Re: News coverage of earthquakes caused by fracking
My name is Natascha Engel and I have recently been appointed as the Government’s new Commissioner for Shale Gas. In this role I have been visiting groups and residents in areas around the UK affected by fracking applications.
I have just returned from Yorkshire and have become alarmed at the effect that the local and national media coverage on fracking and earthquakes is having on people. It’s even worse in Lancashire.
There is constant coverage of the “earthquakes” caused by fracking at the Cuadrilla site in Preston. Whilst technically true because even the slightest movement underground is called an earthquake, it is not what normal people understand by the word.
A tremor over one mile underground reading 1.1 in magnitude on the surface is not only something that can’t be felt, it is something that would never be reported if it was caused by anything other than fracking.
Quarry blasting is common in Derbyshire and causes earth tremors many times greater than fracking. In fact, a blast in the Peak District in August was so strong that it was picked up by Cuadrilla’s highly sensitive equipment as a 1.7 magnitude event. But it wasn’t reported because it had nothing to do with fracking. Geothermal energy falls into the renewables category and is therefore embraced by the very organisations that oppose fracking for gas. The same process of injecting water into rock (fracking) is used to access geothermal energy. It is a process which often causes larger tremors since it injects water directly into faults. Geothermal projects, though, like quarrying, do not have a traffic light system to stop them if they breach 0.5 magnitude.
The traffic light system for earthquakes related to fracking was applied to the industry after it caused small tremors in Blackpool in 2011. It was set extremely low so that if a tremor of 0.5 is detected (and it can only be detected because of the highly sensitive equipment that has been installed to do so), operations have to pause so that everyone can be sure that fracking can continue safely.
It was never intended to stop the industry but rather to reassure people. No such traffic light system exists for other construction projects that cause far greater tremors because they are not the targets of a well-organised and concerted campaign to stop fracking from happening in the UK.
By reporting fracking events that cause tremors of 1.1 (or indeed anything below 2 magnitude) as earthquakes but not reporting similar or greater events in other industries, the media is feeding the narrative of fear that originates from those who have been spreading scare stories because they want to stop fracking at all cost.
Where is the science in this debate? Without putting these earthquakes into a proper context and making people fearful about something that can’t even be felt, we can’t ever look at the wider picture and ask ourselves why extracting gas from beneath our feet is so important.
Gas is significantly cleaner than coal. By changing our coal-fired power stations to gas the UK reduced its carbon emissions by over 7% between 2015 and 2016.
85% of us use gas to heat our homes and over 60% of us use it for cooking. Since 2004, we have been importing gas – more and more of it as our North Sea fields run out. That means billions of taxpayer pounds being spent on buying in gas from Qatar and, yes, fracked gas from America.
Last year, of all the energy we consumed, only 2.2% came from wind and 0.5% came from solar. We are a very long way off a time when renewables plug the energy gap. To help us do so, getting gas from underground in Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, creating hundreds if not thousands of good jobs in places that really need them, with the potential billions in tax receipts from a developed shale gas industry, we could save the money we are spending on imports and invest it in renewables instead.
The real story that everyone seems to be missing by focusing on tiny tremors that can’t even be felt at the surface is that Cuadrilla’s test results look like there is plenty of gas down there. Forty years ago when we found North Sea oil and gas we rightly celebrated our energy independence, the hundreds and thousands of jobs that it has brought over the years and the boon to our public finances.
But today we are behaving like we did in the mid-1800s when our nascent car industry was nearly destroyed by forcing a man with a red flag to walk in front of automated road vehicles to stop them from driving faster than 4 miles per hour. If we stopped all industries that caused 0.5 magnitude earthquakes there wouldn’t be a house, hospital, school or road built.
That’s not precaution. It’s anti-progress.
I would be very happy to discuss this further or point you in the direction of the Science Media Centre http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/working-w…/forjournalists/ where there is a database of independent experts and academics ready and willing to participate in this important debate.
All good wishes
Commissioner for Shale Gas