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. Strange that Jack.

    I thought Norway was pretty adjacent and obvious to show how oil and gas can encourage and help to finance alternatives?

    Bit too obvious for the Guardian perhaps.

    Not so much a fight, more like symbiosis.

  2. YES indeed it does show how the UK has made a 7.7% reduction in the use of Fossil Fuels between 2012-2015.

    I’m also sure it will show a further reduction between the years 2015-2018.

    This is easily explained , FORCED FUEL REDUCTION CONSUMPTION on the masses through eye watering , unjustified energy increases.

    Look at it this way HEWES62.

    FUEL PRICES example,

    TODAY AVERAGE….. £1.31 a litre, unleaded petrol in the UK ( source AA fuel price index )
    US Crude $56.00 barrel

    £1.19 per litre, unleaded petrol in the UK, July 2008.
    $147 a barrel US Crude oil, July 2008

    Working of the above figures , the cost of fuel should be at least 50% less than what it is now.

    This clearly shows a nation being robbed and forced in to using less fossil fuels . No wonder our carbon footprint is reducing in the UK .

    • To add to the above, HEWES62,

      I am facing a ONE THIRD price increase in my electricity cost at the end of this month

      If this is reflective of other people’s energy costs, then yes our UK energy footprint will be dropping a lot .

      • Jack TL

        No worries, we have no energy security worries, as long as we can pay other countries who sell it to us, and the exchange rate does not crater ( again ).

        Ahhh for the heady days of $2.2 to £1 back in 2007, which makes imported energy cheaper.

        Meanwhile, get some more insulation ( mix and match 3 rolls at BQ £45 ), shut all the doors, turn off unwanted lights, and ensure you have a contingency plan if the electricity and gas is cut off. If you have electric cooking use a slow cooker for everything.

        I have some renewable energy investments so I may be very happy that electricity prices are going up.

        Mrs H says ours is not going up, but we have just downsized and put about £200 of extra insulation in ( including the eaves which was a squeeze …. garbage insulation standard of installation in 2002!).

        Enough for now I guess

        Oh, and the generator is ready if we lose power ( from when we lived in NE Scotland, power loss in winter was normal ). Winter is coming.

    • Jack

      Taxing fossil fuel is good way to get cash, as it is very difficult to avoid.

      It is also very green. If we sold fuel at similar prices to the USA ( or Kuwait say. 35centsa litre ) people just waste it. The trouble is, high energy prices take spending money out of the economy, hence the reluctance to continue with the price escalator.

      Back in the 1960s, with low tax and cheap fuel, on the farm we mixed weed killer with diesel and used that on the nettles( imagine!).

      This high level,of tax has been around for a while and pre dates carbon targets, so I do not think it is specifically designed to lower consumption in that context, tho it must do.

      But heating is different. Heating oil is taxed at 5% as is coal etc

      So the headline CO2 reductions, driven by reducing coal usage and upping gas and renewables are not linked to swingeing tax.

      But, the recent drop in price of oil ( and locally gas) will be welcome …$80 to $55 in the blink of an eye.

      I am not sure that is good for renewables?

      • HEWES62,

        Yes I did pick up on the point regarding the switch from Coal to Gas has reduced the CO2 footprint in the UK , BUT the point I raised will be of greater validity than that of the switch from Coal to Gas generation …. UK fuel reduction will be far greater as a result of mass fuel poverty due to over inflated fuel costs

        Heating oil at approx £0.60 per litre is also not reflective of the $56 a barrel oil current price .

        My use of a Petrol price guage, was only to give an exanple to a particular current price trend and also as an indicator as to why emissions may be dropping in general.

        On the same topic, I read this today.

        Coal dumped , it looks like Natual Gas will be the next to be KILLED OFF in the UK

        • Jack TL
          The carbon tax report is interesting. I am not sure that it all adds up.
          Does the Netherlands really have wind power electricity to spare on a windy day when they have shut down their largest gas field? They do not have 100% wind generated capacity so they would only sell us fossil fuel power dressed up as renewables, Belgium is short of power as well.
          Maybe it’s just more French Nuclear?

          Those interconnectors also export as well as import, which is good news nor national grid.

          But, yes, gas will no doubt get a higher carbon tax, as the exchequer needs the cash ( blue, red, green or whatever party is in power ).

          After that, renewables will be taxed. Expect massive increases in road tax and or pay as you go toll roads.

          Only two things are certain in life here in the UK, tax and death.

        • Oops
          And the coal fired power stations are busy ordering coal it seems ready for a cold winter ( or windless ).
          Last gasp maybe.

  3. The reality is that fracking at Preston New Road has not occurred for for a week or more. Looks like they are plainly scared to continue at even the lowest of pressures. This is the company that managed to have an enforced moratorium imposed on the industry. This is the company that only 3 or 4 weeks ago were bragging on TV that they could frack without triggering the Traffic Light System. A lot has changed in the last few weeks. Perhaps a bag of flour has gummed up their works?

    More importantly, on a recent compliance test Cuadrilla had a problem. “During the main frack, shortly after the start of pumping the hydraulic fracturing fluid the pressure was reduced as a leak of hydraulic fracturing fluid in the surface pipework had been detected”. Two minor words have been omitted from that comment. It relates to the size of the hole but that is fine because that is the equivalent of the bag of flour nonsense (i.e. taking things out of context). The point is that a leak of hydraulic fracturing fluid in the surface pipework had been detected.

    • A surface pipework leak? Another none issue. Shut down, bleed off, fix the leak, pressure test, continue with the program. Standard operating procedure. A bit like household plumbing…..

      Why is this an issue? – “The point is that a leak of hydraulic fracturing fluid in the surface pipework had been detected.”

      This is the real world.

      • Am afraid it is Paul whilst it is deemed acceptable to marginalize spillage of chemicals as no big deal…..

        Am glad this one has been detected; what a thought that if this industry had taken hold seven years ago, you could multiply this out by the hundreds of wells covering the Fylde from end to end?

        • Unfortunately Sherwulfe you have no concept of what actually happened and therefore why it is a not an issue. You could have five hundred sites with a similar leak and the end result is no impact. Why is spilling a few gallons of water and sand a problem?

          [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

            • Which chemicals were used by Cuadrilla in Preese Hall?
              Preese Hall site is the only shale gas site to have been hydraulic fractured to date in the UK. Details of the chemicals which we assessed as non hazardous and permitted for use are listed on Cuadrilla’s website. They are:
              • 99.75% of the shale gas fracking fluid is made up of water and sand, beyond that a very limited number of chemicals are used:
              • Polyacrylamide friction reducers (0.075%), commonly used in cosmetics and facial creams, suspended in a hydrocarbon carrier;
              • Hydrochloric acid (0.125%), frequently found in swimming pools and used in developing drinking water wells,
              • Biocide (0.005%), used on rare occasions when the water provided from the local supplier needs to be further purified.

              Cuadrilla only utilised the polyacrylamide friction reducer in their operations.

              What are they using this time Sherwulfe?

  4. I know you would prefer if Cuadrilla just fracked away Waffle, without pausing to analyse the results of the work they have done. Then you could claim they were being reckless.

    However, the purpose of the exercise is to test fracking in the UK. That is what they are doing. I am sure future wells will be a lot quicker as a result, so you should be happy then.

    Looks as if Donald telling OPEC to reduce prices may have worked Jack! Don’t expect it will last too long, but will depend upon world trade wars settling down. Just shows how the global economy is still geared around oil and gas.

  5. Hi Paul, my point exactly. I have not been able to detect any injury caused by a 2.2lb bag of flour. My point was that the hole was very tiny and not a real issue at all but so is the bag of flour analogy. I can’t see how you missed that. Chill out man. Take a step back.

    • Hi Waffle, suitably chilled thanks. I only saw the pin hole leak after posting. But whilst you clearly understand it is a none issue, a lot of posters on here would try and make a big deal out of it.

      Regarding the bag of flour analogy – looks like Liverpool produced what they were asked to produce; does seem odd.

      Well integrity is easily checked, simulating seismicity and well integrity may not be so easy. But personally I have my doubts about what caused the ovality in Preese Hall. Whatever caused it, the well integrity was not compromised (unless you believe Mr. Hill who apparently said it was but he is unable to disclose the information). Breaking down thousands of feet of annulus cement with high compressive strength – probably >3,000psi is not going to happen. The risk is fracturing through the rock to surface / aquifer or via a fault. This is also not going to happen as the fracture propogation is monitored throughout the stimulation and the geology is not conducive to this.

    • I love the concentration on the analogy of a bag of flour dropped from worktop height. This is a bit like the PR hype surrounding the industry.

      The reality behind the scenes – if you drop a kilo [is it an old kilo or a new one?] of flour from this height, the bag will split sending the contents in all directions to slide under said worktops, in grooves and upwards into the air; you will never find and retrieve all of the contents [even using your best Dyson] so it will remain in the environment for a long time, breeding bacteria and polluting your kitchen…keep dropping them and your kitchen becomes a stinking mess…

  6. Martin, C’drilla claimed that they were doingthis initial frack test which would normally take two weeks. Because they do not believe in their own hype, they suggested that it would take three months. My bet is that it will take longer than 3 months. We will have to wait and see. Unfortunately their softly,softly approach doe not appear to be working. If they can afford to waste £650,000 per week by not drilling they must be minted. As I mentioned to Paul, chill out and take it easy. What we say on here will not change any policy decisions.

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