‘Serious earthquake risk’ with fracking near coalfields, government warned

The government has been warned that up to half of the land that has been set aside for fracking operations by the UK government could be susceptible to earthquakes.

Geology professor Peter Styles, who has previously advised the government on other issues, said that hydraulic fracturing in former coal mining areas increases the probability of earthquakes on faults that have already been subject to movement through mining.

Styles has called for more rigorous checks for any operations occurring near old mines as the government discusses legislation that could make it easier to explore shale gas deposits and carry out fracking.

He said there was a “serious earthquake risk” from fracking in former coalfield areas, because “induced seismicity” is “dramatically enhanced” in a significant proportion of land designated for fracking operations.

Former coalfields already have a risk of earthquakes and fracking exacerbates the potential for seismic activity in those areas.

Styles has recommended that all future fracking operations maintain at least a 500m buffer zone between former mine workings and current and future energy extraction technologies. He also said an 850m buffer zone should be created between fracking and any significant natural fractures or faults.

He also said he was concerned that many fracking operators lack the “technical capability” to identify faults or fractures likely to lead to prohibited seismic events.

“Unfortunately, the physics of it means you cannot see those faults with the (survey) waves that you put into the earth,” he said.

“To date it does not appear that any proper industry or government due diligence has taken place with regards to fault lines mapped.”

“It would be prudent of the government to reduce the estimates of exploitable onshore frackable gas by half. We are risking our energy security if we proceed without assessing all the data.”

In the case of coalfield areas, he adds: “We have forgotten about mining. Mining has not forgotten about us.”

Styles’ new report - ‘Fracking and historic coal mining: their relationship and should they coincide?’ - highlights a potentially dangerous fault line within 10m of the proposed fracking borehole at Harthill, just south of Sheffield, which plastics manufacturer Ineos wants to drill.

Labour MP for Rother Valley Sir Kevin Barron said: “Professor Styles’s report makes for worrying reading and I hope the government takes action to implement his recommendations immediately. I believe fracking in coal-mining areas is a disaster waiting to happen.

“They should be listening to Professor Styles and not trying to relax the planning rules as they did last week.”

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy spokesperson said: “The UK has over 50 years of experience in regulating the onshore oil and gas industry, meaning the sector is governed by one of the safest, most environmentally sound and well-regulated systems in the world. These strong controls and laws will ensure shale gas can be explored safely and sustainably.”

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