HC Deb 14 April 1976 vol 909 cc573-5W
Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) how many earth tremors there have been in the Stoke-on-Trent area in the last two years;

(2) on how many occasions his Department has financed investigations into earth tremors in the last 10 years; how much was spent; and in which areas the investigations were conducted;

(3) if he had consultations with the Governments of foreign countries in which earth tremors have occured near coal mining sites.

Mr. Shore

I understand that measuring equipment locally installed last September has recorded some 90 low-magnitude tremors, of which six were large enough to be felt by the general public. Before this date significant tremors were recorded on 15th and 25th July 1975 emulating from the Stoke area but by apparatus located in Edinburgh.

The main responsibility for Government research on seismology lies with the Institute for Geological Sciences, which is part of the Natural Environment Research Council, supported by funds from the Department of Education and Science. It has carried out a number of investigations in recent years in various parts of the country, and keeps in close touch with work overseas, including that on induced seismicity from coal-mining. My Department has not so far had any direct part in these activities, but it will shortly be considering the extent to which it can support "applied" work of general significance in this field.

Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) if he will outline in The Official Report his reasons for refusing to finance further investigations into earth tremors in Stoke-on-Trent;

(2) if, in consequence of the earth tremor in Stoke-on-Trent on Friday 9th April, he will reappraise his decision to refuse to finance further investigations;

(3) if he will urgently consult with the Institute of Geological Sciences about the continuance of earth tremors in the Stoke-on-Trent area with a view to using their equipment for a period of two years, if necessary, to investigate the causes of earth tremors in Stoke-on-Trent;

(4) if he will pay a visit to Stoke-on-Trent to hold discussions with the local authority working party, the National Coal Board and the residents who have been affected by earth tremors.

Mr. Shore

The main point considered earlier was the breadth of application of the results of the proposed work. This was then thought to be of mainly local significance, and thus a matter for local funding, though it was also made clear to my hon. Friend that the question was open to rapid re-appraisal in the light of changing circumstances. The unexpected further availability of equipment supplied by the Institute for Geological Sciences now makes it possible to continue monitoring until October, provided an agreed basis can be found for meeting the relatively small manpower costs involved. My Department will be represented when the local Working Party meets to discuss this and other matters tomorrow. This meeting will take the tremors of 9th April into account, but these were considerably less severe than those of last July.

I shall, however, ensure that the case for work at Stoke beyond October is carefully considered in consultation with the Institute for Geological Sciences, in the context of the proposals for a national monitoring network which I expect that they will shortly be putting to my Department. I have no present plans for an early local visit, but I shall of course keep in close touch with the situation.

Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) what consultations he has had with the Stoke-on-Trent local authority about earth tremors in Stoke-on-Trent;

(2) what consultations he has had with the National Coal Board about earth tremors in Stoke-on-Trent:

(3) how many of his officials have been working on the investigations into the earth tremors in Stoke-on-Trent; and how much time they have spent on that work.

Mr. Shore

I have not myself been involved in any such consultations. None of my staff has engaged directly in these investigations, but a number of them have been involved in work arising from them. It would not be practicable to calculate exactly how much time they have spent on this.