The British Geological Survey (BGS) have published their report on induced seismicity from fracking.
Dr Salvador Acha, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London, said:
“Studies show the potential for shale gas in the UK is low, but if yields can even marginally alleviate energy security concerns it should help to mitigate the high prices we all are suffering.
“Nonetheless, I would urge the government to do two things. They should put in place regulation that pushes the use of carbon capture technologies so the use of this gas has a reduced environmental impact. And they should fast-track heat demand reduction policies across UK buildings to significantly reduce our fossil fuel import needs – a policy that should have been enacted decades ago.”
Prof Richard Green, Professor of Sustainable Energy Business, Imperial College London, said:
“Anyone thinking that this might have the same impact on prices that fracking had in the USA has forgotten that in energy terms, North America is an island, and the UK hasn’t been one since we built pipelines to the Continent. North America only has low gas prices because they haven’t built enough infrastructure to export their surplus gas to the rest of the world.”
Dr Ajay Gambhir, Senior Policy Research Fellow, Grantham Institute, said:
“Fracking in the middle of a climate emergency seems particularly inappropriate. We have next-to-nothing left in terms of our carbon budget – the quantity of CO2 we can emit before we breach the 1.5 degrees C target of the Paris Agreement. So there’s no more room for new fossil fuel sources. It’s just inconsistent with the climate goals of this government and others across the world, as reaffirmed in COP26 in Glasgow last year. And that’s before one considers the length of time (probably years) before the gas flows, the lack of popularity for fracking in the UK, and the potential tremors and local environmental impacts of it.”
Prof Geoffrey Maitland, Professor of Energy Engineering at Imperial College London, and Past President of IChemE, said:
“Natural gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels, resulting in around 50% less CO2 emissions compared with coal or oil, and shale gas could provide 20% or more of UK natural gas demand for 2025-50. Although shale gas will not provide an immediate solution to the energy security of the country, it could be used in the medium term (from 2025 if drilling and fracturing is allowed to re-start now) to replace diminishing North Sea gas production and some gas imports. It could also act as a bridge to 2050 as the country works towards accelerating sustainable low-carbon energy technologies and solutions.
“Well-established engineering good practice and sound regulation can provide safe and environmentally acceptable solutions to concerns about shale gas extraction that have been highlighted by environmental groups and local communities, including potential water contamination, earthquakes and disruption to local communities.
“In particular, there can be local seismic disturbances arising from the fracturing process but these are usually very weak (often less than 0.5 on the Richter scale and typically 1-2), and are of less power on the (logarithmic) Richter scale than the naturally occurring earth tremors that occur even in the UK (2-3) or the tremors arising from the passing of nearby trains or heavy goods vehicles (1-2), none of which cause significant structural damage.
“Of course, as today’s BGS report points out, it is necessary to carry out full sub-surface analysis of potential sites to ensure that drilling and fracturing is not carried out in areas of potential seismic instability. Advance prediction is still difficult and uncertain so the best approach is to monitor carefully in real time all local seismic activity to ensure that fracturing is stopped as soon as seismic tremors reach potentially damaging levels for buildings or humans. In the UK could safely be set much higher than the current limit of 0.5.
“Those of us that see cleaner use of fossil fuels (i.e. linked to Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage CCUS wherever possible) as an essential part of the transition to a zero-carbon emissions world share the same concerns about the need to act much more quickly to reduce carbon emissions and avoid mean global temperature rise exceeding 1.5C, as targeted by the 2015 Paris Agreement. “However, we are being realistic about the rate at which affordable and plentiful renewable energy can be introduced practically, in the UK and globally, and the potentially grave economic consequences of immediately eliminating the use of fossil fuels, both for affordable energy and for the production of most of the materials that we rely on, for the current quality of life, including healthcare. It is an essential part of a UK strategy aimed not only at decarbonisation but also avoiding/reducing energy poverty – the current cost-of-living crisis emphasises the need for more affordable and secure energy supplies in the short to medium term, as well as in the long-term once sufficient affordable renewables and nuclear are in place.
“So until our economy can be entirely driven by renewable energy and renewable bio-feedstocks for zero-carbon materials, realistically by 2050, we can continue to have the benefits of fossil fuels without exceeding the emissions limits that are needed to meet the 1.5C cap and still avoid catastrophic climate change. Shale gas is an essential and vital part of that journey; gas and CCUS are the enablers and with them fossil fuels are a key part of the solution, not the enemy to be avoided at all cost.”
Geoff also provided these summary bullet points which you’re free to quote from:
Alex Taylor, Head of Policy at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said:
“Fracking is unlikely to make any impact in the short to medium term on the energy crisis we are facing. There are far more effective methods that would offer UK long term energy security, such as renewable energy, hydrogen, and focusing on energy efficiency like retrofitting.
“There are some very important questions that need to be asked, such as how much accessible volume of fracked gas there is, how long will it take to get into the gas network, how prices will be managed, how local support will be gained and ultimately how safe it is.
“There is no quick gain in any solution for decarbonisation – and if we are to meet net zero targets by 2050, why encourage more carbon now? If fracking starts, we won’t easily be able to switch it off in the future – and this is before considering direct local environmental issues.”
Prof John Loughhead, Industrial Chair in Clean Energy, University of Birmingham, said:
“The report shows the difficulty of predicting accurately any induced (man-made) seismic activity, but also our limited knowledge of UK geology in the detail needed to realistically try. New computer analysis methods identified show there are probably thousands of times more small magnitude events occurring naturally than previous recorded. This highlights the stringency of current controls compared to natural background, to those applied by other countries, and even to UK regulation of geothermal energy. All of which suggests we need more test data, better analysis and monitoring capabilities, and a more refined regulatory approach than today’s if we are to consider fracking objectively. It is regrettable that developments in the technology of hydraulic fracturing are not considered at all.”
Prof Jon Gluyas, Director Durham Energy Institute, Durham University, said:
“Liz Truss hopes to frack us out of the energy crisis by drilling thousands of wells to produce shale gas. It won’t work – societal objections aside, we have the wrong kind of shale and geology which is far too complex. Indeed, even the founder of Cuadrillia – of Lancashire fracking fame a few years ago – says the same.
“We have also today seen publication of the latest study by the British Geological Survey for BEIS on human induced seismicity associated with fracking. Basically we can’t forecast if it will occur and how big the Earth’s response might be. In the executive summary is a short paragraph highlighting that some areas of the UK are critically stressed, a part of our natural geology. Disturb these areas with fracking and you are likely to get more energy out in the form of seismicity than you put in to fracture the rock.
“On top of all this, producing more natural gas would increase our greenhouse gas emissions. As a nation we can deliver net zero (carbon) with renewables and geoenergy – geothermal in particular coupled with efficiency and insulation gains. Let us not drown in soundbites but plan and deliver an energy future that is affordable, secure and sustainable.”
Prof Ben Edwards, Professor of Engineering Seismology, University of Liverpool, said:
“The BGS report on induced seismicity due to fracking presents a thorough review of state-of-the-art science. A number of topics are discussed, all of which are able to provide insights into the potential for induced seismic activity, and the associated risk from larger tremors.
“However, while our underlying scientific understanding has indeed advanced in recent years, given the complexity of the underlying science, there still remain significant challenges into predicting and mitigating induced seismicity. Fundamentally, in the years since the moratorium was announced, the BGS report illustrates that there has not been sufficient advance in scientific knowledge to demonstrate shale gas extraction as being unequivocally safe when in close proximity to urban areas, let alone guaranteeing ‘minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby’. The government decision therefore seems at odds with their previous promise to be ‘guided by the science’.”
Prof Stuart Haszeldine FRSE, Professor of Geology at the University of Edinburgh, said:
“In 2019 the government said they wish to be ‘led by the science’ and requested a review of earthquake prediction onshore. The British Geological Survey (BGS) review has shown no new methods and no new science. Forecasting earthquakes remains a scientific challenge for many many years to come.
“Predictions can be improved if large quantities of data exist on fault locations and previous earthquakes. In the UK this information only exists in areas previously drilled for fracking – where zero commercial gas production was achieved during 12 years of exploration and 8 years of drilling. And even that data is locally very complex and difficult to use.
“Drilling will be a huge commercial risk for companies who have already lost hundreds of millions pounds, and a huge reputation risk for government. Tweaking the danger settings on the present traffic light earthquake warning system is no substitute for good understanding. Government is not following the science, it is being pushed by the lobbying and led by the money.
“Driven by dogma, not by data, this government is now attempting to expose communities in rural England to industrial activity through continual drilling, uninsured earthquake damage and unknown methods of waste water treatment – with no guarantees of community benefits or wealth, and a probability that 90% of the original resource has leaked away through geological time.
“The best that can be expected is a few months to a very few years of local gas production after drilling tens to hundreds of boreholes. Present UK licensing and economic rules encourage any produced gas to be sold internationally, meaning no price drop for UK consumers. And this methane production increases the UK greenhouse gas emissions, throwing away decades of world leading environmental progress. It would have been much better to have spent the lost hundreds of millions and government effort to develop secure UK renewables, energy efficiency, and insulating consumers’ houses and flats.”
Prof Quentin Fisher, Professor of Petroleum Geoengineering at the University of Leeds, said:
“The government’s statement on shale gas extraction seems entirely reasonable. The UK will be relying on natural gas for many years to come and it seems sensible to produce our own wherever possible. The government’s statement and the BGS report both correctly highlight the need for more data, which can only be acquired by drilling and testing more wells within shale. Such data is required to improve estimates of the amount of gas that could be produced.
“The BGS report correctly states that seismicity may be generated by a wide range of activities that make use of the subsurface to generate energy. It probably could have gone further to recommend consistency in regulations across the various sectors in terms of induced seismicity and move towards a system based on peak particle velocity rather than local magnitude.
“The return to hydraulic fracturing will no doubt cause anxiety for some people living close to well pads. However, the reality is that hydraulic fracturing is a very safe, well-tested process and reports of water contamination etc. have been vastly exaggerated by those opposed to shale gas extraction.
“The claim in the conclusions of the BGS report that ‘induced seismicity settings in the USA and Canada suggests that on average around 1% of HF wells can be linked to earthquakes with magnitudes of 3 or greater’ needs to be fact-checked as it seems to vastly overestimate the amount of induced seismicity.”
Prof Richard Davies, petroleum geologist at Newcastle University, said:
“After the BGS report, the next question is whether there’s a place in the UK that is less likely to cause felt earthquakes – and can we be sure?
“The problem is we cannot see the faults that are causing the earthquakes using modern methods – so avoiding the faults is nigh on impossible right now.
“Although coal mining has caused many more earthquakes than fracking in the UK, the inability to avoid similar magnitude events is the Achilles heel for onshore shale gas.”
Honorary Professor Andrew Aplin, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, said:
“The BGS report indicates that in terms of the science, little has changed since the 2019 moratorium on fracking. Estimates of commercial shale gas reserves are speculative and our ability to predict the magnitude of fracking-induced earth tremors has barely changed.
“Future drilling and fracking would gradually reduce uncertainties around reserves and seismic risks. But even if the risks proved to be manageable and acceptable, shale gas would only make a significant impact to UK supply if, over the next decade, thousands of successful wells were to be drilled at hundreds of sites across northern England. The price we pay for gas wouldn’t change, and new production would be inconsistent with the government’s net zero strategy.
“The UK’s primary focus should be on reducing the demand for gas rather than increasing supply”.
Prof Andrew Aplin has in the past received funding from the oil and gas industry.
Prof Edwards is funded by UKRI to study induced seismicity.
Prof Haszeldine undertakes research on energy and climate funded by UK research councils and the European Commission. He has no financial interests in, or support from, businesses evaluating fracking or engaged in onshore oil and gas production.
Prof Fisher receives industry funding for his work on conventional petroleum reservoirs and research council funding (UKRC) for work on shale gas resource plays including induced seismicity and leakage pathways in the overburden.
Prof Loughhead: “I chair the Net Zero RISE (Research Infrastructure for Subsurface Engineering) consortium, which is focused on using existing unused wells to research carbon storage and geothermal energy.”
Prof Maitland: “much of my research on clean fossil fuel production and use, especially CCUS, has been sponsored by Shell and Qatar Petroleum.”
For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.