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Fracking suspended at Cuadrilla UK site

Regulators call a halt to activity at Preston New Road site, with investigation to take place after seismic activity breaches threshold

Industry regulators have suspended fracking operations at a site operated by shale explorer Cuadrilla Resources pending an investigation after induced seismic activity was recorded that significantly exceeded the set threshold, prompting opposition politicians to issue a fresh call for a complete ban on the practice.

Cuadrilla resumed hydraulic fracturing operations in the middle of last week at its Preston New Road site in northern England, and since then the activity has triggered several tremors above the regulatory threshold of 0.5 magnitude on the Richter scale.

The first tremor, on 21 August, caused a 1.6 magnitude tremor. Tremors above 1 magnitude also took place on 22 and 23 August, followed by an even bigger tremor of 2.1 magnitude late on 24 August.

Then on 26 August, when fracking was not taking place, a 2.9 magnitude tremor hit, followed a smaller 1 magnitude seismic event on the same day.

If the threshold is crossed, operations must stop for 18 hours, however, work was immediately suspended, according to the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) and the UK’s Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

“Operations will remain suspended while the OGA gathers data from this and other recent seismic events and then considers carefully whether or not the hydraulic fracturing operations, mitigations and assumptions set out in the operator’s hydraulic fracture plan continue to be appropriate to manage the risk of induced seismicity at the Preston New Road site,” the OGA said.

A BEIS spokesperson added: “Hydraulic fracturing at Preston New Road has been suspended with immediate effect as regulators carry out comprehensive safety checks to investigate what led to (Monday’s) seismic event.”

The British Geological Survey (BGS) said to date, this was the highest recorded event at the Preston New Road site since operations began in October 2018.

“This was a trailing event induced by the hydraulic fracturing at Preston New Road,” it said.

However, the BGS expects several hundred natural seismic events with a magnitude of 1 magnitude or above each year — regardless of fracking, noting that anything below a 2 magnitude is “unlikely to be felt at the surface”.

Nevertheless, reports from locals in Lancashire claimed the seismic event of 2.9 magnitude was indeed felt.

Attendance at protests at the Preston New Road site has increased since the new tremors, and Labour politicians have written to BEIS demanding a ban on fracking.

A letter by shadow BEIS secretary Rebecca Long Bailey MP and shadow climate minister Danielle Rowley, both members of the opposition Labour Party, urged the government to swiftly introduce legislation to that effect.

Gordon Marsden, local MP for Blackpool South, said on social media he will “demand not just a temporary pause to fracking but a permanent one” after claiming Cuadrilla “proved drilling can’t be done safely or without tremor” affecting locals.

BEIS had yet to respond to the letter by press time. However, it said UK regulations “are the result of decades of UK expertise in oil and gas exploration, ensuring fracking for shale gas is conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible way”.

Meanwhile, Cuadrilla said it has verified that the well integrity is unaffected.

“We appreciate this this has caused concern for local people and by way of reassurance it is worth noting that this event lasted for around a second. This is about a third of that permitted for construction projects," Cuadrilla said.

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