Glasgow academics object to fracking regulations

Theodora Varelidi-Strati & Alastair Thomas
Writer & Deputy News Editor

Leading academics from the University of Glasgow have spoken out against the safety regulations for fracking in the UK. Dr. Rob Westaway and Professor Paul Younger from Glasgow’s School of Engineering recently published a report in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, calling for an ease on the regulations, insisting that only restrictions to quarry blasting should remain in place.

The academics argue that the threat of severe earthquakes due to fracking is greatly exaggerated.

Dr. Westaway expressed his scepticism over the decision of the Department of Energy and Climate Change to limit any fracking operations that cause vibrations of a magnitude of over 0.5 on the Richter Scale. He stated: “The level of vibration is extremely low. To put it in perspective, if regulations for other vibration-causing activities were similarly restrictive, you’d have to prevent buses from driving in built-up areas or outlaw slamming wooden doors.”

The two academics agreed that the maximum possible fracture caused by drilling would be 600m deep. This result is given by the amount of  fracking fluid available.

Professor Younger states: “We’ve determined that a fracture of that length created in a single rupture, which is very unlikely, would likely correspond to a maximum quake of magnitude 3.6. That might be sufficient to cause minor damage on the surface such as cracked plaster.”

They also note that compensation would be given to anyone who suffers damage from fracking operations and they strongly advise to adopt similar measures for protection against this technique. They support that the causes of the vibration incidents lie on the ejection of waste water into boreholes and not on the process of fracking itself.

Professor Younger explained that: “This washes away particles of sand holding open the fractures created during the process, which can cause earthquakes. This could be easily resolved by disposing the waste safely somewhere else.”

These reports have not been warmly received. Joan McAlpine, an MSP for the Scottish National Party, stated: “There is a great deal of overlap between the unconventional industry (gas extracted from atypical geographic locations) and academia. While I do not dispute Professor’s Younger’s academic credentials, it is important to see the full picture.”

She continued: “I was surprised that the academic journal itself has nothing online that reveals Professor Younger’s position on the board of Five-Quarter (a company that deals with offshore fracking in the North Sea). While the company is pursuing a form of underground coal gasification, rather than fracking, it is still part of the unconventionals industry.The connection with Buccleuch, a major shareholder in Five Quarter, is also significant.”

Fracking is a controversial way of extracting gas, by pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the ground while emitting far less carbon dioxide than other extraction industries like coal and oil.

However, in 2011, reports underlined the strong possibility that shale gas tests drilling caused earth tremors. Tony Bosworth, a campaigner from Friends of the Earth, said: “Any move to weaken safety rules on fracking will send shock waves around local communities who face the threat of shale gas extraction under their homes”.