Fracking ‘not significant’ in causing earthquakes

10 April 2013
By Edd Gent
Mobile version
Share |
A study has found almost all earthquakes caused by fracking are so small only geoscientists are able to detect them

A study has found almost all earthquakes caused by fracking are so small only geoscientists are able to detect them

Fracking is “not significant” in causing earthquakes according to a new study led by Durham University.

The research by the Durham Energy Institute found that almost all of the seismic activity resulting from the controversial natural gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, was on such a small scale that only geoscientists would be able to detect it.

The team also discovered the size and number of felt earthquakes caused by fracking is low compared to other manmade triggers such as mining, geothermal activity or reservoir water storage.

But the study also established beyond doubt that fracking has the potential to reactivate dormant faults and described the probable ways in which the pumping of fracking fluid underground triggers this.

Professor Richard Davies from the Durham Energy Institute says: “We have examined not just fracking-related occurrences but all induced earthquakes, that is, those caused by human activity, since 1929.

“It is worth bearing in mind that other industrial-scale processes can trigger earthquakes including mining, filling reservoirs with water and the production of oil and gas. Even one of our cleanest forms of energy, geothermal, has some form in this respect.

“In almost all cases, the seismic events caused by hydraulic fracturing have been undetectable other than by geoscientists. It is also low compared to other manmade triggers.

“Earthquakes caused by mining can range from a magnitude of 1.6 to 5.6, reservoir-filling from 2.0 to 7.9 and waste disposal from 2.0 to 5.7.

“By comparison, most fracking-related events release a negligible amount of energy roughly equivalent to or even less than someone jumping off a ladder onto the floor.

“Of the three fracking-related quakes that could be felt, even the largest ever, in the Horn River Basin in Canada in 2011 had a magnitude of only 3.8. That is at the lower end of the range that could be felt by people. The widely-reported quake at Preese Hall near Blackpool in 2011 had a magnitude of 2.3.

“So we have concluded that hydraulic fracturing is not a significant mechanism for inducing felt earthquakes. It is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever be able to feel an earthquake caused by fracking.

“But theoretically, it cannot be ruled out completely; we cannot see every fault underground and therefore cannot completely discount the possibility of the process causing a small felt earthquake.

“But there are ways to further mitigate against the possibility; the oil and gas industry can avoid faults that are critically stressed and already near breaking point. We hope our analysis can help provide important context and inform the current debate on this.”

The research entitled “Induced Seismicity and the Hydraulic Fracturing of Low Permeability Sedimentary Rocks” is published in the Journal of Marine and Petroleum Geology.

But Greenpeace energy campaigner Lawrence Carter is keen to stress that this research does not invalidate the opposition to the controversial process.

“People’s apprehensions about fracking go well beyond earth tremors – communities are concerned about the industrialisation of the English countryside, including noise, increased traffic, falling house prices and environmental damage,” he says.

“Documents obtained by Greenpeace reveal the Environment Agency’s private fears over threats to drinking water near potential fracking sites in Sussex. While in the US, the release of climate change gases around fracking sites has been found to be so high that shale gas could end up being as polluting as coal.

“Everyone from Ofgem to BP agree UK shale gas won’t bring down bills, so fracking could end up being a lot of pain for very little gain. Instead we need to move towards a carbon free electricity system, which will be cleaner, safer and cheaper over time.”

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1607

"As the dust settles after the referendum result, we consider what happens next. We also look forward to an international summer of sport."

E&T jobs

  • Training Needs Analyst

    BAE Systems
    • Portsmouth, England, Hampshire
    • Negotiable

    Training Needs Analyst Would you like to play a key role within the Type 26 programme analysing and identifying training solutions? We currently have a vacancy for a Training Needs Analyst at our site in Broad Oak. As a Training Needs Analyst, you will be

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Director, Nathu Puri Institute/Professor of Engineering & Enterprise

    London South Bank University
    • London (Greater)

    The Institute seeks to appoint an experienced individual to the post Professor and Director, Nathu Puri Institute for Engineering and Enterprise

    • Recruiter: London South Bank University

    Apply for this job

  • MSc Additive Manufacturing

    Anglia Ruskin University
    • Chelmsford, Essex

    Join the UK’s first dedicated MSc in Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

    • Recruiter: Anglia Ruskin University

    Apply for this job

  • Senior Logistics Co-ordinator

    MBDA
    • Stevenage
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   Responsible for the management and co-ordination of logistic activities for manufacturing to achieve project programmes to time, cost and quality.   What will...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) of Smart Building Solutions

    Premium job

    ETH Zurich
    • Zurich, Canton of Zürich (CH)

    The successful candidate is expected to develop a strong and visible research programme in the area of control and diagnostics of building systems

    • Recruiter: ETH Zurich

    Apply for this job

  • Dangerous Goods Tank Engineer

    Premium job

    Department for Transport
    • Leatherhead, Surrey
    • £33,242 - £36,565

    This is important work that affects everyone in the UK, citizens and drivers alike and has a global impact.

    • Recruiter: Department for Transport

    Apply for this job

  • Associate Network Opportunities

    Premium job

    Smarter Grid Solutions
    • Flexible but may need to spend time in Glasgow, London or New York offices

    We are always keen to work with relevant industry professionals on an associate basis.

    • Recruiter: Smarter Grid Solutions

    Apply for this job

  • Project Delivery Engineer

    Premium job

    National Grid
    • North West England
    • c. £65,000 + company car

    As a Project Delivery Engineer, you will be an essential part of the team...

    • Recruiter: National Grid

    Apply for this job

  • Principal Electrical Engineer

    Premium job

    Electrical Safety UK Ltd
    • Rotherham, South Yorkshire
    • Negotiable depending upon experience

    Industrial and Commercial Electrical Power System Studies including Single Line Diagrams, Fault and Protection Studies & Arc Flash Assessment

    • Recruiter: Electrical Safety UK Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Project Manager

    MBDA
    • Stevenage
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    Role Title: Project Manager, L5   MBDA level of role: Level 5   Location: Stevenage   Role Purpose: To define, plan, direct and deliver either one large work...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T