Beyond the deckchairs

There has been a flurry of fracking interest in the media this week, as the Preese Hall Review was released.  This report was commissioned by the government to examine the relationship between fracking and the earthquakes which occured in Blackpool last year.  It has been reported as an all-clear for the technique, but a closer look tells a rather different story.

The findings of the review include the following:

1) That the earthquakes were caused by fracking.
2) That these earthquakes could happen again.
3) That it is unlikely that surface structural damage will occur due to these earthquakes.
4) That the extraction company did not carry out proper assessment either before or after the fracking to try to stop these earthquakes from occurring. Nor did it gather essential data on the damage caused to the well casing by the earthquakes.

Earthquakes, by definition, cause structural damage underground and this
is the crux of the earthquake issue; not whether or not the quake shakes
tables and chairs on Blackpool promenade. The seismic activity, though
weak on the surface, is potentially much more harmful underground if
fracking pipes are nearby. Seismic activity can weaken the well bore
integrity underground and increase the failure rate of its cement casing.
The report states that earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 have occurred in
several UK coal mines during the last 100 years and have had little
surface effect. But these mines did not have thousands of kilometres of
pipes running through them carrying contaminated and toxic water up and
down, past and through the water table.

The report recommends that a “traffic light system” of regulation should
apply. This assumes that fracking is essentially safe, so the starting
point is a green light. If fracking triggers an earthquake of less than
0.5 [magnitude on the Richter scale] they get a warning card, i.e. an
amber light. If the fracking causes an earthquake above 0.5, this triggers
a red light and the fracking stops temporarily until the Company figure
out what went wrong. This system is not exactly the precautionary
principle of science that would normally apply to an evolving industry, an
industry that is basically a huge engineering experiment in progress.

Our regulators are currently struggling to monitor fracking as the
industry is changing faster than we can properly assess. The type of
fracking done in 2012 [High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing] bears
little resemblance to the simple process used from the 1950s until the
beginning of the 2000s. It’s rather like saying that an AK47 and a
blunderbuss are equivalent as they are both guns. The companies
themselves are still learning by trial and error. The fracking industry is
a constantly moving target that is slow to admit its errors and then asks
us to trust it. We were told that we would not get the cowboy operators
that have caused such problems in the USA but we are still not regulating
this industry properly. This is why, in our view, we need a moratorium for the foreseeable future until the full scientific reports currently being carried out become available.

Moreover, the danger of earthquakes is just one of many factors which can cause environmental contamination, serious effects on human and animal health and irreparable damage to our economy, society and rural way of life.  The Preese Hall review was not set up to consider any of these – but we can.