Safety limits on seismic activity at fracking sites 'could be raised safely'

Cuadrilla is drilling at Preston New Road near Blackpool
Cuadrilla is drilling at Preston New Road near Blackpool
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Fracking firm Cuadrilla has welcomed experts' comments that regulations covering seismic activity during shale gas exploration could be relaxed safely.

Work at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool was halted several times last year after seismic activity exceeded limits put in place under Britain’s traffic light regulation system.

Drilling at fracking sites must be halted for 18 hours if seismic activity of magnitude 0.5 or above is detected.

Brian Baptie, head of Seismology at the British Geological Survey, said at a briefing with journalists:.“Existing regulations are quite conservative and are set at a level that is unlikely to be felt."

He said the limit could safely be raised to magnitude 1.5 since this was a level similar to vibrations caused by a heavy bin lorry going past.

Ben Edwards, specialist in engineering seismology at the University of Liverpool, said at the same briefing that 1.5 would "still be a conservative level,”.

The seismologists warned that raising the limit could lead to higher magnitude so called trailing events, which can occur after fracking has stopped, but said these would still likely be too small to cause any damage.

A Cuadrilla spokesman said: "We were pleased to hear this. We have collected an extensive data set from our operations at the shale gas exploration site in Preston New Road, Blackpool, including the most comprehensive micro-seismic data set ever collected at a shale site.

"This is the only existing data set of its kind in the UK and we have shared this with the relevant regulators and experts to enable further understanding of how best to safely and effectively progress this important industry"

The government has said there are no plans to change the traffic light system set up to regulate fracking in the UK..

A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire said: "It seems to have taken the industry spin doctors longer than expected to find a couple of academics prepared to make their case for them. However, both of these researchers still appear to be inexplicably fixated on whether a tremor can be felt at surface.

“The Traffic Light System was devised, in conjunction with Cuadrilla themselves, to protect the public from the potential subsurface impacts of fracking. It is based on an acceptance that the seismic events (which fracking appears to inevitably unleash in the UK) cannot be constrained by turning off a tap, and that they may get progressively more frequent and larger after the warning level is exceeded and work is stopped."