Since fracking began on October 15, there have been around 30 seismic events at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire, with two of them measuring above the 0.5 ‘red’ point of the traffic light system. Chances are by the time you’re reading this, the number will have grown even higher, but as we’re all glued to the British Geological Survey website waiting for the next tremor to defeat Cuadrilla, let’s not forget that the main thing we should be focussing on is climate change writes climate activist Anna Vickerstaff
The traffic light system is part of fracking regulations set up by the oil and gas authority to limit the seismic impacts of the extraction process; 0.5 is the ‘red’ point and requires operations to be halted, meaning that fracking company Cuadrilla have had to stop working twice in four days.
This is significant for many reasons, but not least because it was an earthquake in 2011 - caused by the same company - that first brought the fledgeling UK fracking industry to an abrupt and crippling halt.
These quakes have also happened before fracking has really begun. In an article this week, Cuadrilla revealed that it has so far been able to inject less than half the volume of sand needed to hold open tiny fractures in the rocks through which gas would flow. Essentially that means the company is breaching its own safety limits before it is even over the start line.
What these recent tremors show, is that with this second attempt to kick-start the industry, Cuadrilla still can’t operate under the very regulations it prides itself on. Cuadrilla has always used the narrative of ‘Gold Standard Regulations’ as an attempt to dilute opposition and so now finds itself in the rather sticky mess of trying to get them changed whilst still attempting to look credible (Cuadrilla’s request to raise the limit to 1.5 or 2 has been dismissed by the UK Government). Alongside that, having to stop operations twice in four days because of safety concerns, and before you’ve even completed a full frack, doesn’t do wonders for the company’s other USP narrative of ‘energy security’.
Stuck at stalemate
With the Government not budging, and Energy Minister, Claire Perry, having said the current regulations and safety limits are entirely appropriate for now, the Industry is at a bit of a stalemate: It can’t get the seismicity parameters changed until it reaches the commercial stage but has no hope of getting there with the regulations the way they are.
What is unravelling as yet another false start for fracking has led the mainstream media to report that these limits could be the end of the industry. But focussing on that is sort of missing the point.
Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that the strict limits of the seismic monitoring are making Cuadrilla's operations impotent, especially for people on the frontline who are resisting at the roadside every day. But celebrating this win feels a lot like buying into the idea that the correct level of regulation would legitimise the industry.
What we know, in reality, is that there are no parameters that would make fracking in the UK safe. When we've just had the IPCC report telling us we've got 12 years to stop climate breakdown, we absolutely should not be relying on a technicality around seismicity to undermine the viability of a new fossil fuel industry.
I’m not going to praise Claire Perry for not moving the limit on the traffic light system because the reality is, if she had made the right decision for the climate or local communities in the first place, then the Industry would never have gained permission to frack and the limits wouldn’t have needed to exist at all.
On October 20, 1500, people marched towards the Preston New Road site to demand action on climate change. Local impacts of fracking are hugely significant and risky - water contamination, adverse impacts on health, industrialisation of the countryside and earthquakes are all reasons to oppose the Industry - but on the day the Industry started operations, local people saw the bigger picture and acted in solidarity with communities around the world who are most affected by climate impacts.
With 70% of Venice currently underwater, summer fires in the Arctic Circle and 2018 seeing a rising Global death toll relating specifically to climate-induced heat waves, whether the seismic events caused by the Lancashire fracking site measure 0.5 or not is beside the point; 0.5, 1.5 or 2, local communities still won’t be reassured about the safety of fracking and when it comes to the bigger picture, the size of the limit makes no difference at all. The only 1.5 that really matters is the binding UN climate targets and the subsequent need for urgent action to prevent climate breakdown.
On the day fracking started in Lancashire, William Hawk, a protector from Standing Rock, sent a message to the people of Lancashire: “It’s time to make the ground shake”. He wasn’t talking about the tremors, he was urging a global movement of climate resistance.
The traffic light system has slowed the Industry down in its first weeks of work, but it is people power that has delayed fracking over the last seven years. Whatever happens now, with regard to these regulations and the operations at Preston New Road, people need to see the bigger picture, stand with vulnerable communities around the world and continue to escalate action against the fossil fuel industry.
Anna Vickerstaff is an anti-fracking activist and climate justice organiser from the UK.
Photography by Kristian Buus.
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