1 Jun 2011

Blackpool earthquake halts shale gas drilling

Drilling at the UK’s first shale gas site is suspended after a magnitude 1.5 earthquake near Blackpool, the second in the area since April.

It has been revealed that the earthquake occurred on 10 May and its epicentre was recorded by the British Geological Survey (BGS) as being within a mile of where the gas drilling is taking place.

The company leading the drilling, Cuadrilla Resources, uses a process called “fracking” to fracture rock deep in the earth with a high pressure jet of water to release shale gas.

There was another quake – this time 2.3 in magnitude – near the drilling location at Preese Hall on 1 April.

Drilling at the UK's first shale gas site is suspended after a magnitude 1.5 earthquake near Blackpool, the second in the area since April.

The BGS says it cannot confirm that the two quakes are related, but does point to the fact that any process that injects water into rocks to fracture them can cause earthquakes.

It said in a statement: “It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering processes – such as with shale gas exploration – can result in earthquake activity.”

Cuadrilla has confirmed that it has stopped its fracking operations while it studies the geological data.

Mark Miller, chief executive of Cuadrilla Resources, said: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have stopped fracking operations to share information and consult with the relevant authorities and other experts.

“We expect that this analysis and subsequent consultation will take a number of weeks to conclude and we will decide on appropriate actions after that.”

Shale gas: a new energy source for Britain?

Shale gas is a form of natural gas that is trapped in tiny cracks of rocks beneath the surface of the earth.

Cuadrilla began drilling in July last year, when Channel 4 News gained exclusive access to the drilling process.

Last year gas was found deep in the Lancashire rocks, the question was whether it could be extracted.

"We now know it's all there," Chris Cornelius, co-founder of Cuadrilla Resources told Channel 4 News. "It validates the science, the next question is can we produce any of it?"

Read more: Shale gas - a new energy source for Britain?

The shale gas extraction process has already changed the dynamics of America’s gas market – removing its dependency on imports and almost achieving a position of self-sufficiency.

However, the process has attracted criticism after claims in the US that chemical compounds have polluted water supplies and that the gas has bubbled into drinking water. In some cases, people were able to set light to water coming out of their taps.

Only a few weeks ago France announced it was going to ban the process of fracking – becoming the first country to do so – citing environmental concerns.