Why fracking has finally fracked off

In August a study found there was a lot less shale gas in the UK than thought – and fracking may only yield 10 years worth of fuel

Phoebe Weston
Science Correspondent
Saturday 02 November 2019 01:16 GMT
Campaigners have been trying to stop the controversial practice for years with just 18 per cent of the British public in favour of it
Campaigners have been trying to stop the controversial practice for years with just 18 per cent of the British public in favour of it

Finally Cuadrilla is fracking off.

It’s been increasingly clear over the past year that the government was backing the wrong horse when it came to extracting shale gas in the UK.

Campaigners have been trying to stop the controversial practice for years with just 18 per cent of the British public in favour of it. Even within the Conservative Party there have been mutinous mutters.

With the election coming up, councillors and MPs are probably increasingly concerned about unhappy constituents being lumbered with wells in their back yards.

The party’s new stance on the issue, which has caused much controversy in counties such as Lancashire and Yorkshire, follows that of both Labour and Liberal Democrats.

Opponents say it causes earthquakes (this is the reason the government has cited for its U-turn), damages the countryside and keeps the UK hooked on fossil fuels which is not in keeping with meeting climate targets.

Protests have resulted at sites across the country and are estimated to have cost public bodies at least £32.7m since 2011.

The practice is widespread across countries such as the UK, Canada and Argentina where there is more space and looser restrictions.

But the industry never really got off the ground in the UK where there are much tighter rules about seismic activity – drilling must stop for 18 hours after any tremor over 0.5.

At one point, there were 57 tremors during 60 days of fracking.

The biggest roadblock came on 26 August 2019 when the UK’s only fracking its, operated by Cuadrilla, near Blackpool, was hit with the largest-ever tremor caused by the practice on British soil.

The 2.9-magnitude tremor at a depth of 2km and was felt by residents in areas including Great Plumpton, Blackpool and Lytham St Annes. At the time, many people complained that it was so strong it woke them up and could be felt for as long as 15 seconds.

It was the fourth “micro seismic event” in just 11 days, following a 2.1 tremor just a few days prior.

Since the 2.9 tremor no further drilling has been carried out at the site.

For fracking to be a worthwhile British investment, more than 6,000 wells would need to be built. Considering how much difficulty Cuadrilla has had in getting just one off the ground in the past decade this seemed like an ambitious target.

Especially with the clock ticking on fossil fuels.

Another massive setback came in August when a study found there was basically a lot less shale gas in the UK than previously thought – and fracking may only yield 10-years worth of fuel.

This is five times less than 2013 estimates that suggested there was 50 years left, according to the analysis the Bowland Shale Fomantion in north England.

The estimates were based on lab analysis by the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Society.

For many fracking has become symbol of the government saying one thing about wanting to tackle climate change but doing something quite different.

However, the straw that broke the camel’s back were the findings of a report by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) which found it was not possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking.

Environmental campaigners have hailed the government’s announcement of a moratorium on fracking as a victory for communities and the climate.

Gail Bradbrook, the founder of Extinction Rebellion, said: “I am shedding tears of joy hearing this news.”

With a general election looming, campaigners are not the only ones who will be happy – the announcement could also be a big vote winner for the Conservatives.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in