Council commissions review of fracking following earthquakes

A council has commissioned a review of a scheme involving a controversial process for natural gas extraction known as "fracking", after a report this month linked the process to minor earth tremors in the area.

Fracking: environmental concerns. ProgressOhio photo
Fracking: environmental concerns. ProgressOhio photo

Fracking has so far only taken place in the UK at Preese Hall in Lancashire, where two earth tremors were recorded earlier this year. A report commissioned by energy firm Cuadrilla Resources, the company carrying out the work, identifies fracking as the probable cause.

Fylde Borough Council, the local authority for the area, has commissioned a review of the Preese Hall operation. Kiran Mulholland, the councillor leading the review, said the council is worried about the scrutiny applied to the process and called for more regulation.

"We would like to see an efficient and transparent system so that the general public can be assured that regulations are in place and are being monitored," said Mulholland. "We would like those regulations to be relevant and up to date. We do not want a horror story in our area."

Fracking involves injecting water at high pressure into shale layers to release gas. While relatively new to the UK, it has been used extensively in other countries including the USA. Concerns over water contamination and earth movements have prompted protests against the technique.

UK fracking operations require a petroleum exploration and development licence from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and permits from the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive. Planning permission for any associated development must also be sought from county councils or unitary authorities.

Cuadrilla's report, which proposes a detection system to monitor seismic activity, is being considered by the DECC. In the meantime, a moratorium on further work has been imposed. However, the report says the tremors were caused by an "extremely rare" combination of geological factors that is unlikely to occur at future fracking sites.

Bath and North East Somerset Council leader Paul Crossley wrote to environment secretary Caroline Spelman earlier this year calling for greater regulation of the industry. The council is concerned that any fracking in neighbouring areas could damage Bath's hot springs.

The Planning Officers Society has established a working group of councils to look into fracking and plans to liaise with DECC.

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