MP launches bill to stop fracking earthquakes

181214 bubble chart refracktion

Seismic events at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site up to 14 December 2018. Source: Refracktion

A Conservative MP from a constituency with an Ineos shale gas site is seeking to introduce legislation to stop fracking companies causing earthquakes.

Lee Rowley, who represents North East Derbyshire, said he wanted to put into law the current regulations on fracking-induced seismicity.

His Ten Minute Rule bill, to be called the Fracking (Seismic Activity) Bill, will be introduced into parliament on 19 March 2019.

Under the regulations, known as the traffic light system or TLS, companies must stop fracking for at least 18 hours, if their operations induce seismic activity of 0.5ML (local magnitude) or more.

Two shale gas companies have lobbied for a relaxation of the TLS.

Ineos, which has permission for shale gas exploration at Marsh Lane, Derbyshire, and Cuadrilla, which has fracked in Lancashire, have said the industry will not be commercially-viable unless restrictions are lifted.

Cuadrilla caused a total of 56 earthquakes during fracking at Preston New Road from October-December 2018. It stopped operations at least five times, at a cost, reported by the company, of £94,000 a day.

Mr Rowley’s predecessor in North East Derbyshire, the former Labour MP, Natascha Engel, has called for a review of the regulations, in her role as the government’s shale gas commissioner.

Any relaxation of the traffic light system has been strongly opposed by anti-fracking campaigners.

Lee Rowley 181031 Parliamentlive tv

Lee Rowley MP, in a debate about fracking, 31 October 2018. Photo: Parliamentlive.tv

Mr Rowley said:

“Recently, fracking companies have been warning that the industry could be unworkable in the UK unless regulations are relaxed.

“These regulations were put in place for a reason – to protect the communities who have to live with fracking. More importantly the industry themselves agreed to the regulations when first implemented so they can’t come back and demand a change whenever it suits them.

“I will be introducing a Bill to Parliament, which, if successful, will enshrine into law the seismic regulations that were created to protect us.

“This is just the first stage in a long process to create a law and I can’t make any promises that it will succeed.

“But, we need to make it clear that if fracking cannot succeed under current seismic limits then it’s tough luck.”

Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said:

“In 2012 it was recognised by the Government that the traffic light system to regulate micro-seismicity was cautious and would be reviewed as experience developed. This is backed up by guidance from the Oil and Gas Authority. These statements are the basis on which investors have invested.

“Leading geoscientists have commented that a review of the micro-seismicity rules can be accommodated safely. We now have the data and experience appropriate for such a review. The current rules for shale gas extraction are the strictest in the world and are much stricter than for any other industry involved in creating seismicity in the UK. We would question whether legislation for only one industry is right and indeed whether – as has been suggested recently – this is a matter for regulators, not legislators.

“Against a backdrop of nearly 75% of our gas being imported within the next 16 years, increasingly from countries that have both work and environmental regulations significantly below our own standards, there is a moral, economic and environmental imperative to be looking at our onshore oil and gas resource.”

Ten Minute Rule bills are a type of Private Members’ Bill which allow a backbench MP to make a case for a new bill in a speech lasting up to 10 minutes. An MP who opposes the proposal can make a speech for another 10 minutes, before the House of Commons decides whether or not the Bill should be introduced. If the MP is successful, the bill is taken to have its first reading.

Most Ten Minute Rule bills rarely become law because the government usually opposes them in the later stages or there is often not enough parliamentary time for debate.

According to parliamentary statistics, a total of 15 Ten Minute Rule bills have received royal assent, since 1983.

DrillOrDrop also invited Natascha Engel to comment on Mr Rowley’s bill. This post will be updated with any response.

  • We’re also working on an article about a new proposal for assessing whether earthquakes are natural or induced by human activity.

11 replies »

  1. I imagine this excuse for a government will be wishing they had never heard of Shale , another Cameron duck and dive disaster.

  2. We have a odd political situation in North East Derbyshire. I was its Labour MP for the constituency from 1987 to 2005 and I am fully opposed to fracking. My Labour successor being Natascha Engel from 2005 to 2017. At the final moment as we moved into the last General Election, she came out in favour of fracking and was defeated by Lee Rowley the Conservative candidate. She has since been made the pro Shale Gas Commissioner by the Conservative Government. When elected Rowley quickly moved against fracking in his own constituency and has since moved into a more fully fledged opposition to it. So I communicate with him on the matter and amongst the avenues in the past which I have suggested he should use is his current 10 Minute Rule Bill. But I accept that an avenue which he has used well has been Westminster Hall Debates away from the Commons Chamber, which I only really ever saw as a fall-back. At the next General Election we are still likely to have an anti-fracking MP, as the Prospective Labour Candidate also fully adopts that stance – Chris Peace. She recently arranged for Jeremy Corbyn to address a meeting here on the issue. Although parliamentary politics are in turmoil at the moment, this should still be either a Conservative or Labour seat next time. Some of my own anti-fracking moves are shown on this thread of the blog I run –

  3. seismic events is one thing…earthquakes is another. The current graph is an event which is less than a “Boeing landing at Heathrow”..so something is out of context. Seismology is a science which is fully understood…and I stand to be corrected there has never been an event from hydraulic fracturing that has caused harm.

  4. As a Labour Party member of some 50 years, I am ashamed of the Party and MPs (Labour & Conservative) who will not back a potential industry that will bring jobs, tax revenue and energy security to the UK. Fracking for natural gas should be allowed to be developed, the traffic light system to regulate micro-seismicity should be raised as experience is developed. I seems to me that courting votes is more important than developing a sound UK economy.

  5. We have a massive capacity for the use of alternative energy sources and we are starting to extend some of these. We are an island (with masses of rivers) surrounded by tidal power. We have a wide mixture of wind and sun powers. Then we could extend public transport to use less energy on private car usuage. I say this as a Labour Party member for over 60 years.

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