Whatever message the government is sending out it’s certainly not ‘Open for Business’.
So, just a week after starting work on releasing the gas trapped in the shales beneath Lancashire, energy company Cuadrilla Resources decided to stop work, at least for the rest of the day. Soon after they had started pumping water into the rocks a mile below the surface, there were a series of microseismic events – tiny earth tremors. The green blob and their friends in the mainstream media were waiting, and quickly launched their habitual barrage of moral indignation.
The Metro, for example, breathlessly reported that nearby Blackpool had been ‘hit by four earthquakes’. The Guardian was likewise certain that these were ‘earthquakes’. Watching seismologists were much amused at all the huffing and puffing, wondering whether these were the smallest tremors ever to be reported in multiple news outlets.
And small they certainly were. The one that prompted Cuadrilla to halt work for the day was just magnitude 0.4, and the others were considerably smaller than that. To put this in perspective, a tremor of this size has an energy release approaching that of a hand grenade. But because the energy is released a mile below ground, it is never felt at the surface.
In fact, you would need a much larger tremor before people would feel anything. A magnitude 3 tremor is the energy equivalent of the ‘Mother of All Bombs’, the largest non-nuclear weapon in the US arsenal, which was famously dropped onto Islamic State forces last year. Nevertheless, at the surface, a tremor of this size would only be felt as a distant rumbling – something like a lorry driving past your house. The possibility of it causing damage would be very small.
So why then did a tremor, thousands of times smaller cause Cuadrilla stop work? The reason is that they are having to work with a regulatory regime that is quite mindbogglingly absurd. Ministers have decided that if there are any tremors of magnitude 0.5 or above, the company must stop work entirely until given permission to restart. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, completely bonkers.