Don’t relax my safety rules on fracking earth tremors – former energy secretary


traffic light system

A former energy secretary has urged the government to uphold the safety rules he introduced six years ago on fracking-induced earth tremors.

Sir Edward DaveyIn a parliamentary motion, Sir Edward Davey defended the requirement that fracking companies should pause work if their operations triggered seismic activity at a level of 0.5ML (local magnitude).

Sir Edward, the energy secretary in the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government, announced the 0.5ML threshold in December 2012.

It was part of a set of regulations, known as the traffic light system, introduced when the government lifted a moratorium on fracking in the UK. The moratorium had been imposed after a series of 50 earth tremors linked to fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site in 2011.

Sir Edward’s motion, submitted yesterday, follows 36 tremors since 18 October 2018 caused by fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site. Two of the tremors during fracking were above the 0.5ML threshold and the largest, which was after fracking had finished, measured 1.1ML. DrillOrDrop Tremor tracker

The motion says:

“since fracking was resumed in Lancashire in October 2018, the safety limit threshold for earthquakes has been breached three times, including one at Preston New Road that recorded eight times the energy of the 0.5 Red light magnitude set by the Government”.

The motion also noted that the government, through the energy minister, Claire Perry, had announced it had no plans to change the threshold in the regulations.

It called on the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to:

“uphold the present traffic light system requiring any fracking company to cease fracking after triggering a tremor in excess of 0.5 on the Richter Scale.”

At the time of writing, the motion was signed by only Sir Edward and the seconder, Wera Hobhouse, Lib Dem MP for Bath.

Red light debate

Earlier this month, Cuadrilla called for the 0.5ML threshold to be lifted to 2.0ML to make the UK shale gas industry commercially viable.

The company’s chief executive, Francis Egan, told the Financial Times the shale gas industry could be “strangled at birth”. In an interview with the Times, he said the company was unable to get effective fractures using the current rules and he hinted that any gas flow tests would be unrepresentative.

But the energy minister, Claire Perry, said a change to the regulations would be foolish. In a guest post for DrillOrDrop, engineer Michael Hill made the case for keeping the 0.5ML threshold.

Reports from the most recent meeting of the community liaison group for people living near Preston New Road, indicated that Cuadrilla will not now lobby for a change in the threshold. Cuadrilla would not comment on the meeting until formal minutes were published.


14 replies »

  1. Trouble is, looking at the Early Day Motion it reads as if the 0.5 red warning level means that fracking should stop. But as we know from earlier detailed reports by Drill or Drop, all it means it that fracking pauses for 18 hours while well integrity checks and other measures are carried out….. would appreciate clarification again on this point. (rather than customary heckling).

    • Good point Linda. It seems that the company uses this as a stop check for their equipment rather than analyse the risk to the environment and the people around them.

    • Linda Hurrell
      At 0.5 fracking stops, then the actions in the frack plan are followed, leading to a resumption of fracking as you note.

      See appendix 4 of the frack plan to see how it works.

      Click to access PNR1z-HFP-v9.pdf

      I see that there has been some discussion or opinion on DOD about the meaning of Stop, but as ever, the meaning of whatever word used is in the context of the accompanying explanation.

      As the early day motion only seeks to prevent a relaxation of the existing rules, it does not seek to tighten them ( which it would do if fracking from a specific well, say, was then banned in perpetuity following an 0.5 event.)

  2. I have it on very good authority that the reason no fracking is taking place at PNR is because of damage to the well

      • Also quite possible they can’t get any viable gas flow from their imposed threshold limit and are not wasting any more valuable fracking well space until they find out if they are allowed a higher threshold, which is looking more unlikely by the day.
        Futile fracking or technical failings? Major concerns either way for those who have parted with their hard earned cash.

  3. Why would anyone want to influence what happens regarding the traffic light when they have no significant data from the system now in force?

    Keep such things away from politicians and let the scientists examine the data, produce their recommendations, and then action is taken accordingly. Otherwise, it just becomes an exercise in a few cheap votes.

    • The completion report on Preese Hall shows gas flow results, pressures, volumes etc.

      Preese Hall was fracked in 2011.

      I notice the completion report is dated August 2018.

      I wonder why there is 7 years before this report came out?

      I hope the small time investors didn’t have to wait that long to see the report. The flow rated don’t seem to promising compared to some US wells.

      I wonder how long before the smaller investors get to see the PNR results so far?

      If it was my money invested I would be asking questions about now.

  4. Sir Ed Davey obviously still want to run the energy department as a boss across the bench.
    Lib Dem set this limit to strangle uk shale at birth while they were in government. Now they want to pull the puppet string from their opposition office. They clearly know the Tory ministers and MPs are weak on their knee on this issue. Very smart political players Dem Lib.

    • Worst Energy Secretary in memory. Should never have given them this position…. Of course there were a lot more of them in those days. Now just a few plus a Geologist.

  5. Shame the “few” find it so difficult to find their way into the House, on a regular basis. Seem somewhat shy of exposing themselves to scrutiny. Slightly different problem when they get to the Lords!

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