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UK Earthquakes Lead Company to Suspend Fracking Operations

June 2, 2011

Earthquakes are one of the many giant red flags signaling caution against fracking for natural gas from shale and other deep gas-bearing geological layers.   In the UK on Wednesday, June 1st,  a drilling company suspended fracking operations after indications that gas exploration had set off two small earthquakes, one on April 1st and one May 27th, at about 2.3 on the Richter scale — barely perceptible to humans.

The epicentres of the 1 April earthquake and of the 27 May earthquake along the Fylde coast in the UK.

Reporter David Jolly did a good job reporting the sequence of events in the June 1 New York Times:  “UK Company Suspends Controversial Drilling Procedure.”

The UK appears to act more quickly to protect public safety than the U.S.  In Arkansas, authorities suspended deep re-injection wells used to dispose of hydrofracking waste only after hundreds of earthquakes rattled residents’ homes near Guy, Arkansas, followed by a large 4.7 quake.  The 4.7 quake, in late February 2011, was the largest to hit the area in 35 years.  The ban remains in effect while geologists study the situation.  In contrast, the UK suspended operations after only two earthquakes, measured at 1.25 miles deep, which rattled no homes.

New York Times excerpts:  “A British company said Wednesday that it would temporarily halt the use of a controversial gas exploration technology after indications that it might have set off two small earthquakes near a test well in Lancashire, England.

The company, Cuadrilla Resources, which is exploring for gas in shale formations deep underground, said it would postpone hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations at the Preese Hall site near Weeton.”

The article goes on to mention that hydraulic fracturing has its critics in the United States:  “It has been criticized because the fracking chemicals are believed to have the potential to contaminate groundwater.”  This is accurate, but understated.  Unconventional gas drilling has caused hundreds of methane contamination incidents, often at explosive levels; and the U.S. EPA has confirmed cancer-causing benzene, toluene, and 2-butoxyethanol in groundwater due to gas drilling in Texas and Wyoming, where investigations are underway.

But critics are concerned about multiple acute and cumulative impacts from all phases of unconventional gas drilling, not just the secret fracking chemicals.  Actual impacts include severe air pollution, massive greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, erosion, intensive industrialization, destruction of aquatic life and wildlife, de-watering (consumptive water use), and human health harms from arsenic, barium, and radium which return to the surface in “flowback” waste for which no adequate treatment exists.

Drilling by Cuadrilla near Blackpool, Lancashire, has been suspended following an earthquake last week. .

The New York Times also reported debate is now underway in the French Senate after France’s lower house of Parliament passed a bill to ban fracking:

“Cuadrilla’s announcement came as the French Senate on Wednesday began a debate on a proposed fracking ban.

The lower house of Parliament on May 11 passed its own bill, which would prohibit fracking in the exploration and recovery of oil and gas, and would revoke existing exploration contracts that relied on the procedure. The Senate, though, is considering a measure that would leave open the door to fracking for research.”

Read the complete New York Times story on UK earthquakes here.

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