Research

Update: Record-level earthquake in Newdigate, Surrey – calls for reopening of inquiry into links to oil industry

190227 BGS chart2

British Geological Survey chart of the Newdigate earthquake, 27 February 2019

The strongest earth tremor so far in the latest swarm in the Newdigate area of Surrey was felt across southern England early this morning.

Residents said shaking of buildings and furniture woke them up. The effects were reported from London to the south coast.

It has prompted a local campaign group to call for an investigation into the cause to be reopened and to look again at links with oil exploration at the Horse Hill wellsite near Horley.

The tremor, at 3.42am, was initially thought to be 3.6ML on the local magnitude scale but recorded first by the British Geological Survey at 3.0ML and later 3.1ML. The intensity – measured on a scale from 1-12 based on observed effects – was initially recorded at four and later increased to five.

190227 BGS chart 3

British Geological Survey record of earth tremors, 27 February 2019.

It has the same epicentre and approximate depth as previous seismic activity in the area. The magnitude exceeds the previously strongest event measured at 3.0ML on 5 July 2018.

Two other small earthquakes in the area, measuring -0.5 and -0.6 were also recorded early this morning. Together they bring the total number of seismic events at Newdigate to 21.

Seismologist, Stephen Hicks, who has installed monitors in the area to collect more data, said:

“Looks like another strongly felt earthquake as part of the Surrey seismic storm this morning at about 3.42am.

He said an audio recording, sent by a Charlwood resident from the homes CCTV system, showed the distinct rattling of the initial p-waves followed by S-waves less than a second later.

The tremors began on 1 April 2018 and continued through the summer until October. They resumed this month with two tremors on 14 February (2 tremors) and one on 19 February.

The Newdigate area had not previously experienced earthquakes for at least 50 years.

The cause of the tremors has divided geologists. As DrillOrDrop reported, a workshop by the Oil and Gas Authority concluded there was no evidence that the local hydrocarbon industry had induced the seismic activity.

But three geologists at Edinburgh University, including one who attended the OGA workshop, concluded before this month’s earth tremors:

“Future oil exploration and production close to critically-stressed faults in the Weald is likely to result in similar earthquake events.”

Asked on BBC Radio Surrey this morning whether drilling at Brockham or Horse Hill could be responsible for the earthquakes, Stephen Hicks said:

“We’re keeping an open mind on that, based on any available new data that comes through.  Let’s see what this recent earthquake shows and what has been taking place at the nearby oil drilling sites.”

The Weald Action Group, which campaigns against oil drilling in southern England, said in a statement this morning:

“This latest earthquake is consistent with the findings of experts from the University of Edinburgh, that the Newdigate Swarm may have been triggered by activities at the Horse Hill well site.

“They predicted that the Swarm would continue and the earthquakes could increase in intensity.

“The Oil and Gas Authority inquiry into the cause of the earthquakes disregarded the Horse Hill site, and so found the cause to be natural.

“Local residents are very concerned, we do need to get to the bottom of this and we would encourage them to write to their MPs formally asking for the OGA inquiry to be reopened, but taking into account the possibility of Horse Hill as a cause.

“There is a planning application for expansion and long term production at Horse Hill, which residents can still object to on Surrey County Council’s website.”

People across a wide area of Surrey and West Sussex took to Twitter to report their experiences.

27 replies »

  1. “The cause has divided geologists. As DrillOrDrop reported, a workshop by the Oil and Gas Authority concluded there was NO evidence that the local hydrocarbon industry had induced the seismic activity.
    One paricipant v 17 others at workshop well I guess that’s nominally divided ? !

    • The OGA picked the panel, many of course worked for the OGA (whose job it is to promote maximum economic extraction of oil and gas as well as to regulate it), also the BGS which is partly funded by government to provide data to the oil companies and partly by oil companies directly, the oil company’s geologists, a geologist who has written papers for them arguing against a fixed respect distance for drilling near faults (useful to prevent issues like earthquakes and migration of contaminates), almost of them work closely together to further on shore oil extraction.
      It is to their credit that they invited the independent geologists who signed the letter to the Secretary of State asking for a moratorium, but if they thought they would achieve a consensus through ‘group think’ they were wrong. Of the two that went, one was easily won over by weak arguments but then after all he was the Petroleum Geologist who first spotted the potential for shale oil in the Weald and has been supporting it ever since.

  2. About 500 m NE of the village of Cudworth, and 170 m NE of the M=2.4 event of 14 February. Within the positioning errors limits, both appear to be related to the E-W Newdigate Fault, 200 m to the south

    • Thank you David, it’s obvious that UKOG and their greedy investors will say its unrelated but they don’t have any other explanation for what is happening at such a shallow depth that hasn’t happened until UKOG went back to Horse hill and released the pressure after 18 months shut in.

  3. Except it was happening before then, Jono. Oops.

    But, perhaps you could inform us of the pressures recorded and recording at HH? No? Thought not.

    • I don’t need to tell you anything Martin, it’s common sense, if this was in Lancashire it would have been stopped ages ago. There is proof that UKOG were working on the day of the first tremor, I have seen it. Purely on climate issues there should be no more new Fossil fuel extraction or are you going to deny climate change too? An excellent letter in the Times re the TLS today

      #dontmesswiththetls

      Sir, Recently Ineos and Cuadrilla, which both have significant interests in the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas, have demanded that the “traffic light” system that monitors seismicity at fracking well sites should be relaxed to allow larger earthquakes (reports, Feb 5 & 7). Following this a group of geoscientists signed a letter to The Times (Feb 9) in support of this demand.

      This month the UK Institute of Public Policy Research reported that as a result of climate change “a new, highly complex and destabilised ‘domain of risk’ is emerging, which includes the risk of the collapse of key social and economic systems, at local and potentially even global levels”.

      Climate change is already causing an increase in extreme weather events and driving accelerated melting of the polar ice sheets and Himalayan glaciers. Its primary causes are carbon dioxide emissions from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and rising methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction — particularly fracking. Meanwhile a new era of cheap, clean renewable energy and storage is arriving, with volumes doubling every two to three years. Is it not time that our leaders and scientific community withdrew their support for fracking and engaged in the challenge of transforming our society to meet this existential challenge?

      Nick Cowern, Emeritus Professor, School of Engineering, Newcastle University;

      Professor Peter Strachan, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University;

      Keith Barnham, Emeritus Professor, Dept. of Physics, Imperial College, London;

      Professor Andrew Blowers, The Open University;

      Dr Adam Broinowski, Visiting Research Fellow, Australian National University;

      Dr Matthew Cotton, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Environment and Geography, University of York;

      Professor Richard Cowell, School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University;

      Professor Mark Diesendorf, University of New South Wales;

      Dr Paul Dorfman, The Energy Institute, University College London;

      Professor Geraint Ellis, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast;

      Dr Ian Fairlie, Scientific consultant, UK;

      Denis Hall, Emeritus Professor, Heriot Watt University;

      Professor Stuart Haszeldine, FRSE, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh;

      Robert W Howarth, Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, Cornell University;

      Professor Mark Z Jacobson, School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University;

      Dr Phil Johnstone, Research Fellow, Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex;

      Professor Calvin Jones, Professor of Economics, Cardiff Business School;

      Dr Peter Kalmus, Associate Project Scientist, Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science & Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles;

      Dr Dominic Kelly, Dept. of Politics and International Studies, Warwick University;

      Dr Jeremy Leggett, social entrepreneur and writer, director at Solarcentury;

      Dr David Lowry, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts;

      Professor Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards, University College London;

      Professor Majia H Nadesan, Risk Innovation Fellow, Arizona State University;

      Sir Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist and writer;

      William Powrie, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, Southampton University;

      Andrew Simms, Research Associate, Centre for Global Political Economy, University of Sussex;

      David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, University of Glasgow;

      Dr Matt Watson, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Sheffield;

      Professor Andrew Watterson, Public Health and Population Health Research Group, University of Stirling

      • Jono, I also found the letter to be excellent in that it highlighted the tactics of the anti’s. It seems to be basically arguing that Inos, Cuadrilla and the 48 who argued for reviewing the TLS shouldn’t have done so because of climate change issues. This is a pathetic argument to make – if fracking should be banned due to climate change then that should be the argument. Trying to get it banned under a totally false premise is simply dishonest. Many of us have realized that these are the tactics being used but it’s good to have in print.

        It’s also wrong to say that methane emissions are rising because of fracking. The fact is that methane emissions associated with natural gas production have been going down over the last 30 years whereas methane emissions from coal production have been rising (see supplementary data in https://www.nature.com/articles/nature19797). If fracking were “particularly” to blame as suggested by the letter then the opposite trend would be expected. It’s also noteworthy that there has been a more or less continuous rise on methane emissions for the last 200 years apart from one plateau between 1999 and 2006, which again isn’t consistent with hydraulic fracturing being “particularly” responsible.

        • Simon,

          Even the Guardian is commenting that the increase in methane in the atmosphere is not due to fracking / oil / gas. But this blows a hole in the main Nimby argument against UK onshore oil and gas when what they are really concerned about is development near their homes. The climate change tactic is a trendy tactic but misleading. Unless they all become vegans etc etc….. Look at the PI at Ellesmere Port.

          https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/17/methane-levels-sharp-rise-threaten-paris-climate-agreement

          “Methane is produced by cattle, and also comes from decaying vegetation, fires, coal mines and natural gas plants. It is many times more potent as a cause of atmospheric warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). However, it breaks down much more quickly than CO2 and is found at much lower levels in the atmosphere.

          During much of the 20th century, levels of methane, mostly from fossil fuel sources, increased in the atmosphere but, by the beginning of the 21st century, it had stabilised, said Nisbet. “Then, to our surprise, levels starting rising in 2007. That increase began to accelerate after 2014 and fast growth has continued.”

          Studies suggest these increases are more likely to be mainly biological in origin. However, the exact cause remains unclear. Some researchers believe the spread of intense farming in Africa may be involved, in particular in tropical regions where conditions are becoming warmer and wetter because of climate change. Rising numbers of cattle – as well as wetter and warmer swamps – are producing more and more methane, it is argued.

          This idea is now being studied in detail by a consortium led by Nisbet, whose work is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. This month the consortium completed a series of flights over Uganda and Zambia to collect samples of the air above these countries.

          “We have only just started analysing our data but have already found evidence that a great plume of methane now rises above the wetland swamps of Lake Bangweul in Zambia,” added Nisbet.”

  4. You’re better placed to supply us with that info Martin – you work for them. Give your boss a ring and ask him what to write on here today. 17 (industry sponsored) vs 1 (independant). The OGA is not an independant organisation – it is required to promote Oil and Gas production in the UK.

    • Oh no I do not, DD. Shame you show how you have to fabricate to make a point.

      So, those who wrote to the Times have no income from alternative energy, directly or indirectly? LOL.

      (I think they are called “competitors”.)

  5. Earthquakes in Sussex, U.K.O.O.G.= U.K.I.P. I have always felt that Brexit was all about fracking. Farage is bezzies with Dick Cheney, who is the former C.E.O. of Halliburton. Work it out, people

    • I feel that the threat of Environmental safeguards being removed should Brexit actually occurs has been greatly underpublicised!
      Likewise with Human Rights protection by the way.
      Regarding earthquakes, the damage is most noticeable deep below ground where melons cannot be dropped for comparison purposes.

      • You are right Peter. Rumour has it that the EA / HSE / Natural England / BGS / OGA will all be disbanded post Brexit and all oil / gas / fracking / nuclear / coal / mining / quarrying developments will be Permitted Developments going forward. Local planning authorities will be phased out and oil and gas comapnies will decide our future. Great stuff!

        PS you might be better protesting about 5G as this could be a lot more harmful to you and your offspring when it comes.

        [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

    • Malcolm – there are other fossil fuels as well as natural gas. If you read the supplementary data in https://www.nature.com/articles/nature19797 you will find that their study suggests that methane emissions from gas production have been going down over the last 30 years whereas those from coal have gone up – this is the opposite to what one would expect if fracking was responsible.

    • Nick, I couldn’t agree more – particular when one looks at the volumes of fluid injected and the distance away the tremors are from the injection point. I’m more than willing to admit that hydrocarbon injection and production can change stress/pore pressure at quite some distance although the mechanisms are not known. However, all of the cases that I’ve seen have involved the injection or extraction of fluids at rates that are over three orders of magnitude higher than in this particular case. It’s interesting to note that the only person at the OGA meeting who thought there was a link has no experience in seismicity, geomechanics or fluid flow in porous media!

  6. Judith, all goes to show that baselines are so important in understanding what happens in the natural system, before speculating on other mechanisms.

    • Nick, as well as baselines it’s also worth people learning about the statistics of natural processes and gaining an understanding of their underlying controls before they start to speculate.

  7. But you can’t scare with facts, Judith. You need the scary fog surrounding speculation to make it work. You can trawl back through certain posters on DoD and find that is all they do.

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