The hunt for shale gas in Lancashire has been brought to a halt after fracking triggered a tremor which ripped through the Government’s safety guidelines.
Fracking firm Cuadrilla has been forced stop fracking for the first time since it was allowed to restart work at its Preston New Road site less than a fortnight ago.
The temporary pause will be in place for eighteen hours after a mini-quake at the site blasted past safety limits to register 0.8 on the richter scale.
A tremor of this magnitude would be imperceptible to most but is still well above the 0.5 limit set by the Government.
Quakes higher than 0.5 are considered a “red event” on minister’s fracking safety traffic light which means frackers must down tools immediately.
Even seismic quivers below 0.5 magnitude would be considered an ‘amber’ signal to proceed with the shale fracking process carefully.
Cuadrilla said that all the relevant regulators were informed about the “micro seismic event” without delay.
In line with the rules, it will pause work for at least 18 hours but is expected to recommence its fracking in the morning.
Cuadrilla’s fracking work, which involves blasting a chemical solution into shale layers beneath the earth’s surface, has triggered numerous smaller shudders in the area since work began 11 days ago.
The ‘amber’ signal has meant the pressure used to force open the fissures in the rock surface has been gentler than standard fracking activity.
“It is reassuring that the monitoring and traffic light system is working as it should,” said the company’s spokesman.
However, in future local communities living near fracking sites may have to put up with more powerful earth tremors under Government plans revealed earlier this month.
A letter from energy minister Claire Perry suggested that the “explicitly cautious” system may soon be overhauled to allow stronger quakes measuring between 1.5 to 2 on the Richter scale to ripple through local communities without slowing shale gas drilling.
In the letter, see by Greenpeace’s investigative unit Unearthed, Ms Perry said “as we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls”.