“More fracking needed to understand risk” – earthquake expert

190925 Brian Baptie

Seismologist Dr Brian Baptie, project leader with the British Geological Survey, speaking in London on 25 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

One of the UK’s leading seismologists says more shale gas wells must be fracked to assess the risk from tremors.

Dr Brian Baptie, a project leader with the British Geological Survey (BGS), was speaking a month after Cuadrilla’s shale gas site near Blackpool caused the UK’s biggest fracking-induced seismic event.

He told a scientific meeting in London last night:

“To really truly understand the risk of this process we’ve got to try it in a few places and probably not just the north west of England but in other plays as well and try and get some data that we can use to try to constrain what the hazard is.”

The 2.9 magnitude tremor on August bank holiday was reported to the BGS by several thousand people. Several hundred people told the BGS it had damaged property.

Replying to DrillOrDrop’s question about whether Cuadrilla could successfully exploit the Bowland shale without causing damaging tremors, Dr Baptie said:

“The Bowland [shale] appears to behave differently from some other analogue reservoirs in the States – you appear to get some quite high seismicity rates.

“To truly understand the hazard we just need more observational data.”

Dr Baptie said the seismicity caused by Cuadrilla was “way too small” to cause structural damage”. But his comments on the need for more fracking data have angered opponents of Cuadrilla’s activities in Lancashire.

A representative for Preston New Road Action Group told DrillOrDrop:

“Back in April, Dr Baptie stated that earthquakes with less than a magnitude of 4ml do not usually cause damage. Recent events have shown this statement to be quite incorrect. He was also advocating that the Traffic Light System should be increased on an incremental basis to allow fracking at PNR to be intensified.

“He is now saying that fracking should be tried out on other communities in other areas of the UK. This trial and error approach, ignoring the impact that it has on people’s lives and wellbeing, is totally unacceptable. Other geological experts have said that the seismicity on the Fylde was predictable given the highly faulted nature of the Bowland Shale.”

A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire said:

“We note Dr Baptie’s suggestion that having failed once in the Fylde, the industry should try to get a different result by imposing themselves on another unfortunate community.

“While trying the same thing somewhere else and hoping for a different result might save the industry’s and the government’s blushes for a few more years, it really is time that they admitted defeat and packed up and left.

“There is no place for unabated fracking in UK Net Zero 2050. Exploiting yet another source of fossil fuels is incompatible with these climate goals.”

There’s more detail on Dr Baptie’s comments on damage from Cuadrilla’s induced tremors in a special DrillOrDrop report coming soon.

Changing tremor pattern


Location of tremors up to 14 September 2019 caused by fracking the PNR-2 well at Preston New Road. Source: British Geological Survey

Cuadrilla carried out hydraulic fracturing on one well at Preston New Road (PNR-1) in October-December 2018 and on the PNR-2 well in the second half of August 2019.

The BGS online database reported more than 50 tremors from the 2018 fracks and more than 130 from 2019.

Dr Baptie told last night’s meeting the pattern of tremors varied between the two sets of fracks. In 2019, he said, there were many more trailing events. These are defined as tremors measuring more than 0.5ML which happened after fracking.

The 2.9ML earth tremor, on 26 August, was almost three days after the last frack at the site, on 23 August 2019. The most recent tremor recorded at Preston New Road by the BGS’s online database was on 14 September 2019.

Relationships, uncertainties and faults

Previous research has linked the volume of injected fluid to the size of tremor. But Dr Baptie said of the Preston New Road fracks:

“There doesn’t really appear to be a clear relationship between injected volume and seismicity. There is possibly a relationship between the number of events and volume.”

He said research showed that measurement of the magnitude of earth tremors could be uncertain by about 0.1ML. This could have implications for the traffic light system regulations, which requires companies to pause fracking at 0.5ML. This uncertainty should be taken into account by the regulations, Dr Baptie said.

The traffic light system also requires operators to proceed with caution if fracking causes tremors of magnitude 0.0 – the amber level. But Dr Baptie said BGS research showed that surface networks of seismic monitoring may not be good enough to implement this part of the regulations.

Dr Baptie said faults capable of inducing tremors measuring up to 2.0ML could not all be identified by seismic imaging methods.

“There are lots and lots of faults of these dimensions that we just don’t know about and they probably are pervasive.”

Fracking and bedding planes

Dr Baptie also said the seismic data suggested fracking had reactivated what he described as near-optimally oriented faults.

But the American fracking expert, Dr Grant Hocking, told the meeting Cuadrilla had not actually fracked the formation at Preston New Road. Instead, he said, the company had opened slickensided bedding planes and created seismic activity a long way from the well.

“They have not been doing hydraulic fracturing here. They have just been pumping fluids into the formation.

Dr Hocking, said his company, GeoSierra, carried out a review of Cuadrilla’s 2011 Preese Hall frack along with researchers from Halliburton, Imperial College and the Massachusettes Institute of Technology. He said:

“We decided that you virtually couldn’t hydraulically fracture those shales because of the presence of the slickensided bedding planes.

“I’ve been trying to tell the OGA [Oil and Gas Authority] this for a whole year and a bit and the BGS and no one listens.”

Dr Hocking said the traffic light system, which is based on monitoring the magnitude of seismic events, was “not a good handle of the [fracking] technology”.

“Microseismicity doesn’t tell you where the frack is. It definitely doesn’t tell you where the frack fluid is. It tells you where you’ve had slip due to pore pressure changes.”

Dr Hocking said surface tilt metre monitoring should be mandatory because of the slickensided bedding planes. For more on this issue, see DrillOrDrop report from August 2019

Reporting from the meeting, hosted by Society for Earthquake and Civil Engineering Dynamics, was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers.


51 replies »

  1. No, it won’t be, delayed reaction. But if that is what floats your boat, feel free.

    Interesting how within your excitement you are so willing to present your speculation. Science is a little different.

  2. Perhaps we should allow guns back into the UK. I mean, we know they carry risks that could kill people, that’s well documented. However “To truly understand the hazard we just need more observational data.”

    • This latest scientific breakthrough of ‘fracking somewhere else’ even though there is now conclusive scientific proof that seismicity levels cannot be controlled will be of great news for all the top level management teams across the network of Cuadrilla companies.

      It would seem there is only 1 active officer left in the following,

      Cuadrilla Balcomb Ltd Just Mr Egan 9 resignations.
      Cuadrilla Bowland Ltd Just Mr Egan 5 resignations
      Cuadrilla Elswick Ltd Just Mr Egan 9 resignations
      Cuadrilla Elswick No 2 Ltd Just Mr Egan 7 resignations
      Cuadrilla Gainsborough Ltd Just Mr Egan 2 resignations
      Cuadrilla North Cleveland Ltd #Just Mr Egan 2 resignations
      Cuadrilla Resources Ltd Just Mr Egan 9 resignations
      Cuadrilla Services Ltd Just Mr Egan 7 resignations
      Cuadrilla South Clevland Ltd Just Mr Egan 2 resignations
      Cuadrilla Weald Ltd Just Mr Egan 8 resignations
      Cuadrilla well services Ltd Just Mr Egan 8 resignations

      Check company house to confirm if this is correct.

      Maybe this latest cutting edge science of ‘doing it again somewhere else’ will make the 68 who resigned regret their decisions.

      I wonder who the insurance companies will ask for if they get in touch for compensation for property repair and devaluation?

      Of course you still need a holding company so Cuadrilla Holdings Ltd still has plenty of active officers.

      • Then there is the other big problem that has come to light for the industry.

        As we have just been told,

        “There doesn’t really appear to be a clear relationship between injected volume and seismicity. There is possibly a relationship between the number of events and volume.”

        Looking back a few years,

        The industry changed the 2015 infrastructure act to read,

        (1)“Associated hydraulic fracturing” means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which—

        (a)is carried out in connection with the use of the relevant well to search or bore for or get petroleum, and

        (b)involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of—

        (i)more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or

        (ii)more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total.

        The alteration to the act is now useless. Even if they present an application with low volumes and say it is not ‘fracking’ the scientific evidence is now that a ‘non fracking’ application can cause as much seismic damage as a ‘fracking’ application as any amount of fluid could cause any size earthquake.

        The planners and the Councillors who make the decisions will be made aware of these new changes even if Boris keeps his head buried in the sand.

    • To truly understand, lionofwise, you first need to understand what you are on about. Guns are allowed in UK, as long as you have the correct licence and secure storage.

      I do find it amusing that some post around UK test fracking, which is likely to be in a rural environment, and then show they have no awareness of the UK rural environment! Not a wise move. Real locals are also likely to be aware of such issues as well.

      Meanwhile, John posts a copy of the script he posted some days again. Somewhat lazy for him not to have received a new one!

  3. And this is what was posted by someone else, just before the Beast from the East struck the UK:

    “There is plenty of cheap oil and gas sloshing around the world”.

    (excuse me if that is not totally word perfect, but you may remember it better than me John, because it was you who wrote it.)

    So, it would appear taking yourself, and lionofwise together, you are quite a match for others inaccuracies.

    However, to add some accuracy and my contribution to the DoD poetry corner, a little offering from Wendy Cope, taken from The Concerned Adolescent:

    “They pollute the world, they kill and eat animals
    Everywhere there is blood and the stench of death.
    Human beings make war and hate one another.
    They do not understand their young, they reject their ideals.
    They make them come home early from the disco.
    They are doomed.”

    So familiar, to so many generations!

    • Wha? Well well well ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, what do we have here? It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

      How true that is, after all these years of trying to educate these fossilised fools into something approaching a heartfelt human activity, we suddenly get a poem from one who had nothing but disdain for such things? No matter how sneering, sour and bitter as it is.

      It is by some minor miracle, non the less a poem!!!

      Wonders will never cease? A brief and up to now a totally silent spring, now falling into autumn, but welcome none the less.

      Will we get soliloquies by William Shakespeare?

      Nature poems from William Wordsworth?

      The Alchemical works of Lord James Grangermouth Ratcliffe? On the Polymersophers Shale Stone to transmute the plastic into gold?

      Perhaps a self love climate destruction denial poem from Donald Frack-Greenland Trump?

      An abusive foul mouthed Brexit(C)Rap from Boris-I’ll-Prorogue-Your-Ass-Johnson? The Parliamentary Poet Laureate of the Absentee Speech Deserter?

      Maybe even, and wait for it! A Martian Blues….sorry….Reds from our own, our very own, one and, oh, please thank you god, the only, the one and only, Martian Chronic(als)???

      I can hardly wait…..well, actually i can wait a bit…..well…i can really wait quite a lot actually…..well….maybe i would rather wait for a very very long time…..should we all have any more time left that is?

      Here is real poetry however, straight from a young heart, honest and candid, Parrhesiazomaic and direct:

      “This is all wrong.

      I shouldn’t be standing here.

      I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean.

      Yet you all come to me for hope?

      How dare you!

      You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.

      And yet I’m one of the lucky ones.

      People are suffering.

      People are dying.

      Entire ecosystems are collapsing.

      We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.

      And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.

      How dare you.

      For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear.

      How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

      With today’s emissions levels, our remaining CO2 budget will be gone in less than 8.5 years.

      You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency.

      But no matter how sad and angry I am,

      I don’t want to believe that.

      Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil.

      And I refuse to believe that.

      The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

      Maybe 50% is acceptable to you.

      But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity.

      They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.

      So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.

      To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world had 420 gigatonnes of COs left to emit back on 1 January 2018.

      Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes.

      How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business-as-usual and some technical solutions.

      With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years.

      There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today.

      Because these numbers are too uncomfortable.

      And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.
      You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.

      The eyes of all future generations are upon you.

      And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this.

      Right here, right now is where we draw the line.

      The world is waking up.

      And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

        • Did we wake you up Elie? Still rubbing the sleepy dust from your eyes apparently? Which “she” do you refer to? And what seat?

          Well ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we see Elie managed to grasp the essential salient point of the words in his usual intelligent and inciteful manner?

          We are frankly astonished arent we, at the apparent superpowers displayed there, we are wondering how such a psychic ability managed to discern that whatever seat referred to, regardless of occupant or location or timezone, should be constructed from leather or not from the words above?

          Tell us, oh psychic anti anti guru of the Milankovitch Trick Bicycle.

          Which words indicated that?

          With eyes as sensitive as that you should be able to see us all laughing!

  4. No disdain for poetry, Phileas, only doggerel: marked by triviality or inferiority.

    I have previously recommended Leonard Cohen to you, for the emotions and soul.

    I now offer you Wendy Cope for a bit of gentle satire.

    Meanwhile, I am sure others can read e.e.cummings, and see how the original looks much better than imitation.

    Pleased to assist with raising standards- red at least, and almost gold!

    Oops-almost slipped into another area regarding standards. That would be too much for one day. We can return to that some other time.

    Must let you alone to your own devices now, as I have chores to complete to allow for World Cup time to be authorised this weekend by my better half.

    Play nicely.

    • Aww! Don’t put yourself down so much Martian, you cant help it, triviality and inferiority are your thing after all, you would be lost without them, but you did try, that’s the main thing, it just wasn’t very good, that is all. But never mind, better luck next time.

      This is indeed a turnaround for the books, suddenly Martian likes poetry? Disdain it was, now it is not, education is a wonderful thing isnt it, better late than never, we can enjoy the weekend happy now that we have seen such transformation on the road to Domestos.

      I see you are resorting to the usual 18th Century French novelists fictitious characters again? Are you claiming more literary achievements there perhaps? Less doggerel in that fictional novel at least.

      Pity its still not in the real world though isnt it? Even the hot air was fictional. Just take small steps towards the light, eventually you will emerge into the real world with the rest of us, just give it time, but you better hurry though, there isnt much time left, or right for that matter.

      Leonard Cohen? I know his poems well. Sadly he passed to that great poetry reading in the sky. Yes i have posted several of his songs and poems on Sunday mornings. Oh, but of course you could never bring yourself to read anything i write could you? Or at least that is what you claimed, but you always could repeat what i said afterwards? Odd that.

      Never mind again, as we all now know, Philaes Fogg means lierally “The End of Fog”. And Passepartout means “something that passes everywhere or provides a universal means of passage, a master key, a skeleton key.”

      Not exactly the best research for an epithet you have ever done was it? But if it floats your fictional 18th century hot air balloon? Then, hey, who are we to shoot holes in it!

      We look forwards to your next literary masterclass on raising all those anti anti doggerel standards up to something better not bitter and peaceful not peevish, in purely friendly positively helpfully critical humanitarian manner of course. One poet to another…….

      Enjoy the World Cup, I hope its big enough to put out all those fires? It will be a bit hot still, all those forests worldwide are still burning, it might scorch your television?

      Have a nice weekend defective Fixated.

  5. One can but wonder what the insurance industry will make of Dr Baptie’s statement. A rapid reaction to remove all liability for fracking related damage would appear the likely outcome. There’s a significant difference between gung ho US fracking companies honing their technique by experimentation in remote, barely inhabited areas, compared to the density of population in even the ‘desolate north’ of England. If insurance cover is removed and fracking companies intend to pop round with their totally untrained office staff to any properties damaged by seismicity, before instantly denying responsibility, the populace are likely to get somewhat tetchy if they are refused cover and their house prices fall or become unsaleable.

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