“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 »

    • Reckless insanity, just like saying

      “More car crashes needed to understand the risk to car safety”

      “More fossil fuels needed to understand the risk to the climate”

      “More water pollution needed to understand the risks to clean water”

      “More failed fracking needed to understand the risk to local communities”

      Utterly, Utterly Nuts!

      • PHIL, you make a good point

        Some people behave as if stupidity were a virtue.

        Meanwhile is the real world , climate change problems of unimaginable magnitude, with all the social and economic problems it will bring , are now clearly staring us in the face .

        Human civilization faces “existential risk” by 2050 according to new

        Social collapse and climate breakdown

        DON’T buy coastal properties

        FRACKING ………The scraping of the bottom of the fossil fuel barrel must stop.

        A message to any Oil and Gas PR lackeys that may be operating on this site, I suggest you pass this on to your paymasters ……….. It’s worth remembering that these problems are set to happen with in the next 30 YEARS……. When social breakdown DOES happen , your wheelbarrows of paper cash won’t buy you a slice of bread .

      • Yes phil c you are? Do you homestly understand the energy industry? Every energy source be FF, renewables etc has a consequence, have you been sleeping through out life?

        • Yep, I do honestly understand or rather overunderstand , the anthropogenic energy “industry” such as it is.

          In fact I understand the reality if not the complexity, of all the energy on planet earth.

          Long before this present age of the anthropocene which has so horrifyingly and insanely created it’s own demise. And long before that of our future children in this suicidal craving for something which doesn’t even exist except in the twisted minds of the irrational greed and power mongerers.

          Which is the insane fiat currency that seems to drive those that have no other rational human intelligent values into self destructive death cults.

          There is something which only by its very existence, provides all life and energy on planet earth, including mine and yours, and yet it is given no thanks, no appreciation, no acknowledgement, no recognition of its existence even.

          And no, you are quite wrong, as per usual, about the true source of energy industry on planet earth, and indeed every other planet that orbits the sun. And the same for other solar systems.

          That is the the sun, our star, which is the real energy industry on earth, not some upstart Elie come lately anthropogenic illusory fabrication of ownership of all things energetic or industry.

          It is the sun that provides ALL the energy on the earth, the sun has always done so, it has been doing so for many billions of years, the sun provided the energy that became the fossil fuel legacy, thankfully all that carbon was buried away beneath the earth before it could again pollute life on earth.

          And what does greed and stupidity do with that buried legacy that should be left right there?


          The sun provided the energy that eventually became fossil fuels maybe 500 to 300 odd million years ago, and probably long since, that was long after life emerged on planet earth, thanks to the sun, which is maybe 40 billion years old itself, no one really knows. No human was there to record it.

          The sun is providing all our energy now. It is that living sun, today, now, which we should and will harness if we ever get out of this present greed and anthropogenic insanity.

          The sun will provide all the energy in this solar system for as long as there is a relatively stable class M yellow dwarf star here to provide that energy. Estimated 200 million or more years before the sun consumes it’s hydrogen and turns red and feeds on itself and the entire solar system. Plenty of time yet.

          And those who seek to take all the thanks for dredging up all that buried carbon pollution whilst destroying communities and water and air, in the “Age Of Stupid”.

          That buried legacy is best left precisely where it is, because it’s extraction and use will bring back all those trillions of tonnes of carbon back into a formerly relatively stable environment and ecology and destroy it, as that insane process is doing now.

          The anthropocene “energy industry” that you so blindly follow and support has made a fatal mistake, but it is not just you lot who will suffer for your fatal destructive insane error, it is everyone on the planet, all life on the planet.

          If the “fake energy industry” wishes to take all the credit for opening that buried fossil fuel destructive Pandora’s frack, then they must also pay for the damage they are doing.

          I will not forgive such an insane practice, my children will not forgive such an insane practice, and future generations, should we be lucky enough to have any, will not forgive such an insane practice.

          In the words of one who speaks “Parrhesia”, literally “speaking truth to power”

          How Dare You!

          [Typos corrected at poster’s request]

  1. “One of the UK’s leading seismologists says more shale gas wells must be fracked to assess the risk from tremors.”
    Remarkable. I thought all scientists were taught the Precautionary Principle.
    This is the equivalent of saying – ‘Lets see how many more RTAs are caused by increasing the speed limit to 90mph, just to prove that the existing 70mph speed limit is the safe limit.’
    Very much akin to nuclear testing in the 1950s, the more bombs we explode the more data we will have about just how lethal these things are. Yup, makes sense that one.

    And it is said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the sign of insanity.
    Maybe someone needs to lend him XR’s briefing notes.

    • Wrong, wrong, wrong! You ate using XR briefing notes?? WTF!
      Extinction Rebellion thats credibility! founders of XR: an organic farmer and radical activist, not a seismologist or expert in anything to do with energy. Wasn’t he found to have superglued his hands to the Shell HQ in London. Licking windows more like!
      and a Molecular biophysicist social activist! There’s credibility, NOT!!
      Thomas Edison and the Invention of the Light Bulb. “I haven’t failed — I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work.” “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Fracking!

      • Actually, no, Thomas Alva Edison did not invent the lightbulb, the concept was originally invented by an Englishman in 1806, Humphrey Davy, of the Davy Lamp fame, which was then developed by, amongst others, an English chemist named Joseph Swan who invented the vacuum bulb, still Edison could not get the light bulb to work, so Edison decided to hire a young physicist named Francis Upton from Princeton University to work on the project. Only then did the project reach a success with the first incandescent light bulb. There was also a collusion at the time between Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla, from whom Edison also stole the technology of AC current generation and transmission, but Edison tried to destroy faith in Nikola Teslas design by changing his DC current “Electric Chair” as a means of capital punishment to AC current because he was determined to discredit Nikola Teslas own invention.

        Later of course Edison claimed that AC power generation was his own invention and refused to pay Nikola Tesla for his invention of AC current generation and transmission.

        Did Thomas Alva Edison “knock off” the lightbulb? Yes, and Joseph Swan sued him successfully for it in England where Joseph Swan received the recognition and the patent.

        Edison lost in the British courts for infringement of Swan’s patent. As part of the settlement, Edison was forced to take Swan in as a partner in his British electric works. The company was called the Edison and Swan United Electric Company. Eventually, Edison acquired all of Swan’s interest in the company which became “General Electrics”, but even so, Edison still did not invent the light bulb.

        ” I’ve just stolen 10,000 that won’t work.”…..Fracking……

          • Dear me, what an astonishing load of pap that was from James Delingpole? Loads of irrelevant and bizarre references to very bad movies and and a barrow load of empty peevish rhetoric?

            Do you really read that sort of trash?

            Explains a lot doesnt it.

            Actually to be more adult about what is happening worldwide rather than descending into the usual empty fracktivist rhetoric and hysteria, is that there is a term that describes the situation perfectly.

            That is the term “Parrhesia”, literally “speaking truth to power” and the inevitable result we see now on the owned and compromised media, is akin to the fate of the child who pointed and laughed at “The Emperors New Clothes” saying he was naked.

            Everyone knew that he was indeed naked but dared not say so, and so instead of ridiculing the king and instead applauded and commented how marvellous the kings “New Clothes” were…..Fracking…..

  2. I really don’t think Dr Baptie is going to sell this idea. I am sure that most people would much prefer that fracking is permanently stopped and then the risk of tremors is removed. After all our homes, health and well-being are not an experiment. Not only did houses shake miles away from the site and objects fall from shelves but minor damage was also reported and Cuadrilla has offered to repair the damage to properties. Strange Dr Baptie states that the earthquake(s) had been far too small to cause damage. But then again, all the “experts” reassured us that they could frack without breaching the TLS and that all would be fine. Clearly the don’t know and what is more have angered people by playing down the impacts. Dropping a bag of shopping does not make a house sway from side to side! If the fracking industry and Dr Baptie think that the public are going to accept his proposal to frack and see, I am pretty sure there will be outrage.

    • KatK – but it isn’t quite true that “all the “experts” reassured us that they could frack without breaching the TLS” is it? I don’t know any experts who actually wrote that. Are you making things up?

  3. Flipping heck!

    So much contrary opinion!

    Let’s unleash a few more Crash Test Dummies into concrete walls elsewhere and see if the results differ!

    Tell you what Professor Baptie let’s give it a try in YOUR Community, let’s turn your family, friends and neighbours into Guinea Pigs!

    My home WAS damaged by the 2.9 Bank Holiday Monday earthquake, probably culmulative damage from the hundred plus preceding and subsequent smaller tremors too!

      • Hello Industryman,
        Firstly the details of the damages caused to my home by the Cuadrilla fracking induced 2.9 Earthquake and even possibly the culmulative damage from the other 100plus events previously and since are none of your business as yet.
        [Edited by moderator]

      • Eli-Goth,
        By the way if you live anywhere near the Fylde you are welcome to come and view my damaged home?
        I’ll meet you somewhere near of course and escort you here personally. You’ll have to give me your home address first though which I would need proof of.
        Obviously you’re qualified in property survey along with all your other talents?

  4. The logic seems to be to engage in fracking operations in one of the most problematic areas in the country so that we will then see if it leads to the fracturing and collapse of buidings, roads and fields. This will then provide clear scientific knowledge as to whether fracking is unsafe. So much for scientific expertise. Perhaps the experiment should take place wherever it is that Dr Baptie lives. If he does not live in a designated area he could always move to one. There is nothing like first hand experience even for a scientific expert.

  5. This is not the most reliable source of scientific information, despite Baptie’s apparent credentials.

    He was wrong in 2011, and he is wrong now. And an above comment is right. He has not learned that for real people what is important is not his academic interest, but the effect on their lives. Baptie has learned a LITTLE about the geology of the Fylde and fracking, he has learned nothing about social responsibility and the Precautionary Principle.

    The above quote illustrates how little he was in control of the situation. Nothing has changed, execpt that geologists now accept what I was derided for when I suggested in my book Fracking The UK that geologists based their assessment of surface impact on past history, and had no model for fracking tremors stimulated at higher epicentre. The BGS site now at last refers to intensity as important as opposed to just magnitude of event. And what was this down to? Pressure from the anti-fracking movement. Who have applied common sense to the situation rather than academic head-in-the-sand irrelevance.

    “The 2011 ‘quake was dismissed as “very minor” by BGS head seismologist Brian Baptie, who was quick off the mark in telling the BBC that that the tremor was a relic of a post-glacial uplift from the ice age.
    Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, he went on to say that no superficial damage would be experienced below a magnitude of 4ML.

    But the April 1st ’quake had origins rather more recent than the ice age. Less than two months later, on the 27th May, another ’quake occurred. Although of smaller magnitude than the April 1st event, measured at magnitude 1.5 ML, it was strong enough to be felt in Poulton, and this was sufficient to confirm fears which had been building, that the April 1st event was man-made, not a natural occurrence.
    By 1st June Brian Baptie had changed his tune. He told the Guardian that fracking and the two recent Blackpool tremors were quite likely related, because their recorded waveforms were so similar, suggesting they shared a common cause.

    • ‘There doesn’t really appear to be a clear relationship between injected volume and seismicity’

      If that is the case then what control can you have to guarantee to not exceed agreed seismic limits?

      Money lenders and insurance companies will be acting to protect their assets.

      • Indeed John. It would seem that Doctor Baptie has just told us that the seismic Traffic Light System is not fit for purpose.

        With that in mind it is hard to imagine how the O&G authority could possibly conclude that the assumptions and mitigations in Cuadrilla’s PNR 2 Hydraulic Fracture Plan continue to be appropriate to manage the risk of induced seismicity at the Preston New Road site.

        Boom! 💥

        Bye bye Cuadrilla.

        [Comment corrected at poster’s request]

        • Refraction – is cherry picking always been your hobbit? You used to seem to support what Green, Styles and Baptie were saying when it agreed with your view of the world.

  6. So many errors from the excited antis!

    These would not be the ones who are worried about others errors, would they?

    Always was going to be this next step, as long as the authorisation is secured. The “shock” is either manufactured, or shows a complete lack of understanding regarding a test programme.

    Either way, some will just need to be a bit more patient.

  7. Martin,
    Our shock is at the perversity of our elected Government, companies enabling the fracking industry and those members of the scientific community who promote the use of Human Beings as ‘Crash Test Dummies’ to attempt to justify the expansion of the fossil fuels industry!
    They’ve pretty much all been put on Notice of Liability for harm they’re causing to the Health, Wealth and Happiness of Citizens of the United Kingdom by the way.

  8. I should worry about the health issues already harming the Citizens of the United Kingdom relating to German diesel engines, Peter. All there in black and white, yet still some would use PNR locals as “Crash Test Dummies”.

    Seems collateral damage can be observed in many situations, if you wish to do so.

    However, much as many would like to utilise, and ramp up excitement, anxiety and hysteria, decisions are usually taken in a somewhat more scientific way. We shall see whether this is the process for UK fracking tests. I find it entirely logical, and no shock, but of course, loads of things can crop up during any such process.

    Looks as if you will have an opportunity to do something about the Government soon-although the current one seems to be confident they will be back even stronger, whilst other parties are doing the excitement, anxiety and hysteria bit without such confidence.

    My happiness meter is pretty positive at the moment Peter, although I do wonder why my new local Council think it is any of their business, and they will find my input may take them in another direction. Perhaps they could just focus on the potholes?

    • “decisions are usually taken in a somewhat more scientific way”

      Ah yes the we have no idea what went wrong so we’ll try a few more times somewhere else to see if it causes more damage “scientific” approach. That’ll be it eh Martian?

      • Refraction – so what would be your top tip for gathering evidence on this subject? I’m sure the scientific community is waiting for you to provide your deep insights

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