Fracking Starts Again Near Blackpool, England

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    By Partner EditorialsAug 22, 2019, 12:47 pm765 pts

    In what will be seen as a blow to opponents of fracking for shale gas, the process has this week again resumed in England, as Cuadrilla has resumed operations just outside the town of Blackpool in Lancashire. The move follows a period of inactivity, during which equipment was removed from the Preston New Road site, and questions were asked regarding whether fracking in the area was as viable as had been originally believed. The digging has always been a controversial subject within the region, having been approved by the country's national government after the local government voted overwhelmingly to reject it. Activity at the site has long been hindered by permanent protesters, and protesters have now returned to the area to hinder this latest move.

    The work now being done at the site is a second horizontal well to accompany the first, which was drilled last year. Cuadrilla currently estimates that all 45 of the planned stages of the well will have been drilled by the end of November 2019, with positive gas flow by the start of 2020. It's believed that the ground below Preston New Road is especially rich in shale gas, and as such represents the best bet for locating a reliable supply of the potential power source anywhere in the United Kingdom. If the scientists and researchers who have been employed by Cuadrilla are correct about the Bowland Shale formation, there are upwards of one thousand trillion cubic feet of gas to be extracted. That would be sufficient to realize the country's aim of being self-reliant on gas by the halfway point of the 21st century.

    fracking oil well

    Those who are opposed to the work - of which there are many - are now keeping a close eye on the seismic event' traffic light system' which caused so much controversy last time active drilling was occurring at the site. In accordance with the system - which is governed by the UK's Oil and Gas Authority - all drilling activity has to cease should any event register more than 0.5 on the Richter scale. Multiple such events occurred during 2018, with a 0.8 magnitude event causing all activity to be suspended for a prolonged period. That came off the back of a 2.2 magnitude event that occurred during 2011, while Cuadrilla was performing 'test' drills at the site. At the time it occurred, the company denied any connection between their drilling and the earthquake. Blackpool, however, has no history of earthquakes, and nor has any significant tectonic activity been recorded there during times when drilling isn't occurring.

    During the time between the completion of the first well and the construction of the second, Cuadrilla has been unsuccessfully lobbying the UK Government to increase the maximum permissible limit at which drilling must be stopped, on the basis that 0.5 is too low. Their appeals haven't been well received by the public or by politicians - prior to being given permission to drill, they were consulted on the limit and agreed that a restriction at 0.5 shouldn't pose any problems. There's also concern about what the implications of repeated minor earthquakes might be to the surrounding area.

    Proponents of fracking are quick to point out that an event of 0.5 is no more powerful than a heavy goods vehicle rolling past your home, but miss the point that with fracking, these events occur deep underground. Road surfaces were designed to deal with heavy loads and vibrations, as were houses. Rock formations below the surface were not. Campaigners have raised concerns about the potential impact on pipes, groundwater, and even the structural integrity of buildings if the limits were to be raised. Blackpool and the surrounding area has been noted to have a history of subsidence and slip - the land there doesn't need much encouragement to start giving way.

    Although it might be the case that four or five small earthquakes or seismic events might have little to no effect, nobody can confidently say what the cumulative effect of dozens of tiny quakes might be. Like playing mobile slots on, the first few times you pay in your money and spin the reels, nothing is likely to happen. After a few spins, you might win something - even though the way you play the mobile slots game hasn't changed - because the slot has reached its statistical probability limit. With mining-themed mobile slots like Bonanza and Diamond Mine, that's a good thing, because you'll receive money. With a real working mine, that's a bad thing. More worryingly, it may be impossible to detect a disastrous series of events beginning underground until it's already too late to stop them.

    oil rig ocean

    The protesters in Preston New Road are far from alone in their concerns about the long-term risks and benefits of fracking. Although it's currently permitted in America - where political interest in unsustainable fossil fuels is at its highest in years - it's banned in several developed nations around the world. After permitting it for several years, Australia banned fracking in 2016. Canada, which was an early adopter of hydraulic fracturing, began banning it province by province after a dispute in 2013. France, which is a world leader in reducing dependency on fossil fuels, announced a complete ban on fracking in 2011. Bulgaria followed suit in 2012, and Ireland shortly after that. The Netherlands followed suit in 2013. All of them cited the same concerns - lack of knowledge about the long term effects, and potential issues with the quality of drinking water in areas where fracking has been carried out.

    Despite the well-founded concerns of several developed nations, and the constant opposition of protesters at the site, it would seem that Cuadrilla is now bedded into the site for the rest of the year, and will be able to continue with their exploratory wells unhindered. It's therefore reasonable to suspect that the seaside town of Blackpool will soon begin experiencing small earthquakes once more, and the pattern we've seen for much of the last few years will repeat. In the meantime, a High Court ruling that the government's decision to approve fracking was unlawful is headed to the Court of Appeal. It's to be hoped that they uphold that decision before permanent damage is done to the land and people of Blackpool by Cuadrilla's unwanted drills.

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