Fracking to resume in the UK despite earthquake risk
It was announced this Tuesday that following a government-commissioned report by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the controversial process of extracting gas and petrol from rocks deep below the earth’s surface would resume.
“Fracking” (short for fracturing) is the process of injecting chemicals and water with pressure into rock under the earth’s surface, widening the natural fractures in the rock layer, with the intention of releasing natural gases – most commonly shale gas – as a cheap way to provide energy.
In May 2011 Cuadrilla Resources Ltd, a company that employs fracking techniques, was forced to suspend the practice after two minor earthquakes measuring 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale were felt above ground at a fracking site.
As well as concerns that fracking may cause earthquakes, there is evidence that the chemicals involved could be responsible for the contamination of drinking water. Based on this evidence, the process has been outlawed in France and Germany.
In their report, the panel at the DECC has recommended that fracking be allowed to continue throughout the UK, with the premise that the process be much more closely monitored. In their proposals, they recommend that any quakes measuring 0.5 or above on the Richter scale trigger a “red light” and that all fracking in the area is halted immediately.
Although the panel admitted that future quakes were highly probable, the author of the report, Prof Peter Styles, does not believe that they will pose any threat. In an interview with the BBC, he explained: “There’s no record of a quake at this size doing any structural damage, but they would be strongly felt, and there is a possibility of superficial damage.”
The government may be keen to restart the process of fracking in a bid to kick-start the economy. Lord Browne, former head of BP and now head of Cuadrilla, told the Telegraph that the gas field in Blackpool where the earthquakes took place would provide 5,600 jobs, should fracking continue there.