A 2.9 magnitude quake was recorded at the UK’s only fracking site near Blackpool in Lancashire on Monday, causing alarm among local residents and prompting a renewed call for the controversial practice to be banned in Britain.

The tremor, which happened at 8.30am on Monday, was believed to be the largest fracking related earthquake yet in the UK. It was recorded as a 2.9 – magnitude quake and far exceeds the 0.5ML (local magnitude) limit on seismic activity, which is set by government regulations.

The earthquake has been confirmed as a 2.9-magnitude seismic event by the British Geological Survey.

Fracking involves pumping water and chemicals under very high pressure into rocks to extracts shale gas trapped in there.

Fracking at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire has been suspended since Wednesday as a result of increasing micro-seismic events. But the 2.9 – magnitude tremor is significantly bigger than the 2.3-magnitude quake at the same site that caused a seven-year ban on fracking in 2011.

Cuadrilla, the energy firm that operates the site in Lancashire, said that it was investigating the incident along with the industry regulators that the integrity of the fracking well was not compromised and that no fracking took place over the weekend. This means the tremor was a delayed result of previous fracking activity.

Cuadrilla issued a statement insisting that the quake was no different to what people might experience from major construction works.

“We appreciate this this has caused concern for local people and by way of reassurance it is worth noting that this event lasted for around a second and the maximum ground motion recorded was 5mm per second. This is about a third of that permitted for construction projects,” said a spokesperson.

Residents Worried

Despite assurances from Cuadrilla, local residents in nearby Lytham St Annes and even people as far away as Preston reported feeling their houses shake.

“[I] heard a bang, like a shotgun going off. This was quickly followed by the house shaking for about five seconds. It’s definitely the biggest since a natural one I experienced many years ago. I’ve been on the fence until now, but after that tremor this morning I think fracking needs to stop completely,” Stephen Cheatley, a photographer, who lives just a few miles from the fracking site, told the Guardian.

Another resident said that a picture fell off the wall during the tremor.

Changing the Rules

The 0.5ML (local magnitude) limit on seismic activity, has in practice meant that fracking at the Preston New Road site, the only active fracking well in the whole of the UK, has been suspended for months and years at a time.

Cuadrilla is calling on the British government to raise the 0.5ML limit in order to allow the UK fracking industry to develop. Ministers, who are keen to develop shale gas extraction in the UK, have hinted that they may bow to pressure and review the current rules to try and get the quake limit raised.

But there is a strong and organised anti-fracking movement in the UK, which is growing. The Conservative MP, Mark Mezies, for the Flyde coast constituency where the earthquake was felt, said that the tremors were proof that the fracking industry was unable to operate within safe limits.

 “It is now clear that hydraulic fracturing is not suitable for Fylde or the people of Fylde and I will be writing to ministers and the Oil and Gas Authority to call for full cessation of the shale gas industry operating on the Fylde coast,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the anti-fracking Preston New Action Group warned that the size of the tremor was further evidence that fracking must be halted in the UK immediately.

“Given that this quake was felt across Blackpool, the Fylde coast and beyond, what is likely to have happened beneath the ground to the well at the source? We should not be being subjected to this level of stress and fear. Fracking must be stopped immediately,” she said.

Fracking is banned in France and Germany. In the US, where Fracking is practiced widely, there have been damaging tremors and pollution of the ground water. It is feared in the UK, which does not have a large landmass like the US, any pollution from fracking could have a devastating impact on the environment.

Edward Cowley