The government appears to have rejected calls by Cuadrilla for a review of the rules on earth tremors caused by fracking.
The company said in a statement at lunchtime it had requested an urgent review of the traffic light system, which requires fracking to pause for 18 hours if there are tremors measuring 0.5ML (local magnitude) or above.
But the Oil and Gas Authority, which is responsible for regulating fracking-induced seismic activity, confirmed to DrillOrDrop this afternoon:
“There are no plans to review the limit under the traffic light system.”
The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, later told The Guardian:
“The government believes shale gas could be an important new domestic energy source, enhancing our energy security and delivering economic benefits including the creation of well paid, quality jobs.
“That’s why the government has given the industry significant support to develop while ensuring that our world-leading regulations remain in place to ensure fracking happens safely and responsibly.
“We set these regulations in consultation with industry and we have no plans to review them.”
Cuadrilla announced it had fully fracked only 5% of the first horizontal well at its Preston New Road site near Blackpool.
It said the 0.5ML limit had “severely constrained the volume of sand that could be injected into the shale rock” during the fracking process. The well is now shut in and fracking equipment has been taken off the site.
Fracking at the Preston New Road well, known as PNR1, induced 57 seismic events in two months. The 0.5ML limit was reached three times during fracking and five times afterwards. The most powerful tremors measured 1.1ML and 1.5ML and were felt near the site.
Cuadrilla said today there was “more than ample evidence to justify an expert technical review” of the traffic light system and a revision for Preston New Road, “without compromising safety”.
The company said:
“Subject to the outcome of such a review Cuadrilla plans to complete hydraulic fracturing of the PNR1 well, fracture the PNR2 well [the second well drilled at the site] and carry out flow testing of both wells later this year.”
DrillOrDrop asked the company about the future for the Preston New Road site if there was no review of the traffic light system or TLS.
A spokesperson for the company said:
“We have asked for a review of the TLS, and will await the outcome before making any further decisions.”
Cuadrilla’s call for a review follow comments earlier this week by Ineos, the UK’s biggest shale gas licence holder. Its owner, Jim Ratcliffe, described the traffic light system was absurd and unworkable.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has not responded to the Ineos comments, nor has the energy secretary, Claire Perry. But yesterday, she told a sustainability leaders’ forum, quoted by Utility Week:
“We’ve obviously been very clear about our environmental limits, which I think are the best in the world, and if [fracking] companies can operate within them then they’ll be welcome to do so.”
Last month, Ms Perry re-stated the 0.5ML limit in her reply to a parliamentary question on the traffic light system. She said:
“These regulations ensure that the risk of seismic activity during hydraulic fracturing is assessed in advance and that operations are closely monitored to allow action to be taken by the OGA [Oil & Gas Authority] and other regulators where necessary.”
Updated to include comment from Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy