Fracking Returns to Britain, and So Do Seismic Tremors Near Drilling Site

0
21

Less than two weeks after an energy company won a court battle over opponents who feared hydraulic fracturing would cause seismic tremors in northwest England, the drilling work appears to be doing just that.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, monitors in Lancashire, where the fracking operation is underway along Preston New Road, recorded tremors that registered just below the threshold for shutting down drilling. Weaker tremors were recorded last week.

Jacqui Reid, a spokeswoman for Cuadrilla Resources, the company operating the site, said that Cuadrilla had halted the fracking after the tremor on Tuesday, but that it would proceed with the work, although cautiously. She said Cuadrilla, whose fracking had been moving much more slowly than would be common in the United States, hoped to accelerate the pace next week.

“Regulators have been advised and we anticipate we will continue work at Preston New Road tomorrow as planned,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

The tremors may have been modest, but they were unwelcome for Cuadrilla and other companies that hope to develop a shale-drilling industry in Britain. There has been no fracking and little shale drilling in the country since a Cuadrilla operation in the same region led to earthquakes in 2011.

Surveys have indicated that substantial quantities of natural gas may be trapped in the rocks below British soil, but environmental groups, residents and local planning authorities have opposed efforts to use fracking technology to extract the fuel.

The recent tremors, analysts say, will probably provide fodder for those who fear fracking or oppose the country’s developing a new source of fuel that produces carbon dioxide emissions, which have been cited as causing climate change.

“The opposition is not going away,” said Paul Stevens, an energy expert at Chatham House, a research organization based in London. The tremors, he added, were “simply going to reinforce it.”

What happens over the next few weeks at the Preston New Road site, carved out of farmland near Blackpool, is considered crucial to the future of Britain’s shale energy industry. With the support of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, Cuadrilla and other companies have pushed planning officials to allow drilling and fracking at some sites. The government hopes Britain can replicate the experience of the United States, which has become an oil and gas exporter largely because of fracking.

The government has placed tight restrictions on the activity. For instance, Cuadrilla is required to put seismic monitors around the site to detect tremors. The threshold for shutting down operations is a magnitude of 0.5, a level that seismologists say is well below what could threaten life or property.

Richard Luckett, a seismologist for the British Geological Survey, an agency that is monitoring the Cuadrilla site, said in a telephone interview that such tremors were predictable as a result of fracturing. The agency reported that the shudder on Tuesday had registered 0.4.

He said tremors of that size could not be felt by people near the site and posed no threat of property damage, adding that “0.4 does not worry me as a seismologist.”

But the agency subsequently reported that a tremor on Wednesday had registered 0.5, although Cuadrilla said that was a result of the reading’s being rounded up from 0.48.

In an emailed statement, Britain’s Oil and Gas Authority described the tremors as “low-level seismic activity that can only be detected with specialist equipment,” and said that it was “monitoring carefully” Cuadrilla’s activities to ensure they “remain in line” with approved plans.

Despite the tight scrutiny and obstacles like a lack of domestic hydraulic-fracturing expertise, Cuadrilla and other companies say they are confident they can make a successful business out of shale-gas drilling in Britain if the country’s rock formations prove suitable. They argue that more drilling and fracking are needed to discover what resources Britain has and whether they can be used commercially.

Cuadrilla finally managed to drill wells at the Preston New Road site this year and began fracking there this month after overcoming a last-minute court challenge from a local environmentalist.

It seems possible that the latest tremors may slow the operations further, piling up costs for crews and fracking equipment. The tremors may also energize protesters, who have kept a vigil outside the gate of the site for months, occasionally obstructing truck traffic.

Reached by telephone near the Preston New Road site on Wednesday, Katrina Lawrie, a protester who has lived in a makeshift camp in the area for 18 months, said the tremors “had made people more resolute.”

“Our worst nightmares are beginning to come true,” she added.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here