A ban on hydraulic fracturing is still in force in parts of China’s Sichuan Province – the epicentre of the country’s shale gas industry – almost two months after several earthquakes hit the area.
The Sichuan Earthquake Administration said there was no link between the tremors and the fracking technique, according to Chinese state media reports. However, the local government in Rongxian County ordered a halt to fracking following public protests against shale gas development by locals.
“Videos went viral on social media of protesters marching holding banners with such slogans as ‘Resist shale gas mining’,” independent news website Caixin reported.
Two people are reported to have died, while 12 others were injured and hundreds of homes were damaged by the earthquakes, which shook Rongxian over two days in late February.
The ban on fracking is preventing national oil companies (NOCs) Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) from continuing operations in the region, Caixin said. The two companies do not know when they may be able to restart operations.
Rongxian County is part of the Weirong block, where Sinopec has a drilling licence.
Production at CNPC’s main shale gas project in Sichuan – the Changning-Weiyuan block – is also on hold because of the fracking ban, Reuters reported earlier. Changning-Weiyuan, which produced 4.27 bcm in 2018, is outside Rongxian County but in the same area.
Sichuan was susceptible to earthquakes before drilling for shale gas there began. However, a study by the Seismological Society of America published by Science Daily on April 5 said two moderate-sized earthquakes that struck Sichuan Province in December and January were “probably caused by nearby fracking operations”. The study suggested that the number of earthquakes in the area had increased since the use of systematic fracking began in the Changning-Weiyuan block.
Much of the identified shale gas in Sichuan is located in mountainous regions and at great depths in fragmented pockets rather than in large reservoirs, making access technically difficult and expensive for drillers.