A formal complaint has been lodged about a BBC interview with the chief executive of the shale gas company, Cuadrilla.
Francis Egan told yesterday’s Today programme that a study commissioned by the shale gas regulator found that earth tremors caused by fracking at his company’s Preston New Road site were “largely imperceptible”.
The presenter, Justin Webb, said fears of tremors had been “debunked” by scientists at the time the fracking moratorium was introduced in England in November 2019.
Mr Egan made similar comments to BBC Radio Lancashire in an interview, in which he also repeated unsubstantiated allegations that Russia had funded anti-fracking groups.
John Hobson, a campaigner against fracking in Lancashire, complained to the BBC:
“At no point then, or since, have local people’s reasonable concerns about the risk of property damage from fracking-induced earthquakes been successfully ‘debunked’ by any scientist.
“The industry may have attempted and failed to persuade people that this was a non-issue but the science is what led to the moratorium and, according to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, until the industry is able to demonstrate that it can predict and control the seismicity … the moratorium will remain in place.”
“I think Mr Webb needs to issue a clarification or correction of his factually-incorrect commentary.”
Cuadrilla has fracked three wells in Lancashire, in 2011, 2018 and 2019. In each operation, the company caused earth tremors. Some of the tremors breached the limit in the regulations, known as the traffic light system.
In six days in August 2019, the company’s operations at Preston New Road induced five tremors which were felt by local people. They measured 1.0-2.9 on the local magnitude (ML) scale and ranged in intensity from 2 (weak) to 6 (strong).
197 people reported to the British Geological Survey that the 2.9ML earth tremor had caused damage to their homes.
The OGA suspended fracking at Preston New Road and less than three months later imposed the fracking moratorium.
Mr Hobson told the BBC fracking was stopped because Cuadrilla had been “unable to operate without regularly breaking the limit set in the traffic light system that they themselves were instrumental in devising and agreeing to”.
“Mr Egan gave two interviews in both of which he seemed to be trying to complain that the moratorium had not been based on science.
“He also seemed to suggest that the OGA [Oil & Gas Authority] reports based on Preston New Road could be used as the basis for lifting the moratorium.”
Mr Hobson said:
“The OGA reports make it abundantly clear that there is currently no way to predict the seismicity associated with fracking fluid injection to an extent which would allow fracking to be restarted.
“It seems quite amazing that Mr Egan would not aware of any of this. Indeed, had Mr Egan genuinely believed that the OGA reports supported a valid claim to be able to adequately predict seismicity, he would surely not have waited for 2 years to tell us.”
The OGA reports, published in December 2020, concluded that earthquakes induced by fracking were hard to predict and manage. The authority said at the time:
“it is not yet possible to accurately predict the seismic response to hydraulic fracturing, if any, in relation to variables such as site characteristics, fluid volume, rate or pressure.”
It also said measures to control seismic activity had often not worked.
Cuadrilla used a more viscous fracturing fluid to frack at Preston New Road in 2019. It said this would “improve operational performance under the uniquely challenging micro-seismic regulations”. But, within a week of the start of fracking, there were earthquakes measuring 1.6ML and 0.9ML.
The OGA said:
“Where induced seismicity has occurred, mitigation measures have shown only limited success, and there can only be low confidence in their effectiveness currently.”
The reports concluded that the 2.9ML tremor “may cause sparse cases of low superficial damage”. Cuadrilla said this is “consistent with our own data of the low-level impact of the 2.9Ml event”. It has repeatedly said the levels of ground vibration generated during fracking at Preston New Road were typically below those managed by construction.
DrillOrDrop has spoken to a homeowner whose property was damaged to cost of £10,000 following the 2.9ML earth tremor. He said Cuadrilla’s insurers settled with his insurance company.
We asked the BBC whether other listeners had complained about the interview but it has not responded to our question.