Having heard of some of the news about fracking in the BBC news, I decided to try and understand it better. I thought I’d analyse some data, and pop it here.
What is Fracking?
Fracking is described as the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique to extract gas and oil from the earth. Liquid is pumped underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas or oil within. Here is a diagram, courtesy of the BBC:
What does Fracking have to do with Earthquakes? A 2011 study showed that it was “highly probable” the test drilling for shale gas caused the tremors at that time. Despite the findings, the UK Government and Cuadrilla decided to proceed.
People are concerned that fracking will cause more earthquakes than expected in their region. The organization responsible for the fracking is called Cuadrilla, and their chief executive Francis Egan commented that he expected more incidents to be recorded because of the sensitivity of the recording equipment used by the company.
This irked me, because it pushed the blame onto the equipment, rather than the fracking itself. So I thought I’d take a look at the data, to see if earthquakes was more prevalent in the Lancashire area.
Let’s look at the earthquake data from the British Geological Survey for the last 100 days. I noted only one error in the data; one of the records records the region as Blackpool.Lancashire with a full stop but the others were reported as Blackpool,Lancashire with a comma. It was trivial to fix the data, so I just did it.
How many earthquakes occurred in the Lancashire area over the last 100 days compared to other areas?
This chart, conducted in Microsoft’s Power BI, is fairly compelling, showing that the top number of earthquakes for the last 100 days took place in the Lancashire region:
This chart only shows the top eight regions, so let’s take a look at Lancashire versus the rest of the UK:
Ok, so over the last one hundred days, one third have occurred in Lancashire. From the data visualization perspective, yes, it is a pie chart but they are useful and impactful when you have a few slices only, and you want to make an impact.
Over time, what does this really mean?
The chart below shows a huge jump in the number of Earthquakes in Lancashire in October 2018, which is the month when the fracking began. Lancashire earthquakes are denoted in blue:
So, the chart shows that there were a total of 23 earthquakes in the Lancashire area in October. But when did they actually take place?
Since 15 October, Little Plumpton has been the first UK shale fracking site after the process was halted in 2011. How many of the 23 earthquakes took place from that date onwards? Lancashire earthquakes are given in dark teal blue; other areas are given in lighter blue. Some dates are missing on the X axis because earthquakes did not happen on those dates. You can see that they start in earnest in the second half of the month.
We can see from this simple chart that all 23 earthquakes in Lancashire took place from October 18th onwards. Note that the fracking in Lancashire started on 15th October 2018.
Where did these earthquakes occur? Let’s look at the Lancashire earthquakes, with Lancashire highlighted in teal blue:
Let’s zoom in on Lancashire. According to the Cuadrilla site, the fracking takes place at Preston New Road.
According to the data, the earthquakes around Blackpool in October happened at this site here. I have plotted the lat long of the earthquakes, using the British Geological Survey data, and popped it on a map in Power BI and used Bing for the background maps. Note that this is in inexact because the full lat long isn’t provided by the data; it is only rounded data supplied. This is a graphical representation, just to give the reader an idea where the centre is recorded, according to the British Geological Survey data. The data is recorded as ‘Earthquakes around the British Isles in the last 100 days’ and it records seismic activity from the very small to the very large. This map only shows the location, not the severity.
There are less bubbles than 23 earthquakes total because some of the earthquakes happened repeatedly in the same place, according to the rounded lat and long data. Since it is rounded, it introduces inaccuracies but it’s been given here as an illustration.
Caveat: This map isn’t totally accurate. Future and further work would involve more detailed mapping with something like ArcGIS, and full lat long data, not just rounded. Here is what the data looks like and you can get it here:
The table also shows the magnitude, so some of the movements are recorded as tiny i.e. 0.0 to larger events i.e. 0.8.
On Friday 26th October, a Cuadrilla spokesman said: “Micro seismic events such as these result in tiny movements that are way below anything that would be felt at surface, much less cause any harm or damage.”
How does my data compare to the BBC? The BBC have generously provided a map, which matches mine at a high level. Mine is very detailed because I got the lat long data from the British Geological Survey. Here is the BBC version:
Power BI made it easy to go through the data, fix an error, and then produce simple graphs, charts and maps to tell a story. I’m not a geological scientist but it seems a simple view of the data should raise serious concerns about the human activity there, and what we are doing to the area.
Lancashire isn’t supposed to have 23 earthquakes in the space of ten days.
I’m not reassured by the Cuadrilla message at all; my argument would be that these ‘tiny movements’ should not be taking place at all and it’s obvious that human activity is doing it.
The data shows that these events wouldn’t be happening if the fracking wasn’t taking place. In Lancashire, 23 earthquakes in the space of less than ten days should be a call to everyone to wake up and stop this activity permanently.
The Lancashire County Council’s decision process on fracking can be found here. Note that the Council have forecasted and set out a medium term forecast funding gap of £144.084m by the end of the 4 year period (2018/19 –2021/22). Cuadrilla have invested £10m in Lancashire but this is nowhere near the funding gap that the local County Council have projected.
The Government is still looking at ways to replace the money that Lancashire will lose as a result of leaving the EU in terms of the Shared Properity Fund, but, to date, nothing has been sorted for Lancashire. My hunch – and it is a pure guess – that the Lancashire finances need to be sorted somehow and that’s why fracking has been pushed through. Lancashire is running out of options.
In Scotland, there is investment in green energy and you don’t have to look far to see windmills. I don’t see why the good people of Lancashire can’t be afforded the same investment in green energy, with jobs, reskilling and opportunities in the things that we should be great at: community, science, tech and energy. Britain needs jobs and opportunities more than ever, and the North needs to be regarded just as carefully as the South of the UK.
My opinion is that between the Brexit debacle and fracking, we are shooting ourselves in the foot in Britain. Any hearkening back to a better age of Britain is just nonsense. We can’t sort ourselves out.
Whether you agree with Brexit or not, we still haven’t managed to get an agreement sorted and we should have done that by now. Hell, we can’t even get our rail and roads sorted. And now we are creating environmental earthquakes because we need the money. That smells of desperation and I’m sure that the stench of it will attract even more of this type of behaviour until something really bad happens.