Advice from the first official British government report into fracking has been published today. In it, British ministers have been informed that they should allow the controversial process of fracking for shale gas to be extended there, this despite the process having been blamed for causing two earthquakes.
The government’s own data also paradoxically states serious doubts over the safety of the wells that have already been drilled.
Two wells in Lancashire suffered minor tremors as a result of the early stages of the fracking process.
Those that wrote the new report, state that fracking:
Should include a smaller pre-injection and monitoring stage [and] an effective monitoring system to provide near real-time locations and magnitudes of any seismic events [as] part of any future fracking operations.
This kind of monitoring didn’t happen with the Lancashire wells, and in April last year, around the main Blackpool site, there was a tremor measuring 2,3 on the Richter scale.
Then in May of last year, a tremor measuring 1,5 occurred. These tremors are enough to be felt but do not in themselves cause serious damage, except if there is major damage to the well’s wall. The public fear is that a larger tremor might occur, which could result in far wider damage.
Thus, the report warned that further fracking in the Blackpool area was very likely to lead to further tremors:
The similarity of the seismic events suggests this is a highly repeatable source.
The Guardian has more:
The scientific group advising DECC proposed that fracking operations should be subject to a “traffic light” system in future, with the presumption of a green light, followed by amber if the drilling led to a small earthquake of less than 0.5 magnitude (a level that could not be felt on the surface), and a red light if earthquakes exceeded that level. They stressed that even the two earthquakes felt in Lancashire last year would not cause lasting damage, but could add to “public alarm.”
Implementing this recommendation is likely to add significantly to the cost of drilling operations – the experts estimate it could be more than £100,000, but other experts suggested it could be many times that for each well, which would make exploration less attractive.
When a fracking well is drilled, the initial well extends hundreds of metres below the surface. Thousands of litres of water mixed with sand and chemicals are then blasted through to open up small fractures in the dense rock at the base of the well. This shale rock contains tiny bubbles of natural gas that are released by the fracturing process, and which eventually – over the course of years – find their way to the surface to be collected in pipelines.
Shale gas is now one of the major sources of energy in the US, following years of intensive fracking operations, but critics point to ravaged landscapes, contaminated water supplies and potentially damaging pipeline installations left by industrial-scale operations, as well as concerns over the long-term safety of the wells. Although natural gas is supposed to be a “cleaner” fuel than coal, releasing less carbon when burned, evidence also suggests fracking produces more carbon than exploring for conventional gas supplies, making the fuel less attractive from an environmental point of view.
And as such, there will always remain those opposed to the process. Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth:
We don’t need earth tremor-causing fracking to meet our power needs – we need a seismic shift in energy policy. There should be a full scientific assessment of all the impacts of fracking – a short consultation on one of the problems is completely inadequate.
Fracking has also previously been associated with the contamination of water supplies and soil in the US. There have also been warnings around the danger of explosions there.
The film, Gasland, deals with some of these issues. The trailer for the film makes for compelling viewing:
[Thanks, Beau R]
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