Fracking ‘unlikely’ to be a major earthquake risk for UK

The earthquake risk from fracking is no worse than coal mining and can be mitigated, a government review that could see the ban on the industry lifted will be told.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, announced on Tuesday that he had commissioned a new report into the latest science around the technology as the Government considers new sources of energy in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It comes ahead of the Energy Strategy, which will be unveiled on Thursday, and is expected to raise the prospect that fracking could return to England.

A four-year study led by Newcastle University will inform the latest review. It has concluded there are now better tools to predict and mitigate the earthquake risks from fracking.

Prof Richard Davies, a petroleum geologist and pro-vice chancellor at Newcastle University, told The Telegraph that earthquakes resulting from fracking were unlikely to be a major risk given the UK’s geology.

“We lived with them without much concern during the coal mining era,” he said. “During coal production, vast numbers of earthquakes were created in the UK right until the 1980s and the coal miners’ strike. Effectively Margaret Thatcher stopped the earthquakes, and they were never very big. It’s the same set of rocks.”

He added: “The risk of seismicity is high, but the impact is low.”

Fracking is the process of injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into cracks between rocks in order to release the trapped gas.

A moratorium was placed on fracking in 2019 after a magnitude 2.9 event during operations at a site run by Cuadrilla on Preston New Road, Lancashire, and a subsequent investigation which found that it was not possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes.

Renewed support for fracking

But support for the industry has been reignited, particularly among some Tory backbenchers who argue that it could provide energy security in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has led to catastrophic price rises.

Mr Kwarteng on Tuesday said it was “absolutely right that we explore all possible domestic energy sources”, given the energy crisis and ongoing demand for gas on the route to net zero.

But he said it would take “years of exploration and development before commercial quantities of gas could be produced” from fracking and it would not lead to lower prices in the near future.

He has asked the British Geological Survey to investigate whether there are new techniques that could reduce the risk and magnitude of seismic events in the UK.

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