A parliamentary group is seeking expert evidence on earthquakes caused by fracking.
The investigation follows calls by the shale gas industry for a relaxation of the regulations.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Impact of Shale Gas wants to hear from regulators, academics, geologists, engineers, industry representatives, campaign groups or members of the public who have experienced the impacts of fracking operations.
The current regulations, known as the traffic light system, require companies to pause fracking for at least 18 hours following a red event. This is where tremors of 0.5 or above on the local magnitude (ML) scale happen during fracking.
Ineos and Cuadrilla have said this threshold is too low and should be raised to make the industry commercially viable. They pointed to the limit of 4.0ML or 4.5ML used in parts of north America.
Fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road near Blackpool caused 56 earth tremors from October-December 2018. The company stopped operations at least five times. Most of the seismic activity was very low level but two tremors were felt. DrillOrDrop tremor tracker
So far, the government has said there are no plans to review or relax the traffic light system.
“Dig deeper” into relaxation calls
The group’s chair, Lee Rowley, Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire, said:
“We’re holding this meeting to dig a little deeper into calls to loosen fracking regulation.”
His constituency has a site in the village of Marsh Lane earmarked by Ineos for shale gas exploration.
“One of the biggest concerns from residents in Marsh Lane and elsewhere in North East Derbyshire who are worried about fracking is that it could cause earthquakes that not only damage property but could lead to contamination.
“Any weakening of the regulation is wrong in my opinion and I have invited fracking regulators, fracking companies, campaign groups and scientists to join us next month to discuss my concerns.”
Yesterday, Mr Rowley introduced a new parliamentary bill to prevent the regulations from being changed.
The group said it wanted to examine the processes for monitoring seismicity and well integrity and whether there should be any amendments to the traffic light system.
At present, the rules do not include seismic events measuring 0.5ML or above that happen after fracking has finished. The group want to know whether these tremors, known as trailing events, should be included in the traffic light system.
It is also investigating whether shale gas operators should be allowed to plan for red events as standard practice.
The current rules apply only to fracking for shale gas. But similar processes, involving dilute acid, can be used in limestone and sandstone areas. The group has invited opinion on whether these operations, known as acidisation or acid fracking, should be covered by the traffic light system.
Other questions to be addressed by the investigation include:
- Is there substantial independent monitoring of seismicity at fracking sites?
- Are regulators too reliant on data from operators to monitor seismicity and well integrity?
- Is the monitoring process at fracking sites transparent enough?
- How reliable are the seismic surveys and monitoring of fracking operations for detecting faults and damage to wells?
- Is enough attention given to the underground impacts of fracking-induced seismicity?
The group’s hearing is at Westminster on Tuesday 2 April 2019. The time and venue are to be confirmed.
You can contact the committee chairman, Lee Rowley MP, via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.