Author Archives: Composter

Risks of Raising Red Traffic Light Limit

Traffic Light System

Concerted efforts are being made by fracking operators and ‘geoscientists’ to persuade the government to increase the red traffic light limit from 0.5M to 1.5M. The Times newspaper recently published a letter by 49 ‘geoscientists’ urging the government to commission an urgent review of the fracking earthquake limit, recommending this be raised to allow the industry to expand. However, as revealed by Channel 4 News, many of these ‘geoscientists’ have direct connections to the oil and gas industry.

Current Oil and Gas Authority guidelines state that upon detection of an earth tremor of magnitude 0.5 the “…Operator[s] must suspend injection, reduce pressure and monitor seismicity and ground motion for any further events before potentially resuming.” When a seismic event of this magnitude occurs, fracking operations must cease for 18 hours while the well is flushed out and its integrity checked.

The main arguments being used to raise this limit to magnitude 1.5 are that:

  • the current red-light limit prevents effective fracturing and gas release
  • higher limits work satisfactorily in other countries, and other UK industries
  • the proposed level cannot be felt on the surface and causes no damage.

The responsible Minister (Claire Perry) recently said that she is resisting the change and has no plans to implement it. Yet six months ago she wrote to a fellow MP saying “that the monitoring system was set at an explicitly cautious level…. (and) as we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls.”

Seismic events occur when fault lines are lubricated, and plates slip. In this context, opponents of fracking point out that the UK has 400 times as many fault lines as the USA. Furthermore, as the UK is far more densely populated, fracking wells will inevitably be sited much closer to housing areas. They are also concerned that fracking operators’ surveys fail to pick up small fault lines, and that they are permitted to frack too close to detected faults.

Fracking opponents argue that the Preese Hall experience shows the risk of increasing the traffic light limit. The well was sunk 200 metres away from a small (unidentified) fault line. Fracking caused 58 earthquakes between March and May 2011 (de Pater and Baish 2011), the largest being 2.3M on the 1st April and the last being 1.5M on the 27th May. This latter event deformed the bottom 170 metres of the well (making it ovoid instead of round).

Operations were suspended and the well was plugged with concrete in 2013 and abandoned, but had to be replugged two years later. This reflects concerns that disused steel casings are liable to rot over time, and the concrete linings shrink and crack. These events could provide a potential upward conduit for fugitive emissions of released but unrecovered gas and fluid, contaminating groundwater resources and the surrounding land surface.

Operators have clearly been using low hydraulic pressure in order to try to comply with the current red traffic light – yet by so doing have inadvertently triggered seismic events well above this level. Lifting the limit will enable them to apply greater hydraulic pressure in order to release the gas – but risks triggering seismic events on a much larger scale than previously encountered in the UK due to Fracking.

References

Channel 4 News 15 February 2019

de Pater, C.J. and Baisch, S. (2011) Geomechanical Study of Bowland Shale Seismicity: Synthesis Report 

Refracktion (2019) Don’t Mess with the Traffic Light System

The Times Newspaper 9 February 2019

 

Geological Concerns Regarding Fracking Regulation

The UK system of regulation of fracking imposes a range of strict geological controls on operators – including seismic surveys, safe distances, seismic monitoring, a traffic light system, and barriers to fugitive migration.

Experience and professional advice suggest however that each of these controls is flawed i.e.

  1. Seismic surveys are invariably incomplete and incapable of detecting small fault lines and minor vertical displacement which could lead to earthquakes.
  2. The EA formula for calculating a safe distance between fracking propagation and fault lines is unduly optimistic and should be replaced by a minimum distance of at least 850 metres horizontally.
  3. The sequence of events at both the Preese Hall and PNR sites implies inherent instability in the stress planes of the fault lines in the Bowland Field.
  4. Fracture growth monitoring is inadequate to indicate the precise real time effect fracking is having on the propagated area.
  5. The combined effect of these factors is to automatically trigger the temporary suspension of drilling under the current traffic light system, an outcome which is incompatible with commercial considerations.
  6. The current traffic light system also fails to accommodate measures to deal with large seismic events, swarms of seismic events, or trailing events.
  7. Increasing the current red-light limit from 0.5 to 2.0 ML threatens well integrity and fluid migration into unprotected formations.
  8. The higher red-light figure is equivalent to the energy release of 1 metric ton of TNT explosive, the size of a late WW2 bomb.
  9. The regulatory controls will not detect the fugitive migration of released but unrecovered gas/fluids through pathways and conduits, and
  10. The claimed barriers to prevent sideways and upward migration of gas/fluids and the potential pollution of groundwater resources are ineffective.

 

References

Joanne Hawkins (Bristol -> Leeds University) Fracking – minding the gaps March 2015 [Supports general theme]

Professor David Smythe (Glasgow University) Objection to PNR and Roseacre planning applications September 2014 Submission to Scottish Government May 2017 [Supports points 1, 2, 9 & 10]

Professor Peter Styles (Keele University) Fracking and historic coal mining April 2018 [Supports points 1 & 2]

Professor Fred Worral & Miles Wilson (Durham University) Professor Richard Davies & Sam Almond (Newcastle University) Fracking – how far from faults? August 2018 [Supports points 2 & 4]

Shawn Maxwell (ex Keele University) What Does Microseismic Tell Us About Hydraulic Fracture Deformation? Oct 2011 [Supports point 4]

National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi Earthquake measurements paper to East Asia Summit [Supports point 8]

 

 

China’s Dirty Fracking Water

In an attempt to move away from dirty coal fired power stations, China is in the midst of a huge fracking boom. In spite of difficult terrain, including mountainous, arid, remote and also highly populated regions, Chinese firms can now drill multiple wells at a single pad (‘well-factory’ drilling) and can carry out extended horizontal fracturing up to 3,000 meters. Reuters

Although still far from the extent found in the USA, a recent survey by oil and gas consultants Wood Mackenzie  reports Chinese energy giants are making significant progress unlocking natural gas from shale rock formations, creating a shale revolution with output scheduled to double by 2020.

China Reuters

Poster in Beijing showing the polluted groundwater (Jason Lee – Reuters)

However, as with all other areas in the world where fracking has taken a hold, things are not going to plan and there are now serious concerns about groundwater pollution. The Financial Times recently reported that in the township of Xiaohaotu in central China, the water is “beyond repair” and residents are engaged in a campaign of protest and have support from people across the country.

Printable Version of Petition to LCC

We urge Lancashire County Council to refuse planning consent to Aurora Energy Resources Ltd. for an exploratory wellsite on the Moss near Great Altcar. The online petition is available on the 38 Degrees website here.

If you would like to help collect signatures yourself, a downloadable / printable version of the petition is available by clicking on the image below or on this link Petition to LCC

Petition image

This can be handed in at the Frack Free Formby Saturday stall in Formby Village or alternatively, please contact us for a postal address. Many thanks for your support.

Public Meeting Postponed

Squirrel Logo

Frack Free Formby is postponing The Gild Hall meeting on the 27th of November until further notice.

Meanwhile, please sign the online petition to Lancashire County Council which is on the Frack Free Formby Facebook page and on the 38 Degrees website. We will also be in Formby village with a paper petition on Saturday mornings.

Petition image

If you would like to help collect signatures yourself, a downloadable / printable version of the petition is available by clicking on the image above or on this link Petition to LCC 

This can be handed in at the Saturday stall or please contact us for a postal address.
Many thanks for your support.

 

 

Statement by Bill Esterson MP

Sefton Central Labour MP called for an immediate ban on fracking, when he spoke in the fracking debate in Parliament on 31 October 2018.

Bill Esterson

Mr Esterson said, “Fracking in Formby is of great concern for my constituents… the impact on groundwater, the pollution from traffic to and from the fracking site and the danger of burning yet more fossil fuels. The fact that the government overruled Lancashire County Council to allow fracking at Preston New Road, near Blackpool means that decisions are being taken away from local people. You have to ask why. Or is it simply that the voices of the oil and gas industry outweigh those of local people?

“Conservative MPs who say they oppose fracking must vote to reverse the cuts made by their own government to renewable energy and support investment in producing hydrogen gas. Fracking is bad news for local communities and for the local environment. The technology is risky as we have seen with numerous earthquakes near Blackpool. And above all, if we are to survive the threat of climate change, we must stop fracking and invest in wind, solar and tidal energy as well as switching to hydrogen for gas. Only a low carbon energy system can stop dangerous climate change and stop the threat to local communities. That’s why Labour will ban fracking and why I will do all I can to stop fracking at Formby.

“How many earthquakes will it take for the Conservatives to change their minds? The point is the people of Formby can’t afford to wait to find out how dangerous fracking really is and the planet can’t wait any longer for a complete change in how we produce our energy. The Conservatives are taking a reckless gamble with our communities and with the future of the planet. Labour will ban fracking.”