A new study by UK Durham University’s Energy Institute has researched hundreds of thousands of operations involving hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the technology used to stimulate shale gas production. It has found that almost all the seismic activity associated with fracking was on such a small scale that only geoscientists would be able to detect it.

The report, entitled “Induced Seismicity and the Hydraulic Fracturing of Low Permeability Sedimentary Rocks”, also found that the size and number of felt earthquakes caused by fracking is low compared to other manmade triggers such as mining, geothermal activity or reservoir water storage. Out of all operations studied, in only three cases did the process cause earth tremors which could be felt on the surface.

In a press release that accompanied publication of the report, Professor Richard Davies of the Durham Energy Institute stated that “most fracking-related events release a negligible amount of energy roughly equivalent to or even less than someone jumping off a ladder onto the floor”.

The report has received widespread press attention. By demonstrating that fracking is “not significant” in causing seismicity, it should help to shape positively the public debate on the perceived risks of shale gas activity.