June 1, 2011 / 12:02 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 1-UK shale gas firm halts drilling after earth tremor

* Shale gas exploration work interrupted for weeks

* Fracking can cause earthquakes -British Geological Survey

(Adds BGS seismologist comment)

LONDON, June 1 (Reuters) - British firm Cuadrilla Resources has suspended exploration for shale gas — natural gas trapped in shale rock — after scientists linked a small earthquake to work at its 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 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 the layered 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.

Brian Baptie, a BGS seismologist, said on Wednesday shale gas exploration in the area was connected to an earthquake on Friday in Blackpool and a similar tremor on April 1.

“We recorded a second earthquake on May 27 and it’s in exactly the same place as the event on April 1. It appears to correlate with the fuid injection as part of the fracking operations on the site,” he said.

The earthquakes measured are very small at around magnitude 2 and are unlikely to cause any damage, Baptie said.

Britain records around 20 to 30 earthquakes of this scale every year, but such tremors were not measured around Blackpool before the drilling started, he said.

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 BGS had said after the April tremor it could not conclude whether fracking at Cuadrilla’s site caused the magnitude 2.3 earthquake, but evidence was clearer after the second shock. The 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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