Net Zero Watch are on shaky ground

Net Zero Watch (a retread of The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) are not usually particularly transparent, particularly when it comes to their sources of funding as we can see here:

Their motives though are though quite transparent when it comes to some of their “demands”. After all, we know that the fracking industry is going nowhere unless they can convince government to relax the conditions which protect local communities.

If the government doesn’t change it, it makes it very difficult for us to do anything. … without these changes there is no future for the shale development in the UK.

Chris Hopkinson, CEO of Igas – BBC NewsNight 20 September 2022

Recently, their Benny Peiser wrote to the The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition with an “emergency agenda” which exhorts them (amongst other things) to:

Replace the current traffic light system, based on seismicity, with BS5228-2, the ground-acceleration standard applied to other industries.

Net Zero Watch refer above to BS5288-2 which relates to surface vibration at “construction sites, including sites where demolition, remediation, ground treatment or related civil engineering works are being carried out, and open sites“. It refers to surface level mineral extraction like open-cast mining but, crucially, not to sub-surface extractive industries.

BS5228-2 does not seem to refer to “ground-acceleration” once in its entire 96 pages, instead it refers generally to Peak Particle Velocity which although related is not the same thing.

It does not provide a standard for the level of acceptable vibration that might be obviously applied to fracking. instead it has caveats like “The nature of any impact from vibration therefore needs to be considered in the context of the relevant site specific factors” (P22)

Their request doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense.

So, for reasons that they don’t make clear they seem to be asking for fracking to be held to a different standard than what are frequently referred to (particularly by onshore gas industry body UKOOG and the “think tank” The Institute For Economic Affairs) as “similar” extractive industries, like geothermal and quarrying.

In fact the standard currently used in quarrying and geothermal is BS 6472-2:2008 “GUIDE TO EVALUATION OF HUMAN EXPOSURE TO VIBRATION IN BUILDINGS PART 2: BLAST-INDUCED VIBRATION” and it does involve measuring both Ground Velocity and Ground Acceleration.

It should be noted that there isn’t actually any industry specific regulation for geothermal as explained in the BGS report:

There are currently no specific regulations for the control or mitigation of induced seismicity associated with geothermal projects in the UK (Abesser and Walker, 2022). Control and mitigation of induced seismicity for deep geothermal operations in Cornwall (United Downs Deep Geothermal Project and Eden Geothermal Project) are based on the British Standard BS 6472-2 (BSI, 2008), which define limits for acceptable levels of ground vibrations caused by blasting and quarrying, and other local planning authority guidelines for blasting, quarrying, and mining. These thresholds are defined in terms of measured ground velocity.

Let’s assume then that they really mean they want to be held to the same standard (BS 6472-2:2008) as other extractive industries like geothermal and quarrying, because otherwise their demand above doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Now, why would they do this and what would it mean for communities in the Fylde?

Well BS 6472-2:2008 does not use the Richter scale magnitude limits that are currently enshrined in the fracking Traffic Light System (TLS), where an induced tremor of 0.5Ml means that fracking has to be paused.

Instead these industries use a system based on Peak Ground Velocity (PGV) which is related but not directly comparable. Essentially it measures surface vibration.

It is though possible to make some sort of comparison between the two systems of measurement and in a 2014 paper Westaway and Younger suggest that a maximum level for Peak Ground Velocity (PGV) that broadly corresponds to a 3.0 Ml earthquake should be used as the red light level for fracking.

We thus suggest that the existing UK regulatory thresholds for ground vibrations induced by quarry blasting can form the basis of regulatory limits for ‘fracking’: a PGV of 10 mm s−1 during the working day, 2 mm s −1 at night, and 4.5 mm s −1 at other times. These thresholds might be considered reasonable limits on the levels of ground vibration that can be anticipated in any area when ‘fracking’ is under way, and might also be used as criteria for the suspension of fracking to avoid the possibility of a larger event occurring that might exceed these PGV values. As noted above, for tensile fracture earthquakes caused by ‘fracking’ at a depth of 2.5 km these ‘working day’ and ‘night time’ thresholds correspond roughly to magnitudes of 3.0 and 1.7

“Quantification of potential macroseismic effects of the induced seismicity that might result from hydraulic fracturing for shale gas exploitation in the UK” Rob Westaway & Paul L. Younger 2014

We believe that our climate change impact denying friends are trying to force our regulators to accept a massive increase in the seismic red limit (as high as 3 Ml if Westaway and Verdon are to be believed), which would effectively give carte blanche to the frackers to generate a huge number of earthquakes similar to, or even bigger than, the 2.9Ml quake that we saw at Preston New Road.

So what should we be concerned about here?

The existing Traffic Light System (TLS), with its limit of 0.5ml, failed to constrain the 2.9Ml quake that occurred in 2019 and demonstrated that the industry can neither control nor mitigate the seismic activity induced by fracking in Lancashire.

Increasing the limit to something near 3.0 Ml would have inevitable impacts on local communities as it would mean we had no protection against the level of quake that caused the moratorium to be put in place in 2019.

The whole point of the sesimic traffic light system is to provide an early warning system to allow the operator to control and mitigate seismicity. The fact that it totally failed to achieve this in 2019 is NOT a good reason to swap to a different way of measuring the impact, which would be even less effective because the limit would be far higher!

The 3.0 Ml limit proposed by Westaway and Younger, based on the quarrying industry, is their suggestion for the maximum limit that we should allow to happen.

The BGS report released in September 2022 quotes sources who say that the red limit should be set 2.0Ml below the maximum limit that you are prepared to accept.

Verdon and Bommer (2021) go on to suggest that TLS may require red-light thresholds as much as two magnitude units below the threshold that the scheme is intended to avoid.

To be consistent with Westaway and Verdon’s conclusions, any PGV red limit for fracking should therefore be set at a level which equates to a maximum of 1.0 Ml, although even this would clearly not have stopped the 2.9 Ml which occurred 3 days after fracking had last been attempted.

The PGV limits used to control quarrying are based on finite impacts of detonating explosives. Such detonations do not get followed by further earthquakes of much greater power and energy as has occurred 100% of the time with UK High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing. The industries are not directly comparable.

The British Standard BS 6472-2:2008 concerns itself with vibrations that might effect buildings on the surface. It does not consider the level of any disturbance below the ground, which might lead to deformation of the well casing.

So, even if we assume the Net Zero Watch lobbyists didn’t really mean to reference a standard that does not do what they say they want, we can see that it is very likely indeed that they really mean to put pressure on government to allow the fracking industry to operate without any meaningful precautionary constraint on the seismicity that they cause.

Their motivation is transparent, and we cannot allow local communities to have their protections stripped away simply to dig the fracking industry out of a hole, which is, after all of their own making, as they designed the existing TLS!

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