How earthquakes could topple the fracking industry

Behind the scenes, fracking companies have been desperately lobbying the government to weaken earthquake rules for fracking.
  Published:  24 Apr 2019    |      2 minute read

Friends of the Earth has obtained private letters and notes of meetings between fracking companies and government officials, which show that the industry is in dire straits.

INEOS could even abandon plans to frack in England if earthquake rules stay the same.

Make sure the government doesn't weaken strict regulations on fracking. Keep earthquake rules rock solid.

Fracking in Lancashire triggered over 50 earthquakes

When the gas company Cuadrilla started fracking in 2018 in Lancashire, it triggered over 50 earthquakes.

The government’s earthquake rules require fracking companies to pause operations if they set off earthquakes over a magnitude of 0.5. Cuadrilla caused several earthquakes over this limit and was only able to frack a tiny proportion of the gas well.

Since then, fracking companies like Cuadrilla and INEOS have been begging permission from the government to allow larger earthquakes. So far, the government has refused.

But what have the fracking companies been doing to influence the government behind the scenes?

In response to Freedom of Information requests by Friends of the Earth and the Financial Times, we’ve obtained private letters and emails from fracking companies to government officials, which paint a picture of a failing fracking industry.

Is INEOS about to abandon plans to frack in England?

Let’s start with INEOS – the biggest fracking company in Britain and one of the largest plastic producers in the world.

In November 2018, INEOS held a private meeting with the head of the Oil & Gas Authority, which regulates fracking. According to notes of the meeting, INEOS said that if the government didn’t weaken earthquake rules, “it was strongly hinted they are unlikely to apply for consents to undertake fracking.” INEOS appeared to be suggesting it could ditch its plans to frack in England.

Demonstrating against fracking in Ryedale outside North Yorkshire County Council in Northallerton
Don't frack Ryedale demonstration in Northallerton, North Yorkshire
Credit: Friends of the Earth

If INEOS does pull out of fracking, people living in areas threatened by its fracking plans won’t be shedding any tears.

In January 2019 the head of INEOS’s oil & gas company wrote a revealing private letter to a senior civil servant. INEOS admitted the fracking industry was not viable unless the government weakened earthquake regulations:

“Retention of the current regulations has serious implications for the long-term viability of an onshore shale industry and therefore impacts our investment decisions and perceptions here and now.”

Then in February 2019, INEOS decided to go straight to the top of government. Its CEO Jim Ratcliffe (Britain’s richest man) had a private meeting with then-Prime Minister Theresa May, in which he complained about the government’s fracking policy, according to Sky News. The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed to us that May met with Ratcliffe but refused to share the minutes of the meeting.

Is Cuadrilla running out of time to frack in Lancashire?

Cuadrilla has also been lobbying the regulators for permission to trigger larger earthquakes. This is important because Cuadrilla has permission from the government to frack a second well at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire.

Cuadrilla's fracking rig at Preston New Road, Lancashire
Fracking rig at Preston New Road, Lancashire
Credit: Kristian Buus

In December 2018, Cuadrilla’s CEO Francis Egan wrote a private letter to the head of the Oil & Gas Authority, requesting a review of the earthquake rules. He said that Cuadrilla could frack their second well before planning permission expires “if” the earthquake rules were weakened by the end of March 2019.

That date has passed and earthquake rules are unchanged. So it’s clear that Cuadrilla’s work in Lancashire is not going to plan.

Is the fracking industry dead?

Not yet. There’s still a chance that the government could cave in to the fracking industry’s demands to weaken earthquake rules. That’s why it’s important to show politicians that people are against relaxing the regulations.

Help ensure that earthquake rules stay rock solid by emailing your MP.