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Fracking Paused — and Resumed — Once More After Drilling Provoked Another Earthquake

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Fracking, the controversial process used to extract oil and gas from shale rock, has returned to England — and it’s already causing tremors beneath the earth’s surface. Meanwhile, climate scientists have argued that it’s dangerous for the planet. Take action on the consequences of climate change here.

Fracking was paused again in Lancashire on Monday after another small earthquake was recorded.

The 1.1-magnitude earth tremor led to an 18-hour suspension of work — although activity resumed once more on Tuesday.

Fracking is the controversial process that extracts fossil fuels from shale rock by breaking into the ground with high pressure water. It returned to Lancashire on Oct. 15 for the first time since earthquakes were detected in Blackpool in 2011.

Take Action: Ensure All Communities Can Withstand Climate Disaster

It’s been just over two weeks since drilling began in Little Plumpton, Lancashire, and five tremors have since been detected. The first on Oct. 24 measured 0.48ML (local magnitute) on the Richter scale — known as an “amber” event by the Oil and Gas Authority, a regulation body — and although fracking companies are legally entitled to continue at this level, the Independent reports that work was paused as a precaution. Another amber tremor was recorded at 0.3ML the following day.

Read More: Top Climate Scientist Says UK Fracking Plans 'Ignore Science'

However, both were soon followed by a third and fourth quake on Oct. 26 and 27. Both measured 0.76ML and 0.8ML, according to the British Geological Survey (BGS), while the fifth — recorded at 11.30 a.m. on Monday — was the most powerful yet at 1.1ML.

The most recent three were all defined as "red" events, meaning that work must come to a temporary halt. All tremors above 0.5ML on the Richter scale must be paused by law to carry out testing — although anything under 2ML is reportedly rarely felt at the surface.

No earthquakes have been detected in Lancashire since the last time fracking ceased seven years ago. By that time, there had been two, including one that reached 2.3ML. A subsequent report found it was “highly probable” that those quakes were caused by fracking.

However, Cuadrilla — the company doing the drilling — dismissed concern about the tremors.

"As we have said many times this level is way below anything that can be felt at surface and a very long way from anything that would cause damage or harm,” said a spokesperson for the company. "In line with regulations, hydraulic fracturing has paused for 18 hours now, during which seismicity will continue to be closely monitored by ourselves and the relevant regulators.

Climate minister Claire Perry has reportedly suggested to a fellow Conservative MP that rules governing the scale of permissible earthquakes could be relaxed as the fracking industry expands, according to Unearthed, the investigative journalism arm of environmental charity Greenpeace.

“As we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls,” she reportedly wrote in a letter to pro-fracking MP Kevin Hollinrake.

The Times reports that the relaxation of rules is a position shared by Cuadrilla.

The latest pause in drilling comes after internationally renowned climate scientist James Hansen — known as the “father of climate science” — wrote a letter to Perry to warn her about the dangers of fracking.

“If the UK were to join the US by developing gas fields at this point in time it will lock in the methane problem for decades,” Hansen wrote in the letter. “The fossil fuel companies are well aware methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and yet they seem willing to continue on a path which can have disastrous consequences for our grandchildren.”

Methane is another gas that can cause the planet to increase in temperature as it builds up in earth’s atmosphere.

Fracking is already banned in Scotland and Wales, and across the UK, just 16% supported the process in 2017, according to an annual study by the Business and Energy Department.