Britain could safely raise the limit for tremors at gas hydraulic fracturing sites, two seismologists said on Jan. 22.
Fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire, northwest England was halted several times last year after seismic activity exceeded limits put in place under Britain’s traffic light regulation system.
Under the system work at fracking sites must be halted for 18 hours if seismic activity of magnitude 0.5 or above is detected.
Cuadrilla, the only company to have fracked for gas so far in Britain, has said the current seismic regulations are too stringent and could thwart the industry.
“Existing regulations are quite conservative and are set at a level that is unlikely to be felt,” Brian Baptie, head of Seismology at the British Geological Survey, said at a briefing with journalists.
He said the limit could safely be raised to magnitude 1.5 since this is a level similar to vibrations caused by a heavy bin lorry going past, and would not pose a risk to buildings or people.
“(Magnitude) 1.5 would still be a conservative level,” Ben Edwards, specialist in engineering seismology at the University of Liverpool said at the same briefing.
The seismologists warned that raising the limit could lead to higher magnitude so called trailing events, which can occur after fracking has stopped, but said these would still likely be too small to cause any damage.
The government has said there are no plans to change the traffic light system.
“If we are to take forward what could be a very valuable industry, it is only right that we do so with the toughest environmental regulations in the world,” Britain’s energy minister told parliament earlier this month.
The government, however, is keen to cut the country’s reliance on imports of natural gas, which is used to heat around 80% of Britain’s homes.
Both of the seismologists have advised Britain’s industry regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority.
Cuadrilla is 47.4% owned by Australia’s AJ Lucas, while a fund managed by Riverstone holds a 45.2% stake.