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Report prompts calls for immediate moratorium until full extent of the risk can be properly assessed
Fracking on up to half of the land licensed by the Government for shale-gas operations could trigger earthquakes, according to a leading seismologist.
Former advisor to No 10, Professor Peter Styles, says hydraulic fracturing in former coal mining areas increases the probability of earthquakes on faults that have already been subject to movement through mining.
As the Government announced plans to speed up fracking developments by fast-tracking private companies' planning applications, Professor Styles has called for more rigorous checks to identify the dangers in the coalfield areas.
In his new report, ‘Fracking and Historic Coal Mining: their relationship and should they coincide?’ Professor Styles describes the ‘serious earthquake risk’ posed by fracking in former coalfield areas, because ‘induced seismicity’ is ‘dramatically enhanced’ in a significant proportion of land designated for fracking operations.
The report is being launched in Parliament at 2pm on Tuesday 22nd May 2018.
Former coalfields already have a risk of earthquakes. Fracking is likely to enhance the risk of induced seismicity in those areas.
Professor Styles calls on the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, to immediately adopt his best practice recommendations that planning applications for ANY fracking site include all available, high-resolution and carefully mapped data.
He is insistent that the Government should immediately implement recommended safety steps that include:
· A 500-metre buffer zone between former mine workings and current and future energy extraction technologies (based on 2004 recommendations)
· A 850-metre buffer zone between fracking and any significant natural fractures or faults (based on 2015 and 2018 recommendations)
He adds that all recommendations should be incorporated into the National Planning Policy Framework, with reference to all applications to frack.
Professor Styles, Emeritus Professor in Applied and Environmental Geophysics at Keele University and Past-President of the Geological Society, also called into question the industry's technical capability to identify faults or fractures likely to lead to prohibited seismic events in ALL licenced areas.
He says: “Unfortunately the physics of it means you cannot see those faults with the (survey) waves that you put into the earth.
“To date it does not appear that any proper industry or government due diligence has taken place with regards to fault lines mapped.”
In the case of coalfield areas, he adds: “We have forgotten about mining. Mining has not forgotten about us.”
The report highlights a potentially dangerous fault line within ten metres of the proposed fracking borehole at Harthill, just south of Sheffield, which plastics manufacturer INEOS, owned by Britain’s richest man Jim Ratcliffe, propose to drill.
Professor Styles questions the viability of fracking in the UK saying: “It would be prudent of the Government to reduce the estimates of exploitable onshore frackable gas by half.
“We are risking our energy security if we proceed without assessing all the data.”
Baroness Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrats spokesperson on fracking, who is hosting the event, said: “This report asks some serious questions of the Government and the fracking industry. Ministers must take heed and listen to the growing weight of evidence on fracking and, at the bare minimum, implement a moratorium on fracking in coal mining areas and review fracking across the UK.”
In 2011, two earthquakes in Lancashire shook Blackpool after the fracking company, Cuadrilla, failed in the UK’s first and only attempt of this version of extreme energy extraction. Professor Styles had issued warnings at the time, but Cuadrilla ignored them.
A tremor with a 2.4 magnitude was reported by the British Geological Survey and a second tremor with a magnitude of 3.2 was also confirmed shortly after, leading to ban on all operations.
-Fracking companies and regulators have failed to use all available geological data, as they are required to do, for planning application purposes.
-Professor Styles’ report shows that historic coal mining data has been overlooked or ignored.
-The historic mining data shows accurate locations of fault lines capable of triggering earthquakes over a 0.5 magnitude that would shut down fracking operations under current regulations.
-The seismic surveying equipment used by the fracking industry is not capable of detecting these faults. They need equipment with 5X greater magnification capabilities.
-Professor Styles’ report includes a small sample of the available historic data convert to digital format that can be overlaid onto British Geological Survey maps, which only show major fault lines.
-The data shows that former coal mining areas are riddled with potentially dangerous faults capable of producing seismic activity greater than a 0.5 magnitude which is the level at which fracking operations must be shut down under the current traffic light system.
-Considerable further work and investigation is required on the historic mining data to reveal the full picture. However, it is highly likely to show a similar picture across all previously mined areas. This would render the majority of the current PEDL licences for fracking over the North of England useless and demonstrate that Government and industry estimates for recoverable fracked gas should be halved.