Mining halts in Sichuan after triple quakes, protests

A natural gas appraisal well of Sinopec is seen behind a treatment pond of drilling waste in Langzhong county, Sichuan province. (Reuters pic)

BEIJING: Authorities have halted shale gas mining in a southwest Chinese county after thousands of protesters blamed fracking as the cause of three earthquakes that killed two people in two days.

A 4.7-magnitude quake hit Rongxian county in Sichuan province on Sunday, followed by an aftershock that day and another 4.9-magnitude jolt on Monday, the local government said.

Two people were killed and 12 injured in the three incidents, with thousands of homes damaged and hundreds displaced.

“Due to safety reasons and requirement on safe production, shale gas mining companies have suspended mining work,” the county government wrote on China’s Twitter-like Weibo social network.

It said thousands of residents had protested at the local government offices demanding shale mining be stopped following the earthquakes.

Videos circulating online showed at least hundreds of people attempting to push through a barrier outside a government office compound, as police struggled to hold the crowd back.

Some were seen holding red banners which read “protect our homeland, stop shale gas mining” and shouting slogans.

AFP was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the videos.

Shale is mostly extracted through a process known as fracking, which uses hydraulic pressure to break up underground rock, allowing the flow of previously trapped gas.

Environmentalists argue that fracking contaminates water supplies, hurts wildlife, causes earthquakes and contributes to global climate change.

Earthquakes regularly strike Sichuan, where a powerful 7.9-magnitude quake left 87,000 people dead or missing in 2008.