Sunday, 4 December 2011

Could fracking cause a volcano?

Could hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction awaken a dormant volcano in the Mendips?

'We could be sitting on a Mendip volcano' says Somerset expert

Well, could it?

No. Not even remotely. The Moon's Hill quarry may well be the site of a Silurian volcano. However, the Silurian was 430 million years ago. At this period in geologic time, Britain was sitting somewhere near the equator, during a collision between two continental plates (Laurentia and Baltica), forming an Alpine-scale mountain building event. This 'volcano' has not been active for hundreds of millions of years. There are no longer two large continental plates crashing together (the kind of thing needed to get large volcanoes and earthquakes, see 'Pacific ring of fire'). There is no molten magma sitting just beneath the Mendips, ready to erupt. It would have cooled off 400 million years ago. There's just some slightly warm rocks capable of warming rainwater a little. Much like under large parts of the rest of the UK.

But what really grates me about this article is that I had a long chat Councillor Nigel Taylor while filming for a recent BBC Inside Out West special on fracking (go to about 11 minutes in). He put this concern to me (it didn't make the final cut for the IOW report), and I had a good long chat about what it means when a geologist talks about volcanic deposits from the Silurian, and that it doesn't mean there's still a volcano waiting to erupt just below the surface.

So it would appear that Cllr Taylor has chosen not to listen to clear science from a geologist, and has instead chosen to make himself appear to be a bit of berk (to anyone who understands geology at any rate). During our conversation, he appear to accept that he was wrong to be concerned about a volcano in the Mendips.

This is a disappointment, because this warning (and remember the headline claims this to have come from an 'expert') is no doubt making its way around the interweb as we speak, to be brought up at the next fracking protest. There are genuine reasons for concern about hydraulic fracking. If, however, rather than talking about the genuine issues, using facts, logic and science as our basis, we are instead talking about creating volcanoes, then everyone is wasting their time.

Nigel Taylor, you are deliberately and knowingly spreading misinformation about fracking. The Mendip district deserves better from their councillors. Regardless of the decision at which Somerset council arrives regarding fracking, please let it be based on fact, science and evidence. When scientific experts are available to you, please listen to them, don't play along and then ignore them.

Final rant, now aimed at 'This is Somerset': why do you name Cllr Taylor as an 'expert'? An expert on what? Not geology or volcanology, that's for sure. An expert on Somerset I guess would be the most literal interpretation, and perhaps he is. But then, if we're going to be talking about setting off volcanoes, surely the expert in question should be a volcanologist. And it's not like they're hard to find - just up the road in Bristol you could have found for example, Steve Sparks, one of the most pre-eminent volcanologists in the world. Had you wanted a little balance in your article.....

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