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Fracking’s enemies are wrong to call these earthquakes

October 31, 2018

By Paul Homewood


Matt Ridley writes in The Times:



Last Saturday, BBC Radio 4 ran throughout the day with headline news about the shale-gas company Cuadrilla causing “micro-earthquakes” in Lancashire, as if the ground was trembling. It wasn’t. The tremors from fracturing gas-soaked shale rock more than a mile below the surface, picked up by ultrasensitive sensors, were far too weak to be felt at the surface. They were never going to threaten the integrity of the steel and concrete casing of the gas well itself, as some activists have since claimed.

The vibrations were tens of thousands of times less powerful than the kind of tiny earthquake that, according to the official Richter scale, “almost never cause damage”. They were smaller than the vibrations that can be routinely caused by quarrying, artillery training, mining, tunnelling, passing lorries, underground trains, geothermal wells, pile driving and building works. (Even thunder can cause seismic waves.)

There was a 3.1 magnitude natural earthquake on September 15 at 6.39pm near Newton Aycliffe in Durham. That’s several thousand times as powerful as anything caused by the recent fracking. Nobody reported feeling it, according to the British Geological Survey.

British regulations say that anything over 0.5ML (local magnitude) triggers a “red traffic light”. This has been interpreted as meaning that fracking must stop for good. Not so. As the geophysicist James Verdon from Bristol University explains, when the traffic light goes red, you don’t scrap your car, you stop for a short period till the light changes, then drive on. That’s exactly how the shale-gas traffic light is designed: if there is a tremor, then the company fracking the well must pause for some hours to let further vibrations settle, before resuming work.

Britain’s threshold of 0.5 is far more sensitive than that used in other countries, such as Canada. As Francis Egan, the chief executive of Cuadrilla, points out, if any other industry had to stop work when it triggered 0.5ML vibrations, then “you’d never get a wind farm built, you’d never get Crossrail built” and many HGVs would be off the roads.

Britain has gone from being a gas exporter to a huge gas importer in little more than a decade. Most Britons heat their homes with gas. Our vital chemical industry is at risk of leaving for countries with cheaper gas. Switching to gas has been the biggest cause of falling carbon dioxide emissions. The Bowland shale is among the richest and thickest sources of gas yet found, and could bring prosperity to the north. The Russians are spreading anti-shale propaganda to protect their exports. Yet because a few fanatics have decided to campaign furiously against fracking, are we to turn our backs on this vital industry?

  1. MrGrimNasty permalink
    October 31, 2018 5:25 pm

    At the risk of boring people, yes the piling for Rampion was horrendous to live with at times, the noise and vibration was far worse than anything fracking does, and far worse than the worst natural tremors I’ve ever experienced. And it was rhythmic, hour after hour after hour.

  2. October 31, 2018 5:31 pm

    Andrew Montford has put it into respective with logarithmic and linear graphics (for greens and any others who are mathematically challenged).

  3. Adam Gallon permalink
    October 31, 2018 6:18 pm

    I think this puts it into perspective.

    • Malcolm Bell permalink
      October 31, 2018 6:29 pm

      Exactly that.

  4. Malcolm Bell permalink
    October 31, 2018 6:21 pm

    Nice Mr Putin sponsors anything that damages us and gives him an edge. Truth is you cannot blame him. But we have to be alert to his games – like giving the Unions money which sponsor Corbyn, McDonnel et al and makes prolonged trouble on the railways possible.

  5. October 31, 2018 6:37 pm

    The Russians are finding the opposition. The Government should reward the local communities t poll get them on the side of fracking.

  6. October 31, 2018 8:02 pm

    Californians would be splitting their sides if told the UK’s puny fracking tremors were ‘earthquakes’.

    California, United States has had: (M1.5 or greater)
    20 earthquakes in the past 24 hours
    146 earthquakes in the past 7 days
    539 earthquakes in the past 30 days

    The largest earthquake in California, United States:
    today: 2.7 in Banning, California, United States
    this week: 3.6 in Lone Pine, California, United States

  7. October 31, 2018 8:32 pm

    As for the enemies, have a look at their Facebook sites. I’ve never seen such a collection of out and out loons. Aside from a few environmental zealots, the rest seem to be a mixture of conspiracy theory nut jobs, thugs spoiling for a fight and othes so childish and gullible that to be frank, probably need some sort of help from social services.

  8. Bruce of Newcastle permalink
    October 31, 2018 8:44 pm

    I love how these people squawk about “earthquakes” from fracking but never seem to be bothered by “earthquakes” from geothermal energy.

    If you keep an eye on Iceland’s earthquake & volcano landscape via the excellent IMO live map you’ll sometimes see a region just east of Reykjavík light up when the geothermal plant does water injections to rebuild the steam reservoirs.

    I haven’t seen or heard of a concerted activist campaign against geothermal energy, so I take from that the supposed tectonic hazards of fracking are rubbish.

  9. October 31, 2018 10:21 pm

    USGS: How is hydraulic fracturing related to earthquakes and tremors?

    Reports of hydraulic fracturing causing felt earthquakes are extremely rare. However, wastewater produced by wells that were hydraulic fractured can cause “induced” earthquakes when it is injected into deep wastewater wells.
    . . .
    Most wastewater injection wells are not associated with felt earthquakes. A combination of many factors is necessary for injection to induce felt earthquakes.

    Note they refer to ‘felt’ earthquakes.

    • dave permalink
      November 1, 2018 12:21 am

      “Note they refer to ‘felt’ earthquakes.”

      Understandably. But, strictly, the word ‘felt’ is redundant as the definition of an earthquake is “a tremor that is felt at the surface.” That definition was made before the invention of seismic instruments that detect tiny quivers below even the level of tremors.

      To equate such quivers to the approaching footsteps of Armageddon is typical, moronic (or malicious) fear mongering.

      • John189 permalink
        November 1, 2018 2:21 am

        Exactly! In the English language there are traditionally two terms for earth shakings. Earth tremors are minor events which are actually fairly common in Britain, and earthquakes whcih are major seismic events. I’m not sure where the boundary between tremor and quake lies – Llyn Peninsula (Wales) in 1984 at Richter 5.4 and Bishops Castle (Shropshire) 5.1 in 1990 might qualify as quakes, but a tremor that cannot be felt – never!

  10. Joe Public permalink
    October 31, 2018 10:50 pm

  11. It doesn't add up... permalink
    November 1, 2018 12:27 am

    Why hasn’t the BGS been reporting all these ML2 events from quarry blasting, etc.?

  12. Jon Scott permalink
    November 1, 2018 5:53 am

    Well what a surprise from the Biased Broadcasting Collective!

  13. J Martin permalink
    November 1, 2018 7:42 pm

    One wonders what possible evidence exists that the Russians are trying to stop the UK from developing its fracking industry. None I suspect. I seriously doubt that the Russians would waste money on a bunch of fringe eco loons who would protect regardless.

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