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Fracking recommended, despite quakes

A controversial gas extraction method should continue under strict conditions, a Government-appointed panel of experts has recommended. Yet opponents highlight possible side effects of the practice, including water contamination and earthquakes.

Fracking involves pumping water and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas, a form of relatively cheap energy supplies. Test fracking by the Cuadrilla company near Blackpool stopped in 2011 when two earthquakes were felt at the surface.

Professor Peter Styles fromKeeleUniversity, a member of the panel, said: “[Cuadrilla’s experts] said there was a very low probability of other earthquakes during future treatments of other wells.

“We agree that [last year’s] events are attributable to the existence of an adjacent geological fault that had not been identified. There might be other comparable faults, (and) we believe it’s not possible to categorically reject the possibility of further quakes.

“There’s no record of a quake at this size doing any structural damage. But they would be strongly felt, and there is a possibility of superficial damage.”

The panel recommends four key precautions for future fracking; all injections must include a preliminary injection followed by monitoring, as well as monitoring growth of fractures in the shale and seismic events in real time. Additionally, a ‘traffic light’ regime should be followed, with quakes of a magnitude of 0.5 or above triggering a red light and immediate halt.

The panel’s report is now out for a six-week period of consultation.

David MacKay, DECC’s chief scientific adviser said: “If shale gas is to be part of the UK’s energy mix we need to have a good understanding of its potential environmental impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts.

“This comprehensive independent expert review of Cuadrilla’s evidence suggests a set of robust measures to make sure future seismic risks are minimised - not just at this location but at any other potential sites across theUK.”

However, Andy Atkins, director of Friends of the Earth UK, said: “We don’t need earth tremor-causing fracking to meet our power needs – we need a seismic shift in energy policy.”

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