic fracturing programme last month. However, we are not giving a stage by stage update on each frac.”

73 replies »

  1. “Canadian and very strong” flour!

    Hmm. Perhaps an indication of the future. Agricultural land in UK covered with wind turbines and solar panels, so importing flour. My local solar farm built with the granting of a 99 year lease supplied by the farmer who owns the land. Solar panels from China, construction by a squad brought over from Poland. No local community financial support.

  2. A seismic event at a depth of 2 km manifests itself at the surface as similar to dropping a 1 kg bag of flour on the floor. Just note that this is after the seismic event has travelled about 2km in every direction, up, down, left, right. Naturally it will have lost most of its energy on its way to the surface, but what impact has it had on its travels. In a highly faulted geology, the primary concern is what impact these events have below ground. I note that this report doesn’t address the more significant concerns. So a study and a report of little relevance or consequence to the bigger picture.

    • Malcolm Kenward
      The answer to what happens underground is …. not much.
      Well, not as much as taking out 6ft of coal over a few square miles and dropping the 2500ft of rock above you down by around that amount ( including whatever faults, aquifers and so on are there ).

      Or maybe hundreds of square miles, if you take all mined areas in the UK.

      Plus you get tremors and subsidence, seemingly better managed than in Holland.

      A few microsismic events would pale into insignificance I guess.

      [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

  3. Well Frack Free Lancashire has a host of experience with pseudo-science! Nonetheless, they and the other anti-frackers are wrong to be concerned about borehole integrity according to scientists in the US. According to a report published by the NY Dept of the Environment, ““Wells are designed to withstand deformation from seismic activity. The steel casings used in modern wells are flexible and are designed to deform to prevent rupture. The casings can withstand distortions much larger than those caused by earthquakes, except for those very close to an earthquake epicenter. The magnitude 6.8 earthquake event in 1983 that occurred in Coalinga, California, damaged only 14 of the 1,725 nearby active oilfield wells, and the energy released by this event was thousands of times greater than the microseismic events resulting from hydraulic fracturing.” (Chapter 6, p. 6-212)

    • Bob, it’s lucky we don’t have to rely on FFL’s “pseudo-science” because we have you reassuring us about earthquake proof wells and the frackademics from Liverpool University patronising us all with their bags of flour bs.
      You really seem to really know your stuff Bob so can you tell us how much money Cuadrilla made out of Preese Hall well? Was abandoning it part of the grand design? Is the grand design to look baffled and repeat the sames mistakes continuously?

  4. Considering it happened at 23:06 hrs last night, there hasnt been much in the way of media frenzy about the 2.3 ML earthquake near Leominster which is the last listed on the BGS earthquae website. There was one of 1.5 in Flintshire on Friday.

    By coincidence, 1.5 and 2.3 ML were the two largest events seen at Preese Hall in 2011.

      • Good old channel 4

        Use a Conventional gas field to talk about fracking.

        Clueless reporting from them, as per usual.

        Maybe they are sponsored by the Daily Mail.

        • Channel 4 weren’t using their report to talk about fracking. They used their report to talk about the effect that shallow, induced-earthquakes, which register below 4 ML on the Richter scale, have upon a soft soil site due to the amplification of those seismic waves as they travel through those overlying soft soil sediments and the cumulative impact that those repeated shallow earthquakes under 4 ML had upon buildings at the surface.

          • Lock the Gates Lancs

            I agree that the key issue has been the compaction of the Sandstone reservoir and clay.

            However this point was not made clear in the report, so I disagree that the report discussed the above issue ……

            The report started with a frack protest ( no mention of earthquakes ) then said

            0.25 ….’As fracking has only just started in this country, the Dutch are waving goodbye to riches from gas extraction as’..they cannot cope with the earthquakes caused …

            So, no mention that this is not due to fracking, nor, at this point that the report will lead onto a discussion of the traffic light system.

            01.50. The report notes the damage done and cost of 8billion and says that the oil industry and the gov said this could never happen.

            2.00. The report, says ‘the industry and the gov are saying that the temors are insignificant’.

            This is linking the Dutch experience of structural damage to the comments regarding seismic events to days in the Fylde, ie known past to expected future.

            2.18. The report says ‘we are told that our shale is safer than the Dutch Sandstone and Clay …

            This is the only reference in the report to the Sandstone compaction et al, and this comment is soon left behind without any explanation as to its relevance to the Fylde or any other PEDL.

            4.50. The report notes that the Dutch used a traffic light system, but fails to mention what the action level was in comparison to the UK level. A pretty important bit of information you would need to work out how far apart, or not, they were.

            Also, no mention of the specific geological conditions which laft the Dutch system less than good.

            8.55. Dr Hazeldine is interviewed, and at this point the discussion is about the traffic light system and fracking.

            Good though the points raised are, this links the Dutch experience to English fracking, missing the point that the Dutch had a traffic light system for conventional gas extraction. We are not told for how long and how it linked into the evidence of property damage.

            10.12. Tom Wheeler of the OGA is challenged on the issue of damage from earthquakes of magnitude less than 4’, and why this was OK given the issues in Holland. The interviewer makes no reference to the specific issues of the Sandstone and clay, and when Tom alludes to this, asks him why he is not an earthquake specialist,it’s.

            So, once again, no discussion or mention by channel 4 of why there are issues in Groningen.

            Plus, no insight into why things got so bad ( but p,entry of fox pop on the issue ) and no comment on how the UK coped with similar problems when we mined coal without as much faff as Holland.

            So, overall, in my opinion, they linked the problems to fracking and never said that the problems were not specific to it.

            To support my opinion, some posters on DOD were taken in by the report and have posted that it was a frack related issue. But not youself, as I guess those au fair with the issue would fill in the gaps in the report.

            The report also gave the impression that production was to cease, but as I read, it is being scaled back, tho no doubt it may stop eventually.

            • ‘the key issue has been the compaction of the Sandstone reservoir and clay.

              However this point was not made clear in the report’ – actually, it was….

            • The report was citing parallels to the induced seismic events regarding the use of a traffic light system, failure of government to listen to the residents and damage to property when the companies said there would be none…..

              I think seeing families stuck in boxes outside their family homes, destroyed by a careless industry which will inevitably wreak more damage than a nuclear holocaust is pitiful and it stops here.

            • You are correct on the last point. Production is due to end in 2030. Mainly because the loss of the 19billion pounds of income from taxes will have a devastating effect on public services

            • The fact that the Channel4 report showed families living in porta cabins for several years shows how difficult it will be to get the industry to accept responsibility for any damage caused and recompense innocent victims.

              • Pauline Jones
                We did not have people living in portacabins due to coal mining subsidence and associated tremors and I see no reason why we would see a situation similar to that in holland here. I was taught in Portacabin schools due to a post war baby boom, which was better than cold draughty school halls.

                What we do not know is why the Dutch gov was so slow getting into action to sort it out.

                It is not as if they are a true blue government or outwith the EU.

                Something to keep en eye on for sure but why are we discounting how we managed coal mining subsidence and tremors and just looking at the Groningen Issue?

            • Sherwulfe

              I am not convinced that the programme compared like for like traffic light systems, if at all.

              Firstly … does Groningen work to a traffic light system? As the various articles below note they are reducing production to reduce seismicity and plan to stop production in 2030. But that is not a traffic light system.

              Ie what so they do if a seismic event happens above a certain level? What wells do they shut in, what level drives the action .. what is the gronongen equivalent of the frack plan flow chart …so on and so forth?


              So….has anyone got a link to the Groningen traffic light system in operation? ( ie I could not find it on google )

              It could be that channel 4 got mixed up and thought that Groningen was working to some European fracking traffic light system, which would match what we have in the uk, but has higher thresholds.

              I have a humble pie in the fridge and happy to eat it if required, but I do not think Channel 4 compared app,es with apples.

              • Sherwulfe
                I have, but I thought that someone on here someone would be au fait with rather Groningen traffic light system were there one to be au fait with.

                Ho hum

          • Lock the gates, you do realize, of course, that a 3Ml seismic event is around 1,000x more powerful than the ones at PNR? Does science and empirical fact have no place in this argument? Also note that the “quakes” at PNR were decidedly not shallow.

  5. Thank goodness for Drill or Drop bringing all this tosh to our attention. Thank goodness for Channel 4 for telling it how it is that the Government and the oil and gas industry just think it’s ok to lie, then at some point accept defeat. For climate change sake it better be soon.

  6. For this experiment to be valid, and to remain consistent with previous attempts to patronise the Fylde housewife with a bag of spuds, shouldn’t he have dropped his bag of flour into a large bowl of jelly and measured the ground motion intensity? Most housewives are aware that a hard floor is not an acceptable food substitute for thick surficial deposits of boulder clay, sands, gravel, marine deposits and peat.

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