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Has the UK woken up to fracking?

Ruth Hayhurst photo
Ruth HayhurstUK
In this week's newsletter: As campaigners hold a wake-up call protest to mark the 5th anniversary of the Blackpool earthquake, we look at what prompts people to take an interest in fracking. Also IGas gets 15 years to produce oil and gas in Surrey and Coastal Oil and Gas pulls out of its appeal.

Fracking campaigners mark earthquake anniversary with “wake-up call” protest

Wake-up call protest outside The Council House in Nottingham today

Opponents of fracking rang bells and alarm clocks at mid-day today in a symbolic protest to mark the fifth anniversary of the earthquake linked to fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall shale gas well in Lancashire.

At gatherings including Nottingham, Beverley, Bridlington and London’s Whitehall, campaigners said they wanted people to wake up to what they said were the risks of fracking.

There are currently shale gas applications going through the planning system in three regions of the UK. An inspector is considering Cuadrilla’s proposals for two sites within a few miles of Preese Hall. North Yorkshire County Council is expected to decide later this month on Third Energy’s plans to frack at Kirby Misperton. And councillors are likely to rule in the summer on IGas’s shale gas application at Misson in north Nottinghamshire.

More proposals are expected from companies that won new licence areas in the 14th round last year.

Campaigners said today that events at Preese Hall had alerted people in Lancashire to fracking.

The April 1st earthquake in 2011 measured 2.3 on the Richter scale and, though small, attracted more than 20 reports of shaking.

Another earthquake, a few weeks later on 27th May, was also linked to the Preese Hall. Within days, the industry had suspended fracking and interest in the process in the UK began to grow.

Claire Stevenson, an opponent of Cuadrilla’s current plans to frack in Lancashire, told today’s Blackpool Gazette that it was “in a way lucky” that the April 1st earthquake happened:

“It raised many serious questions for a number of people on the Fylde Coast to fracking, the process, effects on both environment, climate and human health, and more importantly, the company behind it.”

Dawn Ansell, who lives near the Preese Hall well, told the paper:

“We had no idea about fracking before this. We did not really know what was going on at Preese Hall, fracking had never been mentioned. We made sure we knew about it after that.”

Gayzer Frackman (above), an opponent of fracking from Lytham, said he had not heard about fracking before the earthquakes either. He said he noticed cracks in his house walls after the earthquakes and began to do his own research. Today, he was outside Downing Street calling for a ban on the technique.

Is the UK waking up to fracking?

Last summer, Tony Carruthers, then Cuadrilla’s commercial director, told a parliamentary group:

“Four or five years ago you could turn up with a drilling rig or even a fracturing rig and just drill a well on the planning officer’s discretion.”

Now, many would argue quite rightly, fracking plans require environmental statements, traffic and noise plans, air quality assessments, and public consultations. Planning officers make a recommendation but the decisions are by elected planning committees, at least initially.

Tony Carruthers said the only thing that had changed was public perception of fracking. He blamed what he described as a “very small but very very influential group of people” for scaremongering.

But research by DrillOrDrop shows that the earthquakes coincided with more attention being paid to fracking in the UK.

What wakes the UK up to fracking?

We used Google Trends to track internet searches on the term ‘fracking’. Before 2011, there was very little interest. But from then on the numbers grew.

Searches for the term ‘fracking’ from 2004-2016. Source: Google Trends

Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart. They don’t represent absolute search volumes.

This trend is supported by Government public opinion surveys, which show that people who are aware of shale gas has risen from 42% in 2012 to 77% in 2015.

In 2011, the trends appear to reflect growing interest following the earthquakes. The peaks coincide with key events.

How peaks in the use of the search term ‘fracking’ in 2011 coincide with key events. Source: Google Trends

After the earthquakes, Google Trends shows a series of peaks in the use of the search term ‘fracking’ that frequently coincide with key events, publications and political statements on fracking.

How peaks in the use of the search term ‘fracking’ coincide with key events 2011-2016. Source: Google Trends

Other news

Go ahead for 15 years of gas and oil production in Surrey

Source: Google Maps

Surrey County Council confirmed that planning officers have approved plans by IGas to extend two sites near Bletchingley to produce oil and gas for 15 years. The decision was made under delegated powers and did not go before a planning committee or the full council.

The application appears to be the first stage in IGas plans to double oil production at Bletchingley Central. The company told local people in 2014 it wanted to drill four additional oil wells. But these wells are not part of the new permission. More details

Gas company drops south Wales appeal and looks for another site

Coastal Oil and Gas has dropped its challenge over plans to drill for unconventional gas at Llanharan in Rhondda Cynon Taff in south Wales. It plans to look for another site in the area.

The company informed the Planning Inspectorate at lunchtime on 30th March 2016 that it was withdrawing its appeal against the refusal of its plans to explore for unconventional gas. The news comes just over a week after the appeal was validated. Local people, who had begun organising to fight the appeal, have welcomed the decision. More details

IGas buys plot less than two months after abandoning Chester sites

IGas has bought a six-acre plot of land in Bridge Trafford near Chester. Less than two months it announced it had abandoned plans to drill for coal bed methane gas at both Duttons Lane in Upton and Salter’s Lane, Mickle Trafford.  Anti-fracking campaigners are reported to be considering setting up a camp at the new site. More details

Refinery owner INEOS to reopen mothballed Grangemouth plant

INEOS announced it will reopen a second production line at its KG ethylene plant at Grangemouth eight years after it was mothballed. The plant will run on ethane shipped from the US shale gas fields. More details

Ruth Hayhurst is the only UK journalist reporting on the UK fracking frontlines. She reports daily at

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