Was that a fracking Earthquake?

The largest ever fracking-related earthquake in England was recorded earlier this week

29th August 2019

A series of tremors and earthquakes linked to fracking operations at a site near Blackpool have caused major concern locally, and led to wider calls for fracking to be banned.  

Very minor seismic activity is fairly typical at the site due to the nature of the work being carried out, but a number of tremors over the last week have given residents and campaigners greater cause for concern than usual.

Fracking work was initially suspended for 18 hours last Wednesday at the Preston New Road site, in line with the government’s policy, following a 1.55 magnitude tremor. This suspension was still in effect when another larger tremor hit on Saturday, registering at 2.1. 

At the time, this was the largest seismic event to have taken place since 2011, when fracking work was suspended long-term following a 2.3 magnitude earthquake in 2011.

At around 8:30am on Monday, residents were startled by the largest tremor yet, at 2.9 magnitude. It was the largest fracking-related earthquake ever recorded in Britain. It is said to have been felt across the Fylde coast, with residents reporting loud banging noises, shaking windows and objects falling to the floor. A number of smaller tremors have been recorded since. 

Our lives and wellbeing should be prioritised over a private company’s financial gain

On Tuesday morning, residents of Fylde, Blackpool, Wyre and Lancashire delivered a letter to the fracking company Cuadrilla’s headquarters, requesting a permanent end to the operation at Preston New Road.

Residents said that following the most recent incidents and considering many other issues, fracking at Preston New Road is having an “intolerable” impact on the community.

A spokesperson for the group said: “Public confidence in fracking is at an all-time low. Residents have absolutely had enough of the spin, lies and ridiculous comparisons of earthquakes to fruit and household items. The oil and gas Authority (OGA) have suspended operations at Preston New Road and now we are demanding that a permanent ban be implemented against fracking with immediate effect. Our lives and wellbeing should be prioritised over a private company’s financial gain.”

Locals delivering their letter to Cuadrilla HQ in Bamber Bridge on Tuesday

The site at Preston New Road is the UK’s only active fracking site and has caused much controversy since work began there. After the long-term suspension, Cuadrilla’s applications to recommence work were rejected by Lancashire council in 2015. Cuadrilla appealed, and the council’s decision was overturned by then communities secretary, Sajid Javid, in what many saw as a denial of local democracy. Work eventually got underway again in October last year.  

The OGA issued a statement on Monday, confirming that “in accordance with the OGA’s strict controls, hydraulic fracturing operations at the Preston New Road site are suspended… Operations will remain suspended while the OGA gathers data from this and other recent seismic events”. The authority’s rules state that fracking work must cease for 18 hours following a tremor of 0.5 magnitude or higher. 

Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and shadow minister for climate justice and green jobs, Danielle Rowley, have written to business secretary Andrea Leadsom to call for a ban on fracking.  The letter cites residents as describing the sound of the 2.9lm tremor as a “guttural roar” and highlights the Committee on Climate Change’s claim that “fracking on a significant scale is not compatible with the UK’s climate change targets”. The shadow ministers also cite a 2015 government report which found that “fracking increases air pollution, with substantially higher impacts at the local level where activities are clustered”.

It’s now time for this industry to end and for Whitehall to instead back renewable energy

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: ”We don’t have to wait for yet more evidence to show that the industry can’t frack without triggering earthquakes.”

As well as the immediate risk to safety that fracking potentially poses, as evidenced by recent seismic activity, many campaigners point to wider environmental concerns as the primary driver to see fracking banned.  

“While this is rightly worrying for residents and is understandably their major concern,” says Bosworth “the key point in opposing fracking remains that it isn’t part of the future if the government wants to avoid climate breakdown. It’s now time for this industry to end and for Whitehall to instead back renewable energy.” 

Main image credit: Ian S

29th August 2019