English earthquakes caused by "fracking"?

Blackpool TowerOn 1st April I reported here that Blackpool, not far from me in north west England, had been shaken by an earthquake. I made rather more of it than was warranted because of the date, and my suggestion that it might be a fulfilment of Mark Stibbe’s prophecy was intended as an April Fool.

Slightly to my surprise this rather small earthquake is back in the news again today, with a suggestion that it was an act not of God but of human beings. The BBC reports that another small earthquake in almost the same place has led to the suspension of test drilling for shale gas in the area. It turns out that the quakes were happening in the same place as the drilling.

This drilling was a pilot project for what is known as “fracking”:

Shale gas drilling, known as “fracking” involves creating tiny explosions to shatter hard shale rocks and release gas underground.

It has proved a controversial process in the US with environmentalists alleging that shale gas leaking into their drinking supply causes tap water to ignite.

I guess it is hardly surprising that setting off small explosions underground can trigger the larger releases of energy known as earthquakes. Presumably they can also set off unpredictable releases of natural gas, like the ones that are said to have contaminated water supplies in the USA. It would certainly be unfortunate if methane were released and ignited on Blackpool beach. And in the town the results could be disastrous.

Clearly the drilling company didn’t really know what they were doing here. It is good that they have stopped drilling until they get proper geological advice.

0 thoughts on “English earthquakes caused by "fracking"?

  1. Thanks, Rachel. I had already seen this from the new #1 Joel, who claims “I don’t like this position” but I don’t believe him. Sorry to see that you, and women in general, aren’t doing so well.

  2. Your last 2 paragraphs are alarmist – the drilling company are competent. Earthquakes are on an entirely different scale to shale gas fracturing & it is unlikely that one interacts on the other.

  3. Yetypu, I am not an expert on this, but I would expect the official British Geological Survey to be. This is what they said, according to the BBC report:

    The BGS said it was also monitoring fracking as a precaution. There have been two small earthquakes in Lancashire since fracking began in the county in March, including the latest on Friday.

    In an analysis of the April quake published on its website the BGS said: “Any process that injects pressurised water into rocks at depth will cause the rock to fracture and possibly produce earthquakes.

    “It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering, such as Shale gas, processes can result in earthquake activity.”

    And the company has said

    We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have stopped fracking operations to share information and consult with the relevant authorities and other experts.

    Why didn’t they consult with the experts first? Better late than never. Fortunately the damage caused in the earthquakes was very minor.

  4. Peter, Thank you for your swift & courteous response. I too think the BGS to be reputable & sensible. I’m not so sure of BBC reporters. It would only be common sense to monitor this, but I think that coincidence is not causation, in the same way as the recent Etna activity & the Spanish earthquakes are also coincidental.

    Well fracturing involves from 400 to 10,000 horsepower & a 1,000 to 3,000 ft long fracture is quite a feat. Even a small earthquake is miles in extent & orders of magnitude different. However, at the limits, you can see that a very big hydraulic fracture and a very minute {micro-seismic disturbance} earthquake could be of a similar magnitude.

    As to methane being released, that is the purpose of the project, but since that purpose is commercial recovery, care is taken to keep the produced gas within steel pipes – cemented casings in the well, production piping on the surface.

    Thanks again.

  5. Hello Peter, I’ve just looked at the Independent online & this is their new lead – congratulations on being first to press! I’ll be most interested in following this, & refrain from giving further opinions ’til more is known. ‘bye.

  6. Thank you, Yetypu. I am not suggesting that the earthquakes were in fact fracking explosions. However, if a region is already unstable a small underground explosion can be enough to set off a much larger release of energy. Yes, of course methane release is intended, but if an earthquake is set off in the gas bearing deposits it could presumably trigger a release “miles in extent & orders of magnitude different” from what the pipes etc have been set up to deal with. I don’t want to cause panic, but care is surely needed.

  7. The True Cost, thank you for the link. I am not trying to take a position on whether fracking is good or bad. I am just suggesting that experts should be consulted and proper care should be taken, as the company is now doing.

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