Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is “not a significant” cause of earthquakes, according to research released today.
The new study of hundreds of thousands of fracking operations by Durham University found the process has only caused earth tremors that could be felt on the surface in three cases.
Fracking cracks open rock deep underground to extract oil, natural gas and shale gas. The process sparked controversy in the UK in 2011 after a tremor linked to nearby exploratory drilling rocked Blackpool.
Professor Richard Davies from Durham Energy Institute, one of Durham University’s eight Research Institutes said: “We have examined not just fracking-related occurrences but all induced earthquakes – that is, those caused by human activity – since 1929. It is worth bearing in mind that other industrial-scale processes can trigger earthquakes including mining, filling reservoirs with water and the production of oil and gas.”
The study also claims to have established “beyond doubt” that fracking has the potential to reactivate dormant faults and described possible ways in which the pumping of fracking fluid underground could trigger this.
He went on: “In almost all cases, the seismic events caused by hydraulic fracturing have been undetectable other than by geoscientists. It is also low compared to other man-made triggers. Earthquakes caused by mining can range from a magnitude of 1.6 to 5.6, reservoir-filling from 2.0 to 7.9 and waste disposal from 2.0 to 5.7. By comparison, most fracking-related events release a negligible amount of energy roughly equivalent to or even less than someone jumping off a ladder onto the floor.”
The Department for Energy and Climate Change has adopted a ‘traffic light system’ for hydraulic fracturing activity in the UK: if there is an event of 0.5 magnitude or above, it is considered to be anomalous and all fracking activity is halted while it is investigated
Environmentalists jumped on the report as a chance to slam shale gas and fracking.
Anti-fracking group Frack Off criticised the study for being ‘hijacked’ by the shale gas industry ‘PR machine’ while Greenpeace Energy Campaigner Lawrence Carter said people’s apprehensions about fracking “go well beyond earth tremors”.
He said: “Communities have also expressed concern about noise, disruption, traffic, falling house prices and a general industrialisation of the English countryside… FoI documents show the Environment Agency’s private fears over threats to drinking water near potential fracking sites in Sussex.”