The government is under growing pressure to stop fracking

A fracking protest sign
Steve Topple

Campaigners have called on the government to place a moratorium on fracking. The call comes after dozens of earthquakes happened near a contentious site in Lancashire. But the cries from locals and activists alike may well fall on deaf ears.

Tremors

As The Canary has been reporting, since 18 October the British Geological Survey (BGS) has recorded 31 tremors near to Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site, as of 5pm on 30 October. The strongest of these happened on 29 October, with a magnitude of 1.1. Cuadrilla has stopped work several times, due to the magnitude of the tremors breaching the government’s traffic light system:

Government fracking traffic light system

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Local residents and campaigners have expressed concern and anger over the earthquakes. But so far, Cuadrilla has dismissed criticism. It says it reported the tremors to the BGS, and that it shows its equipment is working to the “highest standard”. Then, as The Canary previously reported, its CEO Frances Egan has gone so far as to say the government should raise the magnitude at which Cuadrilla has to stop work.

This was the final straw for campaigners. Now, one group has called for fracking to be halted across the country.

“Pack up and leave”

Frack Free Lancashire has called for the government to place a moratorium on the industry. It said in a statement:

Frack Free Lancashire is concerned by the increasing frequency and intensity of seismic events accompanying fracking operations at Preston New Road and is now calling for an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the Fylde.

Eminent geologists have warned that events of the magnitude experienced over the last two weeks could be the precursor to a more major seismic event like those that occurred at Preese Hall in 2011. These caused damage to the well bore and led to a seven-year interruption for the UK fracking industry.

The democratic decisions that have been taken by our representatives on fracking, and even the overturning of these decisions by the government were all conducted based on a set of assumptions which presupposed the existence of a tight regulatory framework. This framework included this traffic light system with today’s limits.

These regulations were put into place explicitly to protect the community and not to make the fracking companies’ job easier and more profitable. The suggestions from Cuadrilla and others in the industry that the regulatory goalposts should be moved simply because they are unable to manage their operations to stay within them is totally unacceptable. If the industry is unviable outside of this existing regulatory framework then they should pack up and leave.

‘Slicing and dicing’

Indeed, as emeritus professor of geophysics David Smythe told The Canary:

While the tremors induced to date are tiny, nevertheless the traffic-light system… does state that if a magnitude 0.5 event (or greater) is triggered by fracking, then the injection of hydraulic fluid must stop. But even this scanty piece of legislation has been poorly drafted, since it appears to permit tremors occurring after the end of a period of injection to be discounted.

Scientifically, Cuadrilla’s slice-and-dice approach to the overall fracking job in a well is untenable, because there is often a delay between the end of an injection stage and the onset of a triggered event caused by the injection.

“Weakening protections”

But Frack Free Lancashire went further. It heaped criticism on the government and energy minister Claire Perry and said:

Our government’s behind the scenes dealings with the industry which seem aimed at weakening the protections… are a further sign that our ‘gold standard’ shale gas regulation is a tawdry imitation of what we have a right to expect. We learned from a leaked letter published in the Guardian that Energy Minister Claire Perry MP, had suggested that ‘the trigger levels [of the traffic light system] can be adjusted upwards’, which would effectively give carte blanche to the fracking industry to provoke larger, stronger earthquakes, putting communities and even their own fracking equipment in danger.

We note that Ms Perry was also reported to have had private round-table meetings with the fracking industry, which were not recorded on transparency registers.

Nothing to see, here

As the Guardian reported, Perry’s meetings were with:

all the key shale players – Cuadrilla, Ineos, iGas and Third Energy – along with oil and gas companies including BP on 21 May. While her meeting with wind power executives on the same day was recorded on an official transparency register, the shale event was not.

The Guardian said the minutes of the meetings showed that:

  • Perry hopes to “create a ‘UK model’ for shale gas extraction which can be exported around the world”.
  • The UK plans to “make a virtue” of the industry’s regulation to help “export expertise abroad”.
  • The government will make the case for shale gas to “get past myths on the topic”.
  • Gas, including that extracted from shale wells, is seen as a key part of the future energy mix.

The government says…

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told The Canary:

The UK’s world class oil and gas regulations ensure that shale development can happen safely, with a track record that stretches back for decades.

Our robust regulators mean the UK model for shale will explore this important resource in an environmentally responsible way.

Enough is enough

But the government’s approach is not washing with Frack Free Lancashire. It said:

Residents experienced previous property damage from Cuadrilla’s operations in 2011, where an earthquake effectively shut down this industry due to damage to the wellbore which was reported to have led to a loss of integrity.

With history seeming poised to repeat itself, a moratorium on fracking in the area is the only sensible course of action.

Preston New Road has become ground zero in the battle over fracking. From a judge jailing activists (whom another judge promptly freed) to a court caseprotests and political interventions, via alleged police and security aggression – it is the front line of the war against this dirty industry. So, it would seem unfathomable that the government would continue on its current course over fracking. But when the government in question even manages to ignore climate breakdown in its budget, anything is possible.

Get Involved!

– Support Frack Free Lancashire and Preston New Road Action Group.

Featured image via Matt Brown – Flickr

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Steve Topple