China’s Government has suspended fracking operations due to a series of protests from citizens who say fracking in the area is causing earthquakes.

Protesters targeted local government headquarters in southwest China after earthquakes blamed on shale gas fracking killed two people and injured 12 others.

Videos on WeChat showed about 1,000 protesters and 2,000 onlookers outside government headquarters in Sichuan on Sunday and Monday afternoon, with many claiming that the earthquakes were the result of large-scale fracking in the area.

Radio Free Asia, the US government-backed broadcaster, published footage showing thousands of marchers carrying banners calling for a ban on fracking. Some rushed a police barrier at the entrance of the main government compound.

The 4.9-magnitude quake hit on Monday. Three of the injured were in critical condition, while two people were killed when a balcony railing fell on them, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The government in Sichuan’s shale mining heartland suspended all fracking operations. Officials in the city of Zigong in Rong county said on Monday the suspension was a safety measure, Thecover.cn reported.

Videos on WeChat showed about 1,000 protesters and 2,000 onlookers outside government headquarters in Sichuan on Sunday and Monday afternoon, with many claiming that the earthquakes were the result of large-scale fracking in the area.

Radio Free Asia, the US government-backed broadcaster, published footage showing thousands of marchers carrying banners calling for a ban on fracking. Some rushed a police barrier at the entrance of the main government compound.

china earthquake 2

Three earthquakes struck Sichuan’s Rong county between 5.40pm on Sunday and 1.15pm on Monday and ranged from 4.3 to 4.9 in magnitude, affecting more than 13,000 residents and damaging more than 10,000 buildings.

The cost of the damage was estimated to be more than 14 million yuan (US$2.1 million).

Parents posted photos on WeChat of schoolchildren cowering under their desks with the caption: “Flower buds of the motherland! Look how you have to protect yourselves! Mummy and Daddy cannot come to school with you! Rong county our home!”

One wrote: “The first day of term … My son at kindergarten should not have been too scared, but I think younger children were probably scared to tears.”

There are 39 shale gas wells in Rong county, all of which were ordered to shut down, the report said.

In recent years, China has sought to expand and develop shale gas production, but the process has been hampered by high costs and the difficulty of extracting gas from hilly and remote regions.

Sichuan has abundant natural gas reserves and accounted for 42 per cent of China’s shale production in 2013.

The highest concentration of shale gas in China is found in the province. Much of it is produced in the hilly southwest area that is prone to earthquakes because of its proximity to geological fault lines between Tibet and the Sichuan basin.

Reports from Sichuan suggest the quakes have damaged more than 10,000 buildings to various degrees at a cost of more than US$2 million. Photo: Weibo
Reports from Sichuan suggest the quakes have damaged more than 10,000 buildings to various degrees at a cost of more than US$2 million. Photo: Weibo

The process of fracking involves drilling down several kilometres into the earth to access shale gas, which is released by firing a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into rock under high pressure.

Fracking brings environmental pollution problems, releasing hydrocarbons and heavy metals which have become a focus for critics of the extraction method.

Wang Xinzhi, a professor from Southwest Petroleum University in Chengdu, believed that the frequent occurrence of minor earthquakes was related to fracking.

“Most importantly, the area is located near the southern edge of the Sichuan basin, near mountains that were formed by tectonic plate movement, which means that the area has large fault lines underground,” he told the South China Morning Post.

The science behind the Sichuan and Xinjiang earthquakes

“Southern Sichuan is an area with particularly strong seismic activity. Earthquakes happen due to the long-term accumulation and sudden release of geological stress. From a scientific point of view, the vibrations in the Earth’s crust caused by shale gas fracking can continuously create underground geological stress which leads to small earthquakes, but this can also help avoid large earthquakes in future.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Protesters blame latest quake in Sichuan on gas fracking.
https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2187718/chinese-demonstrators-rage-sichuan-government-and-blame-fracking