Rules designed to halt fracking operations if they trigger minor earthquakes could be relaxed as the shale industry begins to expand, the energy minister, Claire Perry, has said.
A series of small tremors seven years ago prompted tough regulations that mean even very low levels of seismic activity now require companies to suspend fracking.
If seismic sensors detect anything above 0.5 magnitude on the Richter scale – far below what people can feel at the surface – the company would have to stop and review its operations.
But Perry has told a fellow Tory MP that the monitoring system was “set at an explicitly cautious level … as we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls.”
The comments were made in a letter to Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk, Malton and Filey, whose constituency has several prospective fracking sites. He is pro-fracking if it can be done safely.
Hollinrake told the Guardian: “I think we’d need to be very careful about any revision to the regulations put in place. I’d want to understand why we were doing that and take plenty of evidence. We certainly wouldn’t want to see those rules being relaxed now.”
He said the limits showed the government was taking a very cautious and responsible approach to fracking.
The industry is regulated by a traffic light system introduced after the 2011 tremors. Green is zero-magnitude, amber is anything up to 0.5, meaning fracking should proceed with caution and potentially at a slower rate, and red is anything at 0.5-magnitude or greater, meaning operations are suspended immediately.
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