Since Cuadrilla stopped fracking operations at Preston New Road in December due to the seismicity which they appear to have induced there has been a relentless lobbying effort to get the 0.5 Ml (Local Magnitude) seismic Traffic Light System (TLS) limit raised.

The industry has a problem here though. Not only do we know (as a result of Freedom of Information requests) that in 2012 Cuadrilla proudly declared to the then Energy Secretary that they themselves “developed” the TLS

cuadrilla tls

but Francis Egan seems to have been presumptuous enough to have gone on record stating to BBC Radio 4 that he could “absolutely” guarantee that his fracking operations would not cause any earthquakes.

As we know Cuadrilla’s operations coincided with 57 earthquakes before they stopped operations, having only fracked 2 of the 41 planned frack stages on of 2 wells.

It would be hard to imagine a more obvious demonstration of the fact that Cuadrilla are unable to control the seismic events that result from their fracking operations.

So, admitting to the FT that the TLS regulations (which they were once so satisfied with) could result in the industry being “strangled at birth”, Cuadrilla went into lobbying mode. Their pals over at Ineos, unsurprisingly, got in on the act too. We have been treated to the full set of CEO interviews, letters to The Times from fossil fuel friendly academics, petitions, letters to local papers and the efforts of the PR front groups like Lancashire For Shale.

The case that they appears to be trying to make is that because the original discussions around the TLS suggest that the limit might be reviewed at some point, it therefore must be reviewed now, and must be adjusted upwards. Of course in logical terms this is what is known as a non sequitur. Those conclusions do not follow from the  initial proposal.

Assuming there were to be a review, the data upon which it would be based would be laughably thin – even Cuadrilla have admitted that they had to frack with reduced volumes in order to even try to avoid causing earthquakes and, as stated above, they only fracked 2 stages. So the input to any review would be a claim that Cuadrilla can guarantee not to cause earthquakes, followed by a list of the 57 quakes they did cause, and some data which would demonstrate that they had to dramatically curtail their operations to be able to limit the number of quakes that were above the “amber” 0.0 Ml Limit to 25. And 8 of these were over the 0.5 Ml threshold.

Furthermore the fracking PR machine seems to be suggesting that anybody who opposes such a review is trying to move the goalposts by suggesting that reviews should not be allowed. This of course is clearly not the case. The history of law and regulation shows countless examples of how things change as we learn more or as we develop as a society. Within my own lifetime we were still hanging people for murder and the emissions that we allow our cars to produce have steadily been reduced as we have learned more about their potential impacts on human health. These changes happened over time, after meticulous research and consideration of evidence. They did not happen because the CEO of a company spat out his dummy because he realised that his business model was in danger if he had to keep to the regulations he himself had agreed to 7 years ago.

Nobody sane is therefore suggesting that the TLS system and its limits cannot be reviewed, and anybody who tells you that that is what is being said generally is a liar and a charlatan. Of course the TLS limits can be reviewed, but the scenario for such a review leading to a relaxation of the limit would have to be something like this:

  • Fracking company successfully executes their Hydraulic Fracture Plan (HFP) across a number of wells without causing seismic activity which breaches the limit.
  • Fracking company submits evidence from scientists to support a view that increasing the seismic limit will not lead to an increase in the number or magnitude of seismic events.
  • Fracking company submits evidence to support a view that seismic events at or near the new limit will not provoke even stronger trailing events (like those we saw at Preese Hall in 2011)

Of course if they were able to execute their HFP without causing seismic activities there would be no need to increase the limit would there? Welcome to the Alice in Wonderland world of fracking!

In fact all we really have here is the fracking companies, having abjectly failed to control seismicity, whining that if they don’t get their own way they will take their toys away and play with them somewhere else.

There is no case for a review at this stage and even if there were there is no evidence to support a conclusion that the regulatory limit should be increased.

If I were to get a speeding ticket this afternoon I would not be writing to the Chief Constable of Lancashire demanding a review of speed limits in my area so that I can drive at faster speeds with impunity, yet this is exactly the approach that is being taken here by the frackers.

We need a science based, evidence based approach to any amendments to the Traffic Light System. Reviews can and no doubt will happen at some point. They could of course result in limits being decreased not increased. The time for such a review though is not now, and there is absolutely no meaningful evidence to suggest that is should be.

Don’t mess with the TLS!

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