Academics study whether fracking causes earthquakes

Experts from Newcastle University have been looking at earthquakes caused by human activity in the UK, ahead of any future planning decisions around fracking.

A study by the academics, which has been published in the academic journal Marine and Petroleum Geology – reveals that since 1999, an average of at least three onshore earthquakes a year with local magnitude greater than or equal to 1.5 were as a result of human activity.

The research was carried out by ReFINE (Researching Fracking in Europe), an independent research consortium focusing on the issue of shale gas and oil exploitation using fracking methods.

The first human-induced earthquake in the UK probably occurred in 1755 due to the collapse of lead mines in Derbyshire.

According to data collected by the British Geological Survey between 1970 and 2012 shows there have been approximately 8,000 onshore recorded seismic events in the UK with a range of origins including mining, deep geothermal energy and industrial explosions.

"Earthquakes triggered or induced by humans are not a new concept for us here in the UK, but earthquakes related to fracking are,” said Research lead Professor Richard Davies.

"Understanding what the current situation is and setting a national baseline is imperative, otherwise how can we say with any confidence in the future what the impact of fracking has been nationwide?

"What this research shows is that in recent years, an average of at least three earthquakes a year, with local magnitudes greater than or equal to 1.5, are as a result of human activity. If widespread exploitation of the UK's shale reservoirs is granted and numbers consistently rise then, in conjunction with local monitoring data, we should be able to confidently demonstrate a causal link,” added Professor Davies.

Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, specializing in local government, transport and energy issues