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Earthquakes along Lancashire coast WERE caused by drilling for gas, experts warn as energy operation is threatened with closure

By: 
Graham Smith - Daily Mail
  • Controversial 'fracking' process blamed for tremors
  • There is an estimated 200trillion cubic feet of natural gas under Lancashire
  • This is a huge amount of fuel - enough to power Britain for 50 years

 

Controversial gas drilling did cause a series of earthquakes along the Lancashire coastline, a report today confirmed.

Gas company Cuadrilla Resources, which is extracting shale gas in the region, commissioned the independent study after two tremors shook Fylde coastline in April and May this year.

Energy chiefs have now sent a stark warning to the firm - either stop the earthquakes or be shut down.

 
 
 
How shale gas is being extracted from deep beneath Lancashire. Gas drilling was today confirmed to have caused a series of earthquakes along the Fylde coastline

How shale gas is being extracted from deep beneath Lancashire. Gas drilling was today confirmed to have caused a series of earthquakes along the Fylde coastline

 

It comes after Cuadrilla held urgent talks with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to consider the report into the risk of earthquakes associated with 'fracking' - the process used to extract shale gas.

The meetings followed the British Geological Survey's conclusion that the two tremors felt nearby were most likely to have been caused by fracking.

On April 1, a magnitude 2.3 earthquake shook the North-West. It originated less than two miles from an experimental shale gas well near Blackpool run by Cuadrilla.

 

 

A second tremor occurred on May 27 with a magnitude of 1.5. The epicentre was within 500 yards of the well.

The BGS said the correlations between the earthquakes and the time of fracking operations, and the proximity of the quakes to the site, all pointed towards the earthquakes being a result of the fracking process.

Seismologist Brian Baptie said: 'These were still very small earthquakes, even by UK standards and won't cause any damage. If fracking continued I couldn't see the tremors getting much bigger.

'But it is obviously a concern for local residents and I'm sure the report commissioned by Cuadrilla will be greeted with interest.'

Cuadrilla has came under fire from activists for its drilling technique, which involves pumping high volumes of water and sand into drill holes to crack the rocks so gas can be extracted.

Soon after the quakes were felt the firm halted the fracking process after admitting the low magnitude tremors felt in Poulton in April and May, close to Cuadrilla's Singleton site , could be linked to them.

Experts today said Cuadrilla's operations could be shut down permanently if proposed methods to reduce the risk of earthquakes fail.

Toni Harvey, a senior DECC geoscientist, said: 'If we allow fracking to continue and their mitigation didn't work, then we would shut them down again, without a doubt.

'There is a lot of concern in the media and from ministers about public safety.

 
 
Resort town: Could the discovery of a huge amount of shale gas beneath Lancashire turn Blackpool into Texas-by-the-sea?

Resort town: Could the discovery of a huge amount of shale gas beneath Lancashire turn Blackpool into Texas-by-the-sea?

WHAT IS FRACKING?

Fracking is a mining technique commonly used to get gas or oil from under land rather than under the sea.

To get the gas out, companies drill down into shale and form a well. They then inject wells with water, small amounts of chemicals and sand to create tiny cracks in the rock, allowing natural gas and sometimes oil to flow upwards into the well.

The technique could add about 40 per cent to previous estimates of global recoverable gas resources, with the largest known reserves are in China, the United States, Argentina and Mexico.

However, It is now feared the process could be the cause of small earthquakes.

Critics such as the Green Party say that it is environmentally unsafe because the chemicals could contaminate soil and get into drinking water.

'DECC has requested a detailed report from Cuadrilla, which we understand they are close to finalising. When the report is received, it will be carefully considered, with input from British Geological Survey and other experts.

'We will also be discussing the report with other regulators before any decision is made on resuming hydraulic fracturing operations for shale gas.'

Last month Cuadrilla, the first company to explore for shale gas in Britain, announced the Fylde coast holds a total potential resource of 200trillion cubic feet of gas.

It estimated the discovery - between Blackpool and Southport - could be worth £6billion to the UK economy and create 1,700 jobs locally.

However, protesters are campaigning to stop the drilling and anti-fracking group Frack Off - London rallied outside the DECC headquarters on Thursday as Cuadrilla presented its study.

Philip Mitchell, the chairman of the Blackpool and Fylde Green Party, called on the government to halt all British hydraulic fracturing industry activity until there has been a thorough and robust evaluation of the risks related to future activity.

He said: 'Any suggestion of an acceptable level of earthquakes caused by fracking should be rejected.

'The government must realise it must stop treating our communities like guinea pigs and accept these techniques carry unacceptable risks to the British public.

'Ministers must stop the industry activity at least until parliament and the public can be guided by a full and robust appraisal of the total risk to the themselves and to the environment.'

Mark Miller, CEO of Cuadrilla Resources, said: 'We met with officials from DECC and their technical advisors and had a useful, in-depth working session on the initial findings of the report.

'There is some considerable work still to do and we absolutely share with DECC the need to have the complex issues involved addressed dealt with satisfactorily.'

Posted Date: 
19 October 2011