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Fracking in the United Kingdom

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Fracking in the United Kingdom started in the late 1970s with fracturing of the conventional oil and gas fields near the North Sea. It was used in about 200 British onshore oil and gas wells from the early 1980s.[1] The technique attracted attention after licences use were awarded for onshore shale gas exploration in 2008.[2][3] The topic received considerable public debate on environmental grounds,[4] with a 2019 high court ruling ultimately banning the process.[5] The two remaining high-volume fracturing wells were supposed to be plugged and decommissioned in 2022.[6]

Although fracking is often used synonymously to refer to shale gas and other unconventional oil and gas sources, it is not always correct to associate it with unconventional gas.[7]


Oil well in Lincolnshire. Around 200 onshore wells such as this have been hydraulically fractured.

The first experimental use of hydraulic fracturing in the world was in 1947, and the first commercially successful applications of hydraulic fracturing were in 1949 in the United States.[8] There has been significant fracking in the US, where it has allowed electricity to be produced using gas rather than coal, halving the associated CO2 emissions.[9]


In the United Kingdom, the first hydraulic fracturing of an oil well was carried out shortly after discovery of the West Sole field in the North Sea in 1965. After the industry started to use intermediate and high-strength proppants in the late 1970s, hydraulic fracturing became a common technique in the North Sea oil and gas wells. The first hydraulic fracturing from ship was conducted in the British Southern North Sea in 1980, with massive or high volume hydraulic fracturing used from 1984 onwards.[10]


An estimated 200 conventional onshore wells have been subject to low volume hydraulic fracturing; around 10% of all onshore wells in the United Kingdom,[1] including Wytch Farm, which is the largest onshore conventional oil field in western Europe.[11] From 1977 until 1994, a hot dry rock geothermal energy experiment was conducted in the Carnmenellis granite of Cornwall. During that experiment, three geothermal wells with depth of 2.6 kilometres (1.6 mi) were hydraulically fractured "to research the hydraulic stimulation of fracture networks at temperatures below 100 °C (212 °F)".[12]

The surge of public interest in high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the UK can be traced to 2008, when Cuadrilla Resources was granted a petroleum exploration and development licence in the 13th onshore licensing round for unconventional shale gas exploration along the coast of Lancashire.[13][3] The company's first and only high-volume hydraulic fracturing job[14]: 4  was performed in March 2011, near Blackpool, Lancashire.[15][16] Cuadrilla halted operations in May 2011 at their Lancashire drilling site due to seismic activity damaging the casing in the production zone.[17] On 2 November 2019, the UK government imposed a moratorium on fracking in England.[18] Scotland[19] and Wales[20] have moratoria in place against hydraulic fracturing.

In late May 2011, the first UK exploration for shale gas using high-volume hydraulic fracturing was suspended at Preese Hall at Weeton in Lancashire after the process triggered two minor earthquakes.[21] The larger of the earthquakes caused minor deformation of the wellbore[22] and was strong enough to be felt.[23] The report of 2012 by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering concluded that earthquake risk was minimal, and recommended the process be given nationwide clearance, although it highlighted certain concerns[1] which led to changes in regulations.[24]

In January 2014, the European Commission issued a set of recommendations on the minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons from shale formations using high-volume hydraulic fracturing.[25]

A 2016 government report on the UK shale gas sector was finally made available in 2019 after a three year legal battle to make it public, but with three-quarters of its pages blacked out. The unredacted paragraphs said that the government was "undertaking crucial work on communications to increase public acceptability of shale."[26] In March 2019, the High Court found the UK government's policy was unlawful and failed to consider the climate impact of shale gas extraction.[5]

In November 2019 the government announced "an indefinite suspension" to fracking, after a report by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) said it was not possible to predict the probability or size of tremors caused by the practice. Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said that the suspension might be temporary - imposed "until and unless" extraction is proved safe.[27] As of February 2022, the two Cuadrilla wells in Lancashire, which had been out of operation since the ban, were supposed to finally be plugged and decommissioned.[6] By mid March and 4 weeks into the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine the CEO of Cuadrilla asked the government to keep the wells open for energy security.[28]


Hydraulic fracturing is a well-stimulation technique in which rock is fractured by a hydraulically pressurized fluid. This process is also known as 'fracking'. Hydraulic fracturing requires a borehole to be drilled to target depth in the reservoir. For oil and gas production, hydraulically fractured wells can be horizontal or vertical, while the reservoir can be conventional or unconventional. After the well has been drilled, lined, and geophysically logged, the rock can be hydraulically fractured.[29]


There are six stages in hydraulic fracturing: Perforation; Isolation: Stimulation; Flushing; Multi-stage perforation, and; Flowback.[29]


In shale plays, the cased well is perforated using "shaped charges (explosives)", which are detonated at selected locations in the production zone. In addition to making perforations in the casing, these detonations also create "finger-like fractures" "up to 2.5 cm in diameter" that "extend up to 60 cm into the formation".[29] In the United Kingdom, geothermal wells normally use barefoot completions, rather than "perforated and cemented completions" within a cased production zone.[30]


Each perforated section is isolated using a packer (seal)[29]


For both low and high volume hydraulic fracturing stimulation of a hydrocarbon well, a high-pressure fluid (usually water) containing chemical additives and a proppant is injected into a wellbore to create an extensive system of small cracks in the deep-rock formations. These cracks provide the pathway for: natural gas, (including shale gas, tight gas and coalbed methane); petroleum, (including shale or tight oil); to flow more freely. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, the small grains of hydraulic fracturing proppant[31] hold the fractures open when the pressure is released.[29]

When a hydrocarbon well is hydraulically fractured, this is done through a production packer (seal), through the drill pipe or tubing. Fluids are circulated down the tubing, to below the point where the packer is sealed against the production casing. Pressure is then applied to only that part of the casing below the packer.[32] The rest of the well casing will not experience any increase in pressure due to the sealing of the packer. The surface casings do not experience the great pressures experienced at the production zone. This means the stresses on a surface casing are no greater than on a normal oil or gas well. Smaller diameter pipes can sustain much larger pressures than large diameter pipes.[citation needed]

In HDR geothermal hydraulic fracturing stimulation, proppants are not added to hydraulic fracturing fluid, as the rough-surfaced shear fractures stay open through self-propping.[12]

Multi-stage perforation[edit]

In horizontally drilled sections, it is common to perform as many as 30 separate fracture stages, to evenly divide the production zone. In multi-stage fracturing, segments of a horizontal well, starting at the end furthest from the well head, are split into isolated segments and fractured separately.

Flowback fluid[edit]

Flowback fluid contains high levels of salt and is contaminated with organic "solids, heavy metals, fracking chemicals and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) of varying concentration and low levels of radioactive materials".[33] The Environment Agency strategy for management of NORM-contaminated flowback fluid, after treatment, includes its preferred re-use by re-injection during hydraulic fracturing[34] and its disposal, with caveats, via water treatment sites.[35]

Flowback fluid can be treated and reused in later hydraulic fracturing operations,[34] to reduce the volume of freshwater required and to mitigate issues arising from off-site disposal of flowback fluid.[36] Flowback fluid injection in deep disposal wells, which has been linked to significant increase in earthquake rate,[37] is not currently permitted in the UK by the Environment Agency.[34]

Research by Engelder et alia in 2012, indicated that any water injected into a shale formation that does not flow back to the surface, known as "residual treatment water", would be permanently absorbed, (sequestered) into the shale.[38]

In January 2014, "applications for permits to frack" were withdrawn by Cuadrilla after arrangements for treatment and disposal of NORM-contaminated flowback fluid were considered inadequate by the Environment Agency.[39] Technologies are developing methods of removing salt and radioactive materials, allowing safe disposal of flowback fluid under Environment Agency licence.[40] Research in the US also indicates new methods such as "microbial capacitive desalination cells" may become available.[41]

Fracture fluids[edit]

Chemical additives, typically around 1 per cent of the total fluid volume, are added to water to reduce water viscosity and modify fluid properties.[42] The fracturing fluid used at the No 1 well, at Preese Hall in Weeton, Lancashire,was "99.95% water and sand".[43] The chemical additives (0.05 per cent) were:

  • Polyacrylamide emulsion in hydrocarbon oil (0.043 per cent), which reduces the viscosity of the water to allow faster pumping. It is classed as a "non-hazardous pollutant"[44]
  • Sodium salt, for tracing fracturing fluid (0.000005 per cent)[45]

Proppants may comprise up to 10 per cent of hydraulic fracturing fluid volume.[42] The proppants used at Preese Hall 1 were silica sand:

  • Congleton Sand (0.473 per cent)
  • Chelford Sand (1.550 per cent)[46]

Additional chemical additives that were permitted at Preese Hall 1, but not used, were highly dilute hydrochloric acid and glutaraldehyde, which is used as a biocide in very small quantities, to sterilise the water.[47] Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation is another replacement available for water sterilisation.[citation needed] Although some of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids such as hydrochloric acid may be classified as toxic, corrosive or irritant,[48] they are non-toxic at lower concentrations.[citation needed]

Waterless fracturing fluid systems[edit]

Other fracturing fluid systems[49] such as gels, foams and compressed gases, including nitrogen,[50] carbon dioxide and air, can be injected in place of water. Waterless fracturing fluids that use propane-based LPG[51] have the potential to reduce wastewater toxicity.[1]: 20  There is sometimes a need to hydraulically fracture coalbed methane and these[clarification needed] methods can be used.[52]

Fracture monitoring[edit]

The hydraulic fracturing process creates a large number of microseismic events, which require monitoring.[29] A 2012 research paper from ReFINE concludes that the maximum recorded fracture height in US shale plays is 588 metres.[53]

Microseismic monitoring[edit]

Microseismic monitoring techniques, using very sensitive microphones and tilt meters can monitor the growth of fractures in the target formation in real time. This can be done using a surface array, or, if there is a nearby offset well, using downhole microphones. This means that the engineers can modify the pump rate based upon the growth of the fractures, and stop pumping if there is evidence of vertical migration into faults. This technology is available from many big oilfield service companies.[54]

Areas of use[edit]

Only high volume hydraulic fracturing[55] combined with horizontal drilling is likely to enable commercial extraction of unconventional hydrocarbon resources, such as shale gas and light tight oil, in the United Kingdom.[1][56][57] The areas where hydraulic fracturing are expected to be used are the Upper Bowland Shale of the Pennine Basin in Lancashire and Yorkshire,[57] and the Jurassic oil-bearing shales of the Weald Basin in Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent.[58]

The national parks with geologies of possible interest are the North York Moors (shales), the Peak District (shales and coals), the South Downs (shale oil) and to the south of the Yorkshire Dales (shales and coals).[59]

The Eden Project in Cornwall is in the process of drilling and hydraulically fracturing two geothermal wells for utilisation of geothermal energy as a source for a geothermal power station.[60]


Several government agencies, departments and one government company are involved in the regulation of hydraulic fracturing in the United Kingdom: the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA),[61][62] the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the local council planning authority including the Minerals Planning Authority (MPA), the Health and Safety Executive and one of four Environment Agencies[63]: 2  These environmental agencies are: the Environment Agency for England; National Resources for Wales;[64] the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)[65] for Scotland, and; the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)[66] for Northern Ireland.

Regulation of hydraulic fracturing[edit]

Before onshore hydraulic fracturing can begin, an operator will have obtained a landward licence, known as a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL), from the OGA.[67]

A series of steps are then taken to obtain permissions from the landowner and council planning authorities.[68] The operator then requests a permit from the Minerals Planning Authority (MPA), who together with the local planning authority, determine if an environmental impact assessment (EIA), funded by the operator, is required.[63]

Up to six permits, constituting the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR) 2010,[69] two permits "under the Water Resources Act 1991" and one permit "under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015" are obtained from the appropriate environmental agency, to ensure that onshore hydraulic fracturing operators fulfil strict environmental regulations.[63]: 5 

The role of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to focus on the design and integrity of the well,[70] using an independent expert known as the 'well examiner'.[71] The EA and HSE together will "inspect the next series of hydraulic fracturing operations in England and Wales."[72]

A hydraulic fracture plan (HFP) is required for both conventional hydraulic fracture well stimulation and unconventional high volume hydraulic well stimulation. The HFP is agreed with OGA in consultation with the EA and HSE.[73] Hydraulic fracturing consent (HFC) is granted following an application to BEIS, to be reviewed by the Secretary of State,[74] and; comply with requirements to mitigate any seismic risks.[73]

In October 2022, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reinstated England's fracking ban moratorium after it was briefly lifted by his predecessor Liz Truss.[75]

Permitted chemicals[edit]

The UK's four environment agencies do not permit chemical additives for hydraulic fracturing fluids that are classed as hazardous to groundwater, as defined by Schedule 22 of Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 (EPR 2010),[76] Schedule 5 of the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012,[77] and the EU Groundwater Directive (80/68/EEC).[78] The environmental regulator will assess every chemical before it is added to the hydraulic fracturing fluid.[68] The nature of each chemical, but not the concentration, must be made available to the public.[24]

The Joint Agencies Groundwater Directive Advisory Group (JAGDAG) maintains a list of substances that have been assessed as being hazardous substances or non-hazardous pollutants for the groundwater directive. Input of hazardous substances "on the basis of their toxicity, persistence and capacity to bio-accumulate" is not permitted into potable or unpotable groundwater.[79] Substances which are not hazardous are potentially non-hazardous pollutants.[80]

At the Balcombe site, the Environment Agency permitted one requested chemical oxirane, while not permitting the use of antimony trioxide, which "would be hazardous if it came into contact with groundwater".[81]


In March 2014, a group of conservation charities including the RSPB and the National Trust released a report containing a 10-point plan for increased regulation, highlighting their concerns about hydraulic fracturing with respect to groundwater pollution, public water supply, wastewater management and treatment both generally and within ecologically sensitive areas including National Parks.[82] UKOOG, the representative body for the UK onshore oil and gas industry, pointed to "a number of critical inaccuracies" and stated that: "many of the recommendations are already in place in the UK or are in the process of being put in place" and welcomed future dialogue with conservation agencies.[83]

In July 2014, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) and Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) published a report about hydraulic fracturing that was broadly negative. It referred to major shortcomings in regulatory oversight regarding local environmental and public health risks, the potential for undermining efforts to tackle climate change, and the possibility that the process might cause water shortages.[84] The report received a negative review from an academic based upon the lead author being a Green Party candidate, and hydraulic fracturing protester, and the alleged selective nature of some[clarification needed] of the data used.[85]

In March 2015, the shale company funded Task Force on Shale Gas criticised "current regulation" as "complex and relatively unapproachable", and responsible for the public's lack of confidence. The Task Force on Shale Gas recommended that the regulatory requirement for an operator-funded independent well examiner[86] to be passed to a single, new government regulator, who would also "independently monitor fracking sites". UKOOG, the industry's trade and advocacy group, said: "public confidence in the industry is vital". The government responded: "Both the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency have full authority and responsibility to monitor all shale sites - independent of the industry,"[87]

In June 2015, the UK regulations for hydraulic fracturing were criticised by the chemicals policy charity, CHEM Trust,[88] stating they were not sufficiently protective, and raising concerns about the reductions in funding for the regulators of fracking, like the Environment Agency.[89] UKOOG, responded to the CHEM Trust analysis, criticised the timing of the report: "The timing of this report is clearly designed to influence local councillors" and stated that "The report includes a number of recommendations that are already part of industry common practice or regulation in the UK."[90] and CHEM Trust[91] responded.[92]


Community and public engagement[edit]

Community and public engagement is a legal requirement[93] of the EU Directive 2003/35/EC.[94]

In June 2013, the industry body UKOOG issued their Shale Community Engagement Charter.[95] The shale gas industry has agreed to two types of community benefit for communities hosting shale gas development, including: a one-off payment of £100,000 per site, after hydraulic fracturing had taken place, and; a 1% share of production revenues; yearly operator commitment publications.[68]

In 2014, the government announced its intent to create of a Shale Wealth Fund.[96] The fund was originally intended to be controlled by "community trusts or councils". A consultation period solicited views from stakeholders, "individuals, organisations, such as charities; businesses; local authorities, and; community groups"; ran between August and October 2016.[97]

In March 2016, Stephenson Halliday for the Planning Advisory Service noted that the UKOOG local community benefits scheme "fails all three of the tests" in Regulation 122(2) of the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010.[98] In 2016, the chemical company INEOS committed to a "share 6% of revenues. 4% of this would go to homeowners and landowners in the immediate vicinity of a well, and a further 2% to the wider community." In terms of total revenue, Ineos have estimated that "a typical 10 km by 10 km development area would generate £375m for the community over its lifespan".[99]

Infrastructure Act 2015 Sections 43 and 50[edit]

The Infrastructure Act 2015 legislated onshore access for onshore and offshore extraction of shale/tight oil, shale gas[100] and deep geothermal energy.[101] Section 50 of the act defined the hydraulic fracturing of "shale strata", also known as "high-volume hydraulic fracturing" as "more than 1000m3 of fluid per stage, and; more than 10,000m3 in total" and attached conditions that mean no hydraulic fracturing can take place at a depth shallower than 1000m in unprotected areas.

In order for the Secretary of State to give consent to hydraulic fracturing, legislation includes a range of conditions that operators must comply with, such as: "environmental impacts of development", including soil and air monitoring; 12 months of groundwater methane level monitoring prior to "associated" (high-volume) hydraulic fracturing; no associated hydraulic fracturing "within protected groundwater source areas";[102]

Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2016[edit]

"The Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2016" prohibited "hydraulic fracturing in protected areas" - i.e. National Parks of England and Wales, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, and UNESCO World Heritage sites - at depths of less than 1200m.[103]

Environmental impact[edit]

The environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing in conventional and unconventional wells: ground water contamination, surface water contamination, releases to air, water resource depletion, traffic, land take, noise, visual impact and seismicity.

Environmental impact assessments cover a wide range of concerns, including habitat damage, effect on wildlife, traffic, noise, lighting, and air pollution. This reference shows one example.[104] These are presented in less detail in a ' Non Technical Summary'.[105]

According to Professor Mair of the Royal Society, the causation of earthquakes with any significant impact or fractures reaching and contaminating drinking water, were very low risk" if adequate regulations are in place.[1]

A report from AMEC[106] in December 2013 covers many of the environmental issues that would arise were the shale gas industry to become highly developed.

The British Geological Survey are involved with environmental monitoring.[107]

In October 2014, EASAC stated that: "Overall, in Europe more than 1000 horizontal wells and several thousand hydraulic fracturing jobs have been executed in recent decades. None of these operations are known to have resulted in safety or environmental problems".[108]

In October 2016, Amec Foster Wheeler Infrastructure Ltd (AFWI) compared the environmental impacts and risks of unconventional high volume hydraulic fracturing with conventional low volume hydraulic fracturing. The study found that volume of fluid injected and flowback were the only significant differences between conventional low volume and unconventional high volume hydraulic fracturing and that the impacts and risks for high volume hydraulic fracturing scaled up for land take, traffic, surface water contamination and water resource depletion.[109]


In February 2016, a study by the ReFINE consortium funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Shell, Chevron, Ineos and Centrica, found "substantial increases over the baseline""in local air quality pollutants", during the short-duration high-traffic phase which includes the delivery of hydraulic fracturing equipment, proppant, water, as well as the removal of flowback from the site. According to ReFiNE, these short-duration increases have the potential to breach local air quality standards.[110] The industry group UKOOG criticised the ReFiNE study for failing to take into account that water for hydraulic fracturing fluid might be brought in by pipeline, instead of being transported by truck.[111]

In October 2016, Amec Foster Wheeler Infrastructure Ltd stated that the overall environmental impacts from low volume hydraulic fracturing to local air quality and global warming are low. Local air quality is impacted by dust and SO2 and NOx emissions "from equipment and vehicles used to transport, pressurise and injection fracturing fluids, and process flowback", while "Emissions of CO2 from the equipment used to pressurise and injection fracturing fluids, and process flowback." contributes to global warming.[109]: 161 


The RAE report stated, "Many claims of contaminated water wells due to shale gas extraction have been made. None has shown evidence of chemicals found in hydraulic fracturing fluids".[1] The Environment Agency definitions of groundwater and aquifer are here.[112]

In January 2015, the British Geological Survey released national baseline methane levels, which showed a wide range of readings[113] Poor surface well sealing, which allows methane to leak, methane was identified in the Royal Academy of Engineering report as a risk to groundwater.[114] This was incorporated into the Infrastructure Act 2015 with a requirement that monitoring takes place 12 months before fracturing.[115]

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) have been involved with evaluating the potential water impacts of hydraulic fracturing.[116][clarification needed]

Groundwater contamination[edit]

Both low and high volume hydraulic fracturing "involve storing and injecting large quantities of chemicals". Any surface spill therefore has "the potential to penetrate groundwater". The likelihood of low volume and high volume hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater by surface spills of stored chemicals is rare, however the risk and consequences are moderate.[117] To mitigate the risk, the Environment Agency requires chemical and fluid proof well pads.[63] The 2012 joint Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report indicated that the distances between potable water supplies and fractured formation in various US shale plays is large, meaning the risk of contamination is very small. No cases of pollution by this route have been identified.[118]

Another 2013 paper from ReFine indicated the potential for surface gas leaks from abandoned wells[119]

UK and US water differences[edit]

Treated mains water is the norm in the UK, and standards are required by legislation to be high. As such any pollution would have to be removed by the water companies by law. Private water wells are rare, around 62,000 households, out of 23.4 million households or 2.6%.[120] In rural areas of the US, private wells are common (15%), and small communities are served by investor-owned utilities, or community schemes. UK households would therefore be expected to be less at risk than those in the US.[original research?]

In the US, baseline methane measurements were not made at the start of the shale gas boom, meaning that it became difficult to prove whether a gas problem was due to a leaking well, or was naturally occurring.[citation needed]

Water use[edit]

Water use is regulated by the EA (England), the SEPA (Scotland), the NIEA (Northern Ireland) and NRW (Wales) to ensure environmental needs are not compromised.[121] Water companies assess how much water is available, before providing it to operators.[citation needed] The amount of water abstracted nationally is at around 9.4 billion cubic metres.[122] In 2015, the EA indicated that water usage at a peak level[clarification needed] would be 0.1% of national use and hydraulic fracturing may use up to "30 million litres per well".[123] Drier areas, such as south-east England,[124] are concerned about the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water supplies.[125]


As of August 2016, there have been two cases in the United Kingdom of fault reactivation by hydraulic fracturing that caused induced seismicity strong enough to be felt by humans at the surface: both in Lancashire (M 2.3 and M 1.5).[126]

In December 2015, the Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems (CeREES) at Durham University published the first research of its kind, prior to "planned shale gas and oil exploitation", in order to establish a baseline for anthropogenic, induced seismic events in the UK.[127]

In October 2018, more earthquakes were recorded in Lancashire including two tremors of 0.8 magnitude which called the Energy firm Cuadrilla to call a temporary halt on the drilling operations.[128][129]

Preese Hall, Lancashire[edit]

In May 2011, the government suspended Cuadrilla's[106][130][131] hydraulic fracturing operations in their Preese Hall 1 well in Lancashire, after two small earthquakes were triggered, one of magnitude M 2.3.[132] The largest coseismic slip caused minor deformation of the wellbore[22] and was strong enough to be felt.[23]

The company's temporary halt was pending DECC guidance on the conclusions of a study[133] being carried out by the British Geological Survey and Keele University,[130] which concluded in April 2012 that the process posed a seismic risk minimal enough to allow it to proceed with stricter monitoring.[134] Cuadrilla pointed out that a number of such small-magnitude earthquakes occur naturally each month in Britain.[135]

Cuadrilla commissioned an investigation into the seismic activity, which concluded that the tremors were probably caused by the lubrication of an existing fault plane by the unintended spread of hydraulic fracturing fluid below ground.[136][137][138]

In 2012, a report on hydraulic fracturing produced jointly by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering noted that earthquakes of magnitude M 3.0, which are more intense than the larger of the two quakes caused by Cuadrilla are: "Felt by few people at rest or in the upper floors of buildings; similar to the passing of a truck."[1] The British Geological Survey has published information on seismic issues relating to hydraulic fracturing.[139]

In February 2014, following the small seismic event in the Preese Hall 1 well, and much research, the DECC issued a statement on earthquake risk.[21]


There is no documented evidence of hydraulic fracturing leading to subsidence.[21] Operations are commonly monitored with tiltmeters, and no compaction issues have been documented. Given the mechanical properties of unconventional rocks (their densities, low porosities, low Biot coefficients, and high stiffness), compaction is very unlikely to occur during hydrocarbon extraction.[140]: 18 


In an answer to questions from the 'Lets talk about Shale'[141] initiative, run by Westbourne Communications[142] for the industry body, UKOOG, they have stated "According to the Association of British Insurers there is, at present, little evidence of a link between shale gas and property damage, and they are not aware of any claims where seismic activity as a result of fracking has been cited as a cause of damage. Damage as a result of earthquakes, subsidence, heave and landslip are all covered, in general, under buildings insurance. Insurers will continue to monitor the situation for the potential for fracking, or similar explorations, to cause damage."[143]

It was reported in early 2015 that farms would not be covered by issues that may arise due to hydraulic fracturing. A clarification by the insurer indicated that this would only apply to a farmer that permitted this on their land. Surrounding farms would be covered.[144]

In March 2017, the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) released a report by the CII Claims Faculty New Generation Group, which explored the Insurance implications of fracking.[145] The authors examined the "key perils associated with fracking such as earthquakes, explosions and fire, pollution, injury and death", and found that while "most insurances policies" provided "cover for these risks", "fracking will pose additional complications around liability". The authors also considered that if widespread fracking were to lead to increased claims, "then insurers may have to consider how they underwrite this emerging higher-risk group". The authors recommended: working together within the insurance profession "to monitor and discuss the issues" while remaining "open and transparent about the risks of fracking", and; working with the "energy industry and the government" "to reduce the likelihood of potential risks occurring". The CII emphasised that "insurers need to be prepared for claims in the event of a fracking-related loss and consider policy wordings with increased fracking in mind".[146]

Public health[edit]

If the Minerals Planning Authority determine that public health will be significantly impacted, the Director of Public health is consulted so that a "health impact assessment" can be prepared. The Environment Agency then uses the health impact assessment when considering the "potential health effects" during their "permit determination"[63]: 9 

In 2014, Public Health England reviewed the "available evidence on issues including air quality, radon gas, naturally occurring radioactive materials, water contamination and waste water. They concluded that the risks to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction are low if operations are properly run and regulated."[68] Public Health England's Dr John Harrison, Director for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, stated that: "Where potential risks have been identified in other countries, the reported problems are typically due to operational failure. Good on-site management and appropriate regulation of all aspects of exploratory drilling, gas capture as well as the use and storage of hydraulic fracturing fluid is essential to minimise the risks to the environment and health."[147]

In 2015 the health charity Medact published a paper written by two public health specialists called 'Health & Fracking - The impacts and opportunity costs', which reviewed health impacts of hydraulic fracturing and suggested a moratorium until a more detailed health and environmental impact assessment could be completed.[148] UKOOG criticised Medact's understanding of UK regulations and said they had not declared that one of its consultants, who was standing for parliament in the 2015 general election, had a conflict of interest.[149] The Times journalist Ben Webster also criticised Medact for not declaring one of their consultant's conflict of interest and reported that the Medact director had not realised that this consultant was also an anti-fracking candidate.[150] MedAct published a response to these criticisms.[151]

The content of the Medact Report 2015 was referred to by many objectors in the June 2015 Public reports pack for the Lancashire County Council Development Control Committee. Lancashire County Council were uncertain how much weight to attach to the Medact report due to "questions from some quarters" about the objectivity of the report based on association of two its contributors with campaigns relating to shale gas.[152]

In 2016, Medact released an updated public health report,[153] citing health risks from shale gas development and calling upon the government to "abandon its shale gas plans".[154]

The 'Fracking' debate[edit]

18 August 2013: Fracking protest south of Balcombe, Sussex, England.

Hydraulic fracturing, "or 'fracking' as it has become commonly known, is a big issue for local authorities and communities across the country"[100] and has become part of the Climate Change debate.[citation needed]

Concerns about hydraulic fracturing have been raised across the United Kingdom, including: Sussex, Somerset and Kent in England, and; the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales.[155][156] In 2011, Bath and North East Somerset Council voiced concerns that hydraulic fracturing could contaminate Bath's famous hot springs.[157]

Protests have been held against onshore unconventional fossil fuel exploration that may lead to hydraulic fracturing.[158] In 2012, industry assurances were tarnished when Cuadrilla came under fire for its categorical denials of its plans for hydraulic fracturing near Balcombe after documents from parent company AJ Lucas materialised appearing to indicate the opposite.[159] In 2014, Cuadrilla scrapped its plans to frack at Balcombe.[160] In May 2014, a letter to the Department of Energy and Climate Change dated June 2011 emerged, confirming the company believed that to achieve commercial production, "significant amounts of hydraulic fracturing" would be required at Balcombe.[161]

Opposition and support for fracking[edit]

There are a number of anti-fracking groups,[162][163] which range from the nationwide Frack Off, which was engaged in the Balcombe drilling protest, to local groups such as Residents Action on Fylde Fracking,[164] Ribble Estuary Against Fracking,[165] NO Fracking in Sussex, Frack Free Fernhurst[166] and The Vale Says No![167] Environmental NGOs Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Friends of the Earth are also against fracking.[168]

Anti-fracking campaigners say that there are various problems associated with the process including pressure on local transport infrastructure, air and water pollution, the amounts of water used, and potential economic damage to agricultural, food production and tourism industries.[169]

Pro-fracking campaigners such as the Centrica-backed group North West Energy Task Force say the "fracking industry" "could bring a boost to jobs and the economy" and that "shale gas has a pivotal role to play in the region's future success" and "would act as a catalyst to bring the vital investment necessary to secure existing industries and develop new ones."[170] In 2014, Business and Energy Minister Michael Fallon said that the opportunity to release up to 4.4 billion barrels of oil by fracking in the Wealden basin, covering Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent, "will bring jobs and business opportunities" and significantly help with UK energy self-sufficiency.[171]

In 2019, a government survey showed that public opposition to fracking had risen to its highest level so far, and support dropped to a record low.[172] Those opposed to fracking constituted 40 per cent of participants, up from 35 per cent in December 2018, and up from 21 per cent in 2013. Opposition to fracking was highest in north-west England (50 per cent), Wales (49 per cent) and Scotland (49 per cent). It was lowest in London (30 per cent), east England (31 per cent) and the west midlands (32 per cent). Support for fracking fell to 12 per cent of participants, down slightly on 13 per cent in the previous survey. This was the lowest level recorded by the survey so far, and 17 percentage points below the peak in March 2014. Strong support for fracking remained unchanged at two per cent.[173]

Advertising Standards Authority complaints[edit]

Anti-fracking and pro-fracking campaigners have submitted a series of complaints about advertisements, brochures and leaflets to the Advertising Standards Agency.

In April 2013, "fracking activist" Refracktion reported Cuadrilla's brochure to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who deemed that of the 18 statements made, 11 were acceptable and six had breached the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code,[174] and that the brochure "must not appear again in its present form".[175] In January 2015 Reverend Michael Roberts and Ken Wilkinson reported an anti-fracking group's leaflet to the ASA. The ASA resolved the complaint with an informal ruling that the group, Residents Action On Fylde Fracking (RAFF), had "exaggerated the size and scale of planned fracking operations".[176] RAFF "agreed to amend or withdraw advertising without the need for a formal investigation".[177] In 2015, Cuadrilla and Reverend Michael Roberts reported a leaflet produced by Friends of the Earth to the ASA[178] and the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB), now known as the Fundraising Regulator.[179] Friends of the Earth gave assurance to the ASA that they would not repeat claims in their advertisements about "the effects of fracking on the health of local populations, drinking water or property prices" "in the absence of adequate evidence".[180] The ASA clarified their position,[181] after it became evident that FoE rejected the results of their investigation.[182][failed verification][original research?]


In October 2011 the campaign to prohibit Coastal Oil and Gas from test drilling at the Llandow Industrial Estate, in the Vale of Glamorgan, met with initial success after local councillors unanimously refused the company's plans, though Coastal immediately indicated it would appeal.[183] Residents feared that successful exploration would be the prelude for hydraulic fracturing.[156] The basis of the Council's decision was a letter from Welsh Water stating that there was "a very small risk" of contamination of its reserve groundwater sites from exploratory drilling.[184] The rejection came despite the Council being told that, strictly from a planning point of view, there were no "reasonable or sustainable grounds" to refuse, and despite the drilling application containing no explicit mention of hydraulic fracturing. The company had additionally claimed that, since the "gas shales in the Vale are not as thick as elsewhere", any discoveries would be "very unlikely" to require hydraulic fracturing for extraction.[183]

Coastal Oil and Gas decided to appeal to the Welsh Government, rather than undertake legal action against the local authority,[185] and a public enquiry began in May 2012.[186] Coastal's chances of success at the enquiry were boosted by Kent County Council approval of the company's near-identical plans for preliminary drilling in Woodnesborough,[156] and were increased to near certainty after Welsh Water effectively retracted its previous risk assessment.[186]

Industry response[edit]

In arguing its case, Cuadrilla contrasts its approach with the one taken in the United States, claiming that only three chemicals—a polyacrylamide lubricant commonly found in cosmetics, hydrochloric acid, and a biocide used to purify drinking water—will be used in the UK, compared with the hundreds that can be used across the Atlantic; that it has invested in more expensive, better equipment than that used by companies operating in the US;[187] that its wells have three layers of pipe casing to line the wells, whereas many American ones only have two; that the barrier between the gas escaping up the pipe and ground water is thicker; that cement will be returned to the surface, blocking identified leak paths; and that drilling fluids will be collected in closed steel tanks, rather than in lined earthen pits, as often happens in the States.[188][189] According to Cuadrilla's communication advisor, "Gasland (the US documentary about shale gas) really changed everything. . . . Before that, shale gas was not seen as routinely controversial."[187]

Effect on house prices[edit]

In August 2014, a report called 'Shale Gas:Rural Economic Impacts' was published by the UK Government, in response to a Freedom of Information request, from Greenpeace. It was due for publication in March 2014.[190][191] It was notable as large parts of this had been redacted, leading to criticism about the transparency of information being provided.[192]

The Lancashire 'North West Energy Task Force', a body that broadly supports the extraction of shale gas, commissioned a report on the effect of house prices in the area surrounding the Preese Hall 1 well, after the seismic issues lead to a suspension of activity by the drilling company, Cuadrilla. The report concluded that "Taken together, there is no clear evidence based on this data to suggest that onshore gas operations have had a material impact on local house prices" [193]

In January 2017, Friends of the Earth were instructed not to repeat claims about "plummeting house prices" after complaints and an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority [194]

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  111. ^ Vaughan, Adam (24 February 2016). "UK fracking traffic would increase local air pollution, finds study". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2017. Additionally the report's conclusions fail to take into account, that in the UK, water is more often available through pipelines, so there is no need to transport it across the country by truck.
  112. ^ "Chapter 2". Protect groundwater and prevent groundwater pollution. Environment Agency. Retrieved 16 March 2017. Water stored below the ground in rocks or other geological strata is called groundwater. The geological strata that hold water are called aquifers. Groundwater may rise to the surface through naturally occurring springs, or be abstracted using boreholes and wells. Groundwater may also naturally flow into rivers (called base flow) and support wetlands, forming part of local ecosystems.The legal definition of groundwater is: 'All water which is below the surface of the ground in the saturation zone and in direct contact with the ground or subsoil.'Aquifers are: 'A subsurface layer or layers of rock or other geological strata of sufficient porosity and permeability to allow either a significant flow of groundwater or the abstraction of significant quantities of groundwater.
  113. ^ "Results summary - National methane baseline survey of UK groundwaters - British Geological Survey (BGS)". Bgs.ac.uk. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  114. ^ "Shale gas extraction in the UK: a review of hydraulic fracturing | Summary Recommendation 1". Royal Academy of engineering. Retrieved 5 March 2017. To detect groundwater contamination, the UK's environmental regulators should work with the British Geological Survey (BGS) to carry out comprehensive national baseline surveys of methane and other contaminants in groundwater. Operators should carry out site-specific monitoring of methane and other contaminants in groundwater before, during and after shale gas operations
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  118. ^ "Shale gas extraction in the UK A review of hydraulic fracturing, chapter 4.3.3". RAENG. Royal Academy of Engineering. p. 37. Retrieved 22 February 2017. The very unlikely event of fractures propagating all the way to overlying aquifers would provide a possible route for fracture fluids to flow. However, suitable pressure and permeability conditions would also be necessary for fluids to flow. Sufficiently high upward pressures would be required during the fracturing process and then sustained afterwards over the long term once the fracturing process had ceased. It is very difficult to conceive of how this might occur given the UK's shale gas hydrogeological environments. Upward flow of fluids from the zone of shale gas extraction to overlying aquifers via fractures in the intervening strata is highly unlikely
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  125. ^ Harvey, Fiona (27 November 2013). "Water shortages may make fracking impractical, industry says: Quantities required for the fracking process may make it problematic in areas of the UK where resources are scarce". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2017. Water UK told the Guardian there could be risks to the water supply particularly in the south-east, where the pressure of population puts supplies under stress.
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  138. ^ "Fracking tests near Blackpool 'likely cause' of tremors". BBC News. 2 November 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
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  142. ^ "Doniya Soni". LinkedIn. Retrieved 4 June 2017. Website and feedback management for 'Let's Talk about Shale' – an UKOOG initiative where more than 8,000 stakeholders were engaged with.
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  147. ^ Public Health England. 25 June 2014 PHE-CRCE-009: Review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction ISBN 978-0-85951-752-2
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  149. ^ "Shale gas industry says that Medact Report fails to understand UK regulatory system and lacks credibility". UKOOG. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  150. ^ Webster, Ben (31 March 2015). "A report that persuaded doctors to oppose fracking was partly written by a campaigner opposing shale gas extraction near his home". The Times. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  151. ^ "Rebutting and Responding to Criticisms of the Medact Report on Fracking and Health" (PDF). Medact. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  152. ^ "Public reports pack 23 June 2015" (PDF). Lancashire County Council Development Control Committee. pp. 723–724. Retrieved 20 June 2015. PHE did not comment on the Medact report in this document. The Council commented: Many objectors refer to the 2015 report of the public health charity Medact. Medact say the risks and serious nature of the hazards associated with fracking, coupled with the concerns and uncertainties about the regulatory system, indicate that shale gas development should be halted until a more detailed health and environmental impact assessment is undertaken. The Medact report has not produced new epidemiological research but has reviewed published literature and has requested short papers from relevant experts in particular subject areas. It has also interviewed academics and experts. Unfortunately, one of the contributors (contributing to three of the report's six chapters – chapters 2, 4 and 5) has led a high profile campaign in the Fylde related to shale gas. Another contributor to the report (chapter 3) has previously expressed firm views on shale gas and has objected to this application. This has led to questions from some quarters about the report's objectivity.In light of these uncertainties it is not clear how much weight the County Council should attach to the report.
  153. ^ "Shale Gas Production in England – an updated public health assessment". Medact. Retrieved 27 February 2017. Key points. Hazardous pollutants are produced at all stages of the shale gas production process. The range of pollutants are outlined in the report. Based on current evidence it is not possible to conclude that there is a strong association between shale gas related pollution and negative local health effects. However, there is clearly potential for negative health impacts. In particular, there are risks of (i) adverse reproductive outcomes due to exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, (ii) risk of respiratory effects resulting from ozone and smog formation, (iii) stress, anxiety and other psycho-social effects arising from actual and perceived social and economic disruption.
  154. ^ Clark, Pilita (7 July 2016). "Fracking threatens UK's climate change targets, says report: Government's advisers on global warming urge industry to adhere to three conditions". The Financial Times. Retrieved 29 December 2016. Separately, a group of medical professionals repeated their call for the UK to abandon its shale gas plans because of the threats it posed to health. A report from the London-based Medact charity said risks included reproductive problems from exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and respiratory damage from smog.
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  161. ^ "Letter reveals Cuadrilla "had to frack Balcombe area of the Sussex Weald to be commercially productive"". 8 May 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
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  173. ^ "Support for fracking at record low". The Ecologist.
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  180. ^ "Friends of the Earth ticked off over claims in anti-fracking leaflet". The Guardian. 4 January 2017. Retrieved 27 February 2017. We approached Friends of the Earth with the concerns that had been raised about its ad," said a spokesman for the ASA. "The advertiser agreed not to repeat the claims, or claims that had the same meaning. On that basis we closed the case informally. The ad must not appear again in its current form."
    The ASA said that it has told FoE not to make claims about the likely effects of fracking on the health of local populations, drinking water, or property prices "in the absence of adequate evidence
  181. ^ Parker, Guy. "Opinion piece: A fractious debate but a clear outcome". Advertising Standards Authority. Retrieved 27 February 2017. We told Friends of the Earth that based on the evidence we'd seen, claims it made in its anti-fracking leaflet or claims with the same meaning cannot be repeated, and asked for an assurance that they wouldn't be. Friends of the Earth gave us an assurance to that effect. Unless the evidence changes, that means it mustn't repeat in ads claims about the effects of fracking on the health of local populations, drinking water or property prices. Friends of the Earth has said we "dropped the case". That's not an accurate reflection of what's happened. We thoroughly investigated the complaints we received and closed the case on receipt of the above assurance. Because of that, we decided against publishing a formal ruling, but plainly that's not the same thing as "dropping the case". Crucially, the claims under the microscope mustn't reappear in ads, unless the evidence changes.
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  193. ^ "Residential research report: The Impact of On-Shore Gas Exploration Activities on Local House Prices" (PDF). JLL/NorthWest Energy Task Force. Retrieved 14 March 2017. From 1995 to 2014, Preese Hall has seen a higher trajectory of house price growth when compared with Lancashire and the North West. Although Preese Hall saw a larger decline in house prices between the application being submitted and implementation than Lancashire and the North West, the area has seen a price growth of 7.5% between onshore gas operations commencing in 2011 and 2014. This compares with the North West seeing a prices increase by 0.2% whereas Lancashire saw a price decline of 4.2%. Taken together, there is no clear evidence based on this data to suggest that onshore gas operations have had a material impact on local house prices. 34% of households within three miles [5 km] of the subject site fall into the category of Affluent Achievers. A further indication of the prosperity in the area is that 71% of households are owner/occupied
  194. ^ "Friends of the Earth ticked off over claims in anti-fracking leaflet". 4 January 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017. Other claims made in the ad, entitled "Pat saved her home from fracking. You can save yours too", included that there would be "plummeting house prices"

External links[edit]