This week, officials recorded five minor earthquakes near to a fracking site. But perhaps just as concerning is the response of the company doing fracking there. Because it told The Canary the earthquakes show its equipment works to the “highest standard”.
Preston New Road, near the village of Little Plumpton, is at the centre of a row over fracking. Cuadrilla has permission to drill the site for shale gas, which has pitted it against local people. In July, the government officially gave Cuadrilla the go-ahead to start extracting shale gas. The decision was met by more protests from locals. Then, after a court case, bad weather and protests stopped it, Cuadrilla finally began work on Monday 15 October.
But no sooner than Cuadrilla started work, earthquakes began. The British Geological Survey has so far recorded five tremors near to the Preston New Road site since Thursday 18 October. The strongest of these was a magnitude of 0.3.
Now, a 0.3 magnitude earthquake is very minor. But it’s the implications of these small tremors which has campaigners and scientists worried.
For example, researchers from Stanford University in the US have already warned of the risks; noting that small earthquakes “may be early indicators of bigger tremors to come”. They say that the process of fracking could destabilise faults that already exist underground, causing larger tremors. Their research also showed that earthquakes continued at fracking sites after the operations had stopped.
Also, as The Canary previously reported, a former UK government adviser went even further. Emeritus professor in applied and environmental geophysics, Peter Styles, called out the entire fracking industry. He questioned its ability to accurately map potential earthquake-causing fault lines on every site in the UK. Styles said:
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 the fault lines mapped.
Meanwhile, the fracking firm at the centre of this is dogmatic, to say the least. A spokesperson for Cuadrilla told The Canary:
Three microseismic events were detected yesterday by the highly sensitive Traffic Light System Cuadrilla has installed around the Preston New Road site and were very far below levels that could be felt at surface. The recordings from these seismometers are shared with the British Geological Survey to help them reassure the public that operations are continuing safely as planned.
We take the monitoring and regulation of seismicity seriously, with daily reports sent to the regulators. The microseismic events recorded were extremely low and well within the Green Light threshold and confirm that the monitoring system is working to the highest standard.
But campaigners have hit back. Claire Stephenson from Frack Free Lancashire told The Canary:
The very fact that Cuadrilla have only just started their fracking operations and seismic events are being experienced, is highly worrying.
The Fylde Coast is heavily faulted, geologically, so it is unsurprising that seismic activity has been induced.
But the surprising factor is that this is well known and yet this industry can still proceed in a densely populated area as an experiment. We are once again, guinea pigs for an inexperienced, incompetent industry.
Cuadrilla’s response is quite staggering. Not only does it take the credit for reporting the earthquakes, but it says they show how well its systems work. It is ignoring the growing evidence that smaller tremors could well be a sign of bigger things to come. But this arrogant response is sadly what many now expect from Cuadrilla and its dirty industry.
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