Industry evidence on earthquakes “insufficient” to lift year-long fracking moratorium – regulator

On the first anniversary of the moratorium on fracking, shale gas industry proposals to deal with earthquakes have been dismissed as “insufficient”.

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site. Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

The industry regulator said today the proposals would not “satisfy us that associated hydraulic fracturing could take place consistent with the government’s policy aims”.

A year ago, the government announced a presumption against approving high volume hydraulic fracturing in England. It said current technology could not accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking.

The announcement followed a series of small earthquakes induced by fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire in 2018 and 2019. They included a 2.9ML seismic event on 26 August 2019, the largest fracking induced earthquake in the UK.

A written ministerial statement said the moratorium would stay in place until “compelling new scientific evidence is provided which address the concerns about the prediction and management of induced seismicity”.

Cuadrilla has predicted the moratorium would be lifted once “appropriate measures” were put in place to manage and mitigate risks from induced seismicity. Today, the industry maintained it was taking a “science-led approach” to lift the moratorium.

But the regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), which advised the government on the moratorium, told DrillOrDrop:

“In reviewing recent publications and work on induced seismicity, the OGA’s view remains unchanged.

“The OGA has had some high-level exchanges with the industry on the nature and scope of the new scientific evidence that needs to be undertaken to address the concerns set out in the government moratorium, and has given feedback that the research proposed thus far by industry would be insufficient to satisfy us that associated hydraulic fracturing could take place consistent with the government’s policy aims.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which announced the moratorium and oversees the OGA, told us:

“The government’s position on fracking has not changed and we are committed to cutting our emissions to net zero by 2050 while growing our economy.”

Research needed

In January 2020, a BEIS minister said lifting the moratorium would need “a geo-mechanical survey of the specific basins concerned”. The government did not intend to commission this work but the OGA would “oversee the determination of the criteria for such an examination”.

The minister, Lord Duncan of Springbank, added:

“We would have to make sure that whatever emerged from that would guarantee the safety and sustainability of the resource and of the local communities.”

DrillOrDrop asked the OGA whether the industry was undertaking the geo-mechanical survey.

The OGA said it had commissioned four further studies to investigate data from fracking of the second well at Preston New Road (PNR2), which caused the 2.9ML earthquake.

These would follow studies on PNR1z, the first Preston New Road well that was fracked in 2018, the OGA said.

The studies were “separate to the comprehensive geomechanical study”, it added.

The OGA said:

“the objective of these studies is to better understand both the subsurface causes and surface impacts of the felt seismicity at PNR2, and to explore further predictive methods for induced seismicity.

“It is anticipated that these studies and the datasets acquired from the PNR2 operations will be published on the OGA website shortly.

“It is not the purpose of this work to address the need for the considerable body of new evidence from industry required to demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing can be conducted safely, sustainably and with minimal disturbance.”

“Science-led approach”

The representative of the industry, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), told DrillOrDrop today:

“We continue to work with the science and our regulators to address the issue of seismicity.”

UKOOG’s chief executive, Ken Cronin, said:

“Our members will continue to take a science-led approach and are engaging with Government and our regulators to lift the moratorium and provide a reliable, lower carbon source of indigenous natural gas for the UK’s homes, businesses and industry.”

Mr Cronin said seismicity was caused by a wide variety of sources, and industries. He said it was “less of an occurrence during hydraulic fracturing activity than critics would suspect”.

“Indeed, recent research has shown that overall, cases of induced seismicity associated with hydraulic fracturing are rare when compared with the total number of stimulated wells drilled and the occurrence of seismicity is highly variable between different basins and their formations.

“Thousands of small seismic events occur every year across the UK, whether natural or induced. In just the last two months, multiple seismic events of up to 1.6 in magnitude have occurred at one geothermal site in Cornwall due to flow testing of the wells. Events such as these similarly happen at quarrying and large construction sites – but ultimately we permit them due to the net gain the activity delivers.”

UKOOG said gas would “continue to play an important role in the years leading up to 2050 and beyond”. It said it agreed with the government’s conclusion that gas was a “source of secure and affordable energy” and that it was critical that the UK had good access to domestic and international gas markets.

“Fracking is over”

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool, 27 April 2020. Photo: Maxine Gill

Since the moratorium, much of the equipment has been cleared off Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site. Another application for fracking in Lancashire by Aurora Resources, has been withdrawn.

There has also been no work at Ineos shale gas exploration sites in north east Derby and south Yorkshire which have planning permission.

In June, the energy minister, Kwasi Kwarteng” told BBC North West Tonight that “fracking was over” and the government had “moved on”. In September, he told parliament the government had sent a “clear message” to the industry that fracking was “extremely unlikely” to happen in England.

But other forms of well stimulation are not covered by the moratorium. It applies only to associated hydraulic fracturing which is defined in law by the volume of water pumped into a well.

In February, more than 600 academics, politicians and campaigners signed a letter calling on the government to replace the moratorium with an outright ban and extend it to other forms of well stimulation, including the use of acid.

Mr Kwarteng responded saying the government had no plans to extend the moratorium on fracking to other forms of well stimulation. He described acidisation, a process that has concerned campaign groups, as “a common technique carried out to clean and develop wells”.

In September, Egdon Resources confirmed that it planned an operation, described by the Environment Agency as “small-scale hydraulic fracturing”, at its Wressle oil site in north Lincolnshire.

On the anniversary of the moratorium, the community campaign group, Brockham Oil Watch, said recent research highlighted “the need for an expanded ban for all well stimulation treatments for oil and gas exploration and production”.


2 November 2019:  Government statement ending support for fracking

4 November 2019: Written ministerial statement on the moratorium from Andrea Leadsom, then secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy

9 January 2020: Questions to Lord Duncan of Springbank about lifting the moratorium

21 replies »

  1. Great news, delighted. Fracking is over, the government made that clear. Time for the industry to pack up and leave and for the U.K. to focus on cleaner energy.

    • The ‘cleaner’ energy project in Cornwall recently caused small earthquakes, induced by tests carried out on the well KatT.

      I don’t see how seismic activity from one energy source is unacceptable, but acceptable from another.

      Do earthquakes from renewables not cause damage or do people have to put up with the problem if caused by a renewable source of energy?

  2. Like the way you hammer those pieces into the jigsaw, KatT!

    You mean like Hinkley and Sizewell? Or cancer induced into kids in DRC?

    All depends upon your definition of “cleaner”.

    As you stated before, all energy sources have issues. You seem inclined to ignore those where it suits you.

  3. I hope you are right, Kat, but don’t forget that this government defined fracking by the volume of water used thereby excluding evidence of harm from many fracked wells. This moratorium is no more to be trusted than this government’s account of its motives for Brexit or its handling of COVID-19. To coin a phrase, I fear this government, even bearing gifts.

    • Iaith1720

      You would be right to fear fracking, as noted above, it will continue for clean energy and a few small oil / gas wells. But without HVHP fracking, the ‘fracking industry’ is not happening, no matter how hard people pray for its resurgence (as a bogey man for fossil fuels).

      The lack of ability to HVHP a shale gas well seemed to be the the issue for Preston Road, a point missed by the recent study into the methane vented while N2 Lifting.

    • Not agitated at all, Jono. Just continuing to point out the inconsistency of the anti arguments. Think you will find it is the antis who get excited and agitated. What were/are all those arrests about?

      Meanwhile, some, like reaction, will continue to buy/lease his imported (diesel) vehicle and the same for the diesel to run it, whilst moaning about others not paying “enough” UK tax! Not bitter about that either. People can make their own decisions. But, if they supply such hypocrisy within their overall discussion then it will be noted-especially when silly photos of ladies undies on a fence are taken to try and create a cancer scare narrative-that is then conveniently overlooked by other antis regarding the mining and use of cobalt when it fits their dogma! Just like the “subsidy” for fossil fuel nonsense-yet petrol in UK is £1.10/litre and $0.67/litre in US-so, rather than subsidy it would appear a UK tax cash cow-that would need to be replaced with alternatives, or alternatively, would be added to direct taxation. Yet, the antis decide that subsidy and taxation are fertile ground? Only, if the facts are ignored.

      Quite calmly explained that, Jono. No need to be agitated.

  4. What in heaven’s name is Martin talking about? Are all these rhetorical questions, vague accusations about (other) people’s hypocrisy, faits divers concerning undies and petrol prices – designed no doubt to obscure the facts concerning subsidies benefiting the fossil fuel industry – even remotely relevant to the question of whether we have or have not finally said goodbye to fracking, a contributory factor to global heating and climate breakdown?

    • ‘The OGA has had some high-level exchanges with the industry’

      What industry? The company who claimed they were leaders in the ‘industry’ don’t even know where the UK get their gas from. Maybe the OGA had a chat with some inexperienced start up companies.

      Looks like the Government realise it was a non starter that was never going to make any money.

    • Martin is not normally quite so uncontrolled Iaith1720 so I think this really is getting to him.

      Maybe I should post some more pictures of the underwear demo to distract him? He does seem totally obsessed / overexcited by it!

      • Not me who has just admitted keeping pictures of ladies underwear, old chap!

        Interesting life you live, but no need to feel so guilty about it. It’s your life.

        I did keep pictures of some of the advertising I produced decades ago, for a while, (classics of their time!) but the difference was that mine was intended to produce an accurate presentation of information. There were a few salesmen who thought ladies underwear should feature, but I resisted the temptation of confusing the image with the message. But, each to their own.

    • 1720:

      Sorry, if you don’t understand what I am posting about, then I can’t assist. That is up to you to ask the questions and do the research.

      But, to help you get started and correct your post:

      “We” have not finally said goodbye to fracking (in UK). “We” have just outsourced fracking to another part of the globe, but will still trust it will allow “us” in UK to conduct our lives in the way we have become used to-since the 1970s that showed us the problem. You could look into Greta’s comments about that sort of thing, if you find that source more exciting. The “finally” bit is Mystic Meg territory and I will leave that to the antis. They seem to like the speculation bit.
      So, your concern about global heating and climate breakdown is very laudable but will not be impacted in the slightest by whether UK fracks or not. Perhaps take that as a small example of what I was referring to before and you will see the light.

      With regard to subsidies, you need to look at all situations and you will find that ALL industries receive subsidies, greater or smaller depending upon how you define subsidy. Alternatives to fossil fuel are generally in receipt of pretty high levels of subsidy (if you pay an energy bill then you can quite simply see part of that within the price you pay) so the comments about fossil fuel subsidy may excite the less knowledgeable (reaction has his English A level “answer” to that issue!) but do deserve to be questioned. But, 1720, if you don’t even get to understand the question, then perhaps the answer is irrelevant?

      Hope that helps. Must move on. Have a trip to the “tip” booked to get my recycling done before it closes for the next month.

  5. Maybe if Cuadrilla are desperate for something to do while they wait for the government to change its mind (spoiler:they won’t) they could spend a few hours updating their web site? That’s if there is anyone left in the office who knows how to do that.

  6. The insurance industry have repaired the damage on one Kirkham residents’ family home inflicted by Cuadrilla’s failed attempts at test fracking PNR when they caused swarms of Hydrofrac Earthquakes to hit the Fylde.
    No such luck yet for me. Legal action is pending though for when normal Court activity is resumed. Other formalities have been completed bar one. Hopefully this will be before Cuadrilla and their friends leave the country.

    • I hope you are not relying upon luck, Peter.

      Maybe there might be a connection between what the level of insurance is? If you have the “right” premium ie. pretty expensive, you will be in line for very generous replacement and repairs, no matter (within most limits) how required. If you are insuring in a less expensive, more standard way, then you may require luck to get some things through, but insurance companies do not routinely allow luck to feature in those circumstances. Good job they don’t, otherwise other payers of insurance premiums would foot the bill, having had the excess due to whip lash claims reduced.

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