Newcastle University research aims to discover if fracking can cause earthquakes

A man stands on the debris of collapsed houses after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake in Nepal this May. Credit: Reuters

Scientists will now be able to see if fracking causes earthquakes thanks to new research at Newcastle University.

Research lead Professor Richard Davies and his team have looked at UK data going back to the 1970s to work out how many earth tremors have been caused by humans.

This is the first time "seismic activity" across the UK has been analysed. The aim is to set a national baseline for earthquakes caused by human activity ahead of any future decisions around fracking.

  • The first UK exploratory fracking operation at Preese Hall, Lancashire, in 2011 resulted in a 2.3 magnitude earthquake.

  • Two months later, a second earthquake of 1.5 magnitude was recorded and operations were suspended.

Thus far analysing the 1,769 seismic events over a forty year period that were above or equal to 1.5 in local magnitude, the minimum detectable threshold, the team of experts from Newcastle, Durham and Keele Universities showed that at least 21% were related to human activity, at least 40% were naturally-occurring and 39% were 'undefined'.