A BBC report states that last week a government-named panel of experts says fracking can continue under as long as strict conditions are in place.
The process – fracking – involves pumping water and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas.
Last week, (Wednesday) the chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Chris Smith said that fracking “potentially ticks the boxes on energy security, on availability and on cost”.
Shale gas is seen as a way of ensuring relatively cheap energy supplies.
But critics have warned of possible side effects – including the contamination of ground water.
Led by Maurice Spurway, local co-ordinator with Friends of the Earth, the Frack Free Devon campaign group is urging residents to write to their county councillor, asking them ensure that Devon adopts a policy to refuse any drilling for shale gas within its borders.
The sample letter, available from the Frack Free Devon Facebook site, states: “Under the Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round, the government have disclosed the areas likely to be developed for fracking. This includes the eastern part of Devon, where licences might be expected at any time.
It adds: “I would be grateful if you could reply stating your views on fracking, and whether you are able to support the call for Devon to become ‘Frack Free.’”
The BBC report goes on to say that test fracking (short for “fracturing”) by the Cuadrilla company near Blackpool stopped in 2011 when two earthquakes were felt at the surface.
“The government-appointed panel believes there will probably be more quakes but that they will be too small to do structural damage above ground. It recommends more monitoring.
The panel’s report now goes out for a six-week consultation period, finishing towards the end of May, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) issuing a firm set of regulations at some point after that.
The panel agrees with a Cuadrilla report from late last year that test fracks at the company’s Preese Hall site did cause two earthquakes of Magnitudes 2.3 and 1.5 in April and May.
“[Cuadrilla’s experts] said there was a very low probability of other earthquakes during future treatments of other wells,” said one of the report’s authors, Prof Peter Styles from Keele University.
“We agree that [last year’s] events are attributable to the existence of an adjacent geological fault that had not been identified.
“There might be other comparable faults, (and) we believe it’s not possible to categorically reject the possibility of further quakes.”
Report author Prof Peter Styles says any earthquakes are “not likely to cause significant damage”
Such events might well be felt at the surface but are extremely unlikely to be significant, he said.
Shale gas is found in layers of relatively weak sedimentary rock, typically several kilometres underground.
Coal mining has generated thousands of earthquakes down the years; and on the basis of all the data gathered from this, the panel says, fracking is unlikely to produce anything larger than a Magnitude 3.
“There’s no record of a quake at this size doing any structural damage,” said Prof Styles. “But they would be strongly felt, and there is a possibility of superficial damage.”
When asked on the BBC’s Today programme whether he was any more concerned about fracking than coal-mining, Dr Brian Baptie, head of seismology at the British Geological Survey (BGS) said: “No; given appropriate guidelines and appropriate monitoring, I see no reason why it shouldn’t go ahead.”
The panel recommends four precautions regarding Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall operation and other projects in the Bowland Shale area of Lancashire:
Magnitude 0.5 is a considerably lower threshold than the 1.7 proposed by Cuadrilla’s experts, though the panel emphasised that other countries such as Switzerland use the still higher threshold of 2.3.
“We’ve opted for a much lower, more conservative option,” said Dr Baptie.
“Even with real-time monitoring, there will be a time lag between what we’ve put into the ground and what we get back out in the form of earthquakes.”
Operators should also minimise quakes by allowing the fracking liquid to flow back up the well soon after injection, the panel says, rather than keeping the rock under prolonged pressure.
It also recommends that seismic hazards should be properly assessed before new exploration is permitted.
This would involve seismic monitoring to establish what levels of activity are normal in that location, analysis of geological faults, and the use of computer models to assess the potential impact of any induced earthquakes.
The three members of the panel – Prof Styles, Dr Baptie and Dr Chris Green, an independent fracking expert based in Lancashire – said this information should be publicly available.
Mark Miller, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, welcomed the report.
“We are pleased that the experts have come to a clear conclusion that it is safe to allow us to resume hydraulic fracturing, following the procedures outlined in the review,” he said.
He said the company had already begun to amend procedures in light of expert advice.
The government sees shale gas as a valuable energy resource for the future.
Cuadrilla claims that the site it has explored in the Bowland Shale contains 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, more than the UK’s known offshore reserve – though only a portion of this would be economically recoverable.
“If shale gas is to be part of the UK’s energy mix we need to have a good understanding of its potential environmental impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts,” said David MacKay, Decc’s chief scientific adviser.
“This comprehensive independent expert review of Cuadrilla’s evidence suggests a set of robust measures to make sure future seismic risks are minimised – not just at this location but at any other potential sites across the UK.”
But local groups are concerned about groundwater contamination as well as earthquakes, while environment groups point out that basing the UK’s energy strategy on gas will make it much harder to achieve climate change targets.
Speaking on the Today programme, Tony Jupiter, former head of Friends of the Earth UK, said that the recommendations needed to go further:
“I remain to be convinced… that this is a credible part of meeting the 80% reduction targets in greenhouse gas emissions that are enshrined in law in this country.”
“We don’t need earth tremor-causing fracking to meet our power needs – we need a seismic shift in energy policy,” said Andy Atkins, director of Friends of the Earth UK.
“We should be developing the huge potential of clean British energy from the sun, wind and waves, not more dirty and dangerous fossil fuels.”
Frack Free Devon campaign’s letter can be copied and pasted into your own email accounts from here:
Write a letter to YOUR County Councillor:
Dear Cllr Giles
Call for Devon County Council to declare itself “Frack Free”
As my councillor I urge you to sign up to the “Frack Free Devon” campaign, and ensure that Devon adopts a policy to refuse any drilling for shale gas within its borders. In addition the county must refuse to become a dump from the toxic waste from fracking.
I consider that fracking for shale gas is a dangerous activity, potentially leading to earthquakes, pollution of groundwater, climate change and excessive lorry transportation for the toxic waste.
Under the Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round, the Government have disclosed the areas likely to be developed for fracking.
This includes the eastern part of Devon (including south-east Devon), where licences might be expected at any time.
I would be grateful if you could reply stating your views on fracking, and whether you are able to support the call for Devon to become “Frack Free.”
More about the Frack Free Devon campaign group can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/249305518500431/
The link to the map of where licences are granted and may be granted is below: