Thank you for contacting me about the earthquake risk from fracking.
Shale gas exploration should only proceed as long as it is safe and environmentally responsible. Regulations now protect some of the country's most beautiful areas, including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, meaning shale gas exploration cannot take place at depths of less than 1,200 metres in these areas. I welcome a commitment to ban the drilling of wells at the surface of these areas or within Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
While I do appreciate concerns on seismic activity, I am assured that the Oil & Gas Authority regulates on-site micro seismicity using a traffic light system. If activity passes a very low, precautionary threshold, it is immediately paused. This threshold, a 'red light' in the traffic light system, is set at 0.5 on the Richter scale, equivalent to less ground movement than you would feel from a passing car.
That said, I recognise there have been concerns about seismic events over the summer. Colleagues tell me that the Government is expecting a finalised scientific assessment of recent industry data from the Oil & Gas Authority shortly and will set out its future approach as soon it has considered the findings. I will be following the outcome of this closely.
Despite reports, colleagues assure me that there are no plans to review the traffic light system. The level of magnitude 0.5 at which operators must pause operations was set in consultation with industry as an appropriate precautionary measure. These regulations have been working as intended and I am informed there are no plans to review the traffic light system.
I am assured that safety is of paramount importance when considering sites from which to extract shale gas. Even when a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence is granted, a drilling operation cannot just begin. A number of further permissions and consents must also be given. These include planning permission from the Minerals Planning Authority, environmental permits from the Environment Agency, and scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive. The regulatory regime is robust and provides clear, strong protection for the environment.
While I recognise your concerns on micro seismicity caused by shale operations at the Preston New Road site, Cuadrilla has now announced that it has paused further fracking on this site.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.