Truss told to increase earthquake limits to kickstart fracking revolution

Liz Truss is being urged to relax the limits on earthquakes caused by fracking as part of plans to kickstart an energy revolution. The Prime Minister is already poised to end the moratorium on fracking within days in a bid to make Britain energy independent by 2040. But companies say this alone will not be enough to unlock Britain's potentially vast shale gas reserves.

The Telegraph understands fracking businesses are lobbying for the limits on seismic activity to be substantially increased to help kickstart the industry. Current rules require drilling to stop if it causes tremors of 0.5 or more on the Richter scale. Experts say tremors at this level occur naturally and often, at a magnitude so low it is imperceptible to people above ground.

The current limit blocks any realistic possibility of exploiting shale resources commercially. Fracking companies want parity with other industries, for example geothermal energy, which is allowed to create earthquakes of higher magnitudes than 0.5. In the US, fracking-related tremors of up to 4-magnitude are allowed.

According to the Royal Society, tremors of up to magnitude 2 are not generally felt by people above ground and fracking is not expected to cause tremors of more than magnitude 3. A report by the society in 2012 said fracking would be less disruptive than coal mining had been historically. It said magnitude 3 tremors were typically "felt by few people at rest or in the upper floors of buildings; similar to the passing of a truck".

However, when Cuadrilla's test operations in Lancashire caused a magnitude 2.9 tremor three years ago, residents nearby complained that their homes had been shaken, with some saying objects had fallen off of shelves.

CuadrillaCuadrilla's test operations in Lancashire caused a magnitude 2.9 tremor in 2019Credit: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

Professor Richard Davies, a leading petroleum geologist at Newcastle University, said fracking had thus far "not been a major source of earthquakes" and that coal mining had caused "many times more". He said the question of whether the UK's resources were commercially exploitable remains unproven but that restrictions on seismic activity prevented "a proper test". Fracking companies are also pushing for the Government to give ministers the power to approve projects, instead of local councils, by designating them as "nationally significant infrastructure".

One source claimed this was "the only way we will ever get gas out of the ground and into people's homes and the only way people will get money off their bills from industry". "The focus must now be on making sure this process isn't unnecessarily held up," they added. Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, involves shooting a mix of water, sand and chemicals at rocks underground to retrieve the oil and gas trapped inside them.

In the US it is credited with unlocking a lucrative shale boom that reshaped global markets and helped America achieve energy independence. It has been estimated that some 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas may lie beneath the UK - enough to meet the country's needs for decades.

Britain's reserves

But under the successive governments of David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, companies have struggled to get further than test drilling in the face of public concerns about earthquakes and fierce opposition from green campaigners. Offers from the companies to hand cash to communities near drilling sites have fallen flat.

A moratorium on fracking has been in place since 2019, after the 2.9-magnitude tremor - the highest on record related to fracking - was recorded near Cuadrilla's test wells.

However, Ms Truss is expected to lift the moratorium via a written ministerial statement as soon as next week, after the official mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II ends.

At the same time, officials are expected to publish the findings of a new study by the British Geological Survey related to the safety of fracking.