Fracking go-ahead despite new fears


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Plans to extract gas using a controversial method linked to an increase in earthquakes have been given the go-ahead in Scotland for the first time.

The practice of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale rock, to release the gas it holds.

An independent geological report recently found that fracking had triggered two minor earthquakes on the Lancashire coast earlier this year.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency has granted a licence to Greenpark Energy to extract gas trapped in coal near the mining village of Canonbie in Dumfries and Galloway.

The news comes as the US state of Oklahoma is investigating whether a more-than-20-fold jump in the number of earthquakes in the past two years is connected to a surge in fracking there, The Independent has learnt. The number of earthquakes recorded in the state soared from its average of about 50 a year to 1,047 last year and is likely to match or break that this year, said Austin Holland, a seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Mr Holland made his prediction in the aftermath of some of the strongest earthquakes the state has seen over the weekend, continuing a spate of seismic activity that scientists are struggling to understand. Until last year, the highest number of earthquakes Oklahoma state had recorded was 150, in the mid 1990s.  

The practice of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale rock, to release the gas it holds. Mr Holland estimates that the volume of shale gas extraction in Oklahoma has “roughly doubled in the past few years” leaving tens of thousands of so-called fracturing wells in operation.  

Choosing his words carefully to avoid flaming a politically sensitive debate before he completes his investigation, Mr Holland conceded that there could well be a link between increased fracking and rising seismic activity in the state. “It is certainly possible for fluid injection to cause earthquakes, so we know it’s possible, it’s just we don’t know how often,” Mr Holland said.  

"This is an important issue for the state, the nation and the globe, really," he added.  

A preliminary investigation by Mr Holland, into a series of 48 earthquakes on a single January night in Garvin County, also surfaced yesterday. This found "there was a clear correlation between the time of hydraulic-fracturing and the observed seismicity".

It also found that the epicentre of "nearly all" those earthquakes was within five kilometres of the wells and that "most" occurred "near inject depths".  

Mr Holland said it was "certainly possible" the tremors were caused by fracking.  

However, in a state that depends so heavily on the oil and gas industry, Mr Holland is keen to exhaustively investigate the potential seismic effect of the great new hope of shale gas before drawing any definitive conclusions about the Garvin County tremors and earthquakes more generally.    

His comments and figures emerged a week after an independent investigation established a link between fracking and earthquakes for the first time in the UK. The report into two earthquakes in the Blackpool area in April and May found not only that they were almost certainly caused by fracking, but that drilling the well had resulted in a further 48 smaller tremors this year. Cuadrilla Resources, the company behind the drilling, has suspended operations at the site until the government has digested last week’s report.