June 1, 2011 / 10:12 AM / 8 years ago

UK shale gas firm halts drilling after earth tremor

* Shale gas exploration work interrupted for weeks

* Fracking can cause earthquakes-British Geological Survey

LONDON, June 1 (Reuters) - British firm Cuadrilla Resources has suspended exploration for shale gas — natural gas trapped in rock formations — while scientists study whether it caused a small earthquake near a drill site in northwest England.

Work is likely to stop for weeks while experts from Keele University, the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) analyse monitoring data from the site at Weeton in Lancashire, around six miles (9.7 km) from Blackpool, the company said. The extraction of shale gas, also known as fracking or fracing, involves injecting high-pressure water, sand and chemicals into shale rock formations. Some critics have raised concerns about its impact on the environment.

“We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have stopped fracing operations to share information and consult with the relevant authorities and other experts,” Mark Miller, CEO of Cuadrilla Resources, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Last week, a British parliamentary committee concluded there was no need to ban shale gas exploration in Britain as there was no direct evidence to suggest it was harmful to the environment.

France’s Senate is to decide this month whether to permanently ban shale gas drilling and revoke granted permits. The British Geological Survey measured a tremor in Blackpool last Friday, nearly two months after similar seismic activity was recorded in the area.

The BGS said after the first tremor that it was unable to conclude whether the fracking work at Cuadrilla’s site caused the magnitude 2.3 earthquake measured Blackpool on April 1.

“It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering, such as shale gas, processes can result in earthquake activity,” the BGS said. The Cuadrilla site is the most advanced shale gas exploration site in Britain, according to the energy department.

“We have discussed this with Cuadrilla and agreed that a pause in operations is appropriate so that a better understanding can be gained of the cause of the seismic events experienced in the Blackpool area,” a ministry spokesman said. (Reporting by Karolin Schaps, editing by Anthony Barker)

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