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Quantification of potential macroseismic effects of the induced seismicity that might result from hydraulic fracturing for shale gas exploitation in the UK

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Rob Westaway, Professor Paul Younger



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The furore that has arisen in the UK over induced microseismicity from 'fracking' for shale gas development, which has resulted in ground vibrations strong enough to be felt, requires the urgent development of an appropriate regulatory framework. We suggest that the existing regulatory limits applicable to quarry blasting (i.e. peak ground velocities (PGV) in the seismic wavefield incident on any residential property of 10 mms(-1) during the working day, 2 mms(-1) at night, and 4.5 mms(-1) at other times) can be readily applied to cover such induced seismicity. Levels of vibration of this order do not constitute a hazard: they are similar in magnitude to the 'nuisance' vibrations that may be caused by activities such as walking on wooden floors, or by large vehicles passing on a road outside a building. Using a simple technique based on analysis of the spectra of seismic S waves, we show that this proposed daytime regulatory limit for PGV is likely to be satisfied directly above the source of a magnitude 3 induced earthquake at a depth of 2.5 km, and illustrate how the proposed limits scale in terms of magnitudes of induced earthquakes at other distances. Previous experience indicates that the length of the fracture networks that are produced by 'fracking' cannot exceed 600 m; the development of a fracture network of this size in one single rupture would correspond to an induced earthquake c. magnitude 3.6. Events of that magnitude would result in PGV above our proposed regulatory limit and might be sufficient to cause minor damage to property, such as cracked plaster; we propose that any such rare occurrences could readily be covered by a system of compensation similar to that used over many decades for damage caused by coal mining. However, it is highly unlikely that future 'fracking' in the UK would cause even this minor damage, because the amount of 'force' applied in 'fracking' tends to be strictly limited by operators: this is because there is an inherent disincentive to fracture sterile overburden, especially where this may contain groundwater that could flood-out the underlying gas-producing zones just developed. For the same reason, seismic monitoring of 'fracking' is routine; the data that it generates could be used directly to police compliance with any regulatory framework. Although inspired by UK conditions and debates, our proposals might also be useful for other regulatory jurisdictions.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Westaway R, Younger PL

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology

Year: 2014

Volume: 47

Issue: 4

Pages: 333-350

Print publication date: 01/11/2014

Online publication date: 11/11/2014

Acceptance date: 13/08/2014

Date deposited: 28/09/2015

ISSN (print): 1470-9236

ISSN (electronic): 2041-4803

Publisher: Geological Society Publishing House


DOI: 10.1144/qjegh2014-011


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