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Rong County suspends shale gas fracking amid quake fears, Sichuan, China


According to the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC), a series of earthquakes hit Sichuan province’s Rong County in Zigong since 24 Feb 2019. The first quake happened on Sunday, 24 Feb, followed by two more, including a magnitude 4.9 quake on Monday afternoon (25 Feb) that caused two fatalities. The epicentre was monitored at 29.48 degrees north latitude and 104.49 degrees east longitude at a depth of 5 km. [1] Twelve people were injured, according to the county government and other reports suggest the quakes have damaged more than 10,000 buildings to various degrees, affected some 13,260 people and caused a total economic loss of 14 million yuan (USD 2.1 million), according to official estimates.[2][3]

Local fracking operations, which blast gas from gaps in underlying shale using water and chemicals, are widely blamed for the earthquakes by anxious residents. Thousands of protesters and onlookers targeted the government of Rong County on 24 and 25 February, with many claiming that the earthquakes were the result of large-scale fracking in the area. The marchers carried banners calling for a ban on fracking, some were seen holding red banners which read “protect our homeland, stop shale gas mining” and shouting slogans. [4] Some rushed a police barrier at the entrance of the main government compound. [5] The crowd dispersed after county officials promised over a public address system to halt shale gas exploitation in the area. [6] The government of Rong County announced, “Due to safety reasons and requirements on safe production, shale gas mining companies have suspended mining work.” [7]

As the central government combats air pollution by ditching coal for cleaner forms of energy, it is also creating more demand for natural gases, such as shale gas, which is often extracted from the ground by fracturing shale rocks using high-pressure mixtures of water and chemicals — a process known as fracking. [3] Some scientists and environmentalists worry that such activities may lead to high water consumption, groundwater contamination, and man-made tremors. [8][9] However, seismologists attributed the recent earthquakes to the county's location in a region of medium seismic activity that is currently undergoing an active period, as said by the Sichuan Earthquake Administration (SEA) on its website. "Rong County's earthquakes are related to small scale faults," the SEA said, adding that more 5-magnitudes earthquakes could strike Rong County in the coming days. [10]

Xu Xiwei, director of the Institute of Crustal Dynamics at China Earthquake Administration, told the Global Times on Tuesday (26 Feb) that "there is no direct evidence linking exploitation of shale gas to earthquakes." There remains concern around the world that such human activity may induce earthquakes. Xu noted that US scientists have found that the number of small and medium earthquakes has increased in areas where oil extraction and shale gas exploitation has taken place but no connection has linked the earthquakes directly to human activity. [11] Across the globe wherever fracking goes, swarms of earthquakes follow. Almost all states and provinces in the US and Canada where fracking is taking place have experience fracking earthquakes [12], either induced by hydraulic fracturing or fracking waste injection. Particular hot spots are Oklahoma, US (due to waste injection wells) and British Columbia, Canada (hydraulic fracturing induced). [13]

Sichuan, the centre of attempts to exploit shale gas in China where over 1,000 wells have been drilled so far, has previously been hit by fracking earthquakes. Such quakes have panicked residents living in an already active seismic region. Residents in Rong County complained on the People’s Forum for providing feedback to government officials in November 2018, saying that “there have been frequent earthquakes in Rong County recently, Residents are scared and cannot focus on their work or studies … It all started with the shale gas extraction projects.” [14] Photos posted on social media of schoolchildren cowering under their desks also indicated how the earthquakes affected them, "when I saw these children from my circles on WeChat, suddenly my heart hurts inexplicably for more than 1 minute. I can’t help but this is the reality."[15]

China produced 9 billion cubic meters of shale gas in 2017 — up from 200 million cubic meters in 2013 — and the country’s total shale gas production is likely to rise to 17 billion cubic meters in 2020. China’s Ministry of Natural Resources estimates that the country has 21.8 trillion cubic meters of shale gas available for extraction. [3] Two companies, in particular, have been driving shale gas production, PetroChina and Sinopec. [16] Rong County is part of the region known as the Weirong block where state oil and gas firm Sinopec Corp is drilling for shale gas. Weirong is Sinopec’s second main shale discovery after its flagship Fuling project in the Chongqing municipality, which is located in the same geological basin of Sichuan. PetroChina, which also operates in the nearby Weiyuan block, said in an email to Reuters “due to safety reasons and production safety requirements, the shale gas development enterprises have suspended their operations upon communication with PetroChina Southwest Oil and Gas Field Branch.”[7] In its official newspaper released in late December 2018, PetroChina said that shale gas output at its field in the south of Sichuan province hit a daily record of 20.11 million cubic metres on Dec. 24, more than double volumes on the same day of 2017. [17]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Rong County suspends shale gas fracking amid quake fears, Sichuan, China
State or province:Sichuan
Location of conflict:Rong County, Zigong City
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Shale gas fracking
Specific commodities:Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Twelve people were injured, according to the county government and other reports suggest the quakes have damaged more than 10,000 buildings to various degrees, affected some 13,260 people and caused a total economic loss of 14 million yuan (USD 2.1 million), according to official estimates.[2]

Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationUnknown
Affected Population:13,260
Start of the conflict:2018
Company names or state enterprises:PetroChina Company Limited (PetroChina) from China - one of the shale gas producers
China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC ) from China
China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec) from China - one of the main shale gas producers
Relevant government actors:-The government of Rong County
-Sichuan Earthquake Administration (SEA,
-China Earthquake Administration

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Air pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsearthquakes
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Deaths
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsstudents could not study in a peaceful environment and residents could not be relieved in daily life.


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Shale gas fracking was temporarily halted in this county, however, people were deeply affected by the frequent earthquakes and other environmental impacts, while there is still no strong scientific supports to link the earthquakes with the fracking, it's also difficult for the local residents to claim for justice.

Sources and Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[8] Lei, X., Huang, D., Su, J., Jiang, G., Wang, X., Wang, H., ... & Fu, H. (2017). Fault reactivation and earthquakes with magnitudes of up to Mw4. 7 induced by shale-gas hydraulic fracturing in Sichuan Basin, China. Scientific reports, 7(1), 7971.

[12] FRACKING IMPACTS - FRACKING EARTHQUAKES (accessed on 2019-02-26)

[13] Fracking Frenzy (accessed on 2019-02-26)

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[5] Quakes Spark Mass Anti-Fracking Protest in China's Sichuan (accessed on 2019-02-26)

[6] China county suspends fracking after earthquakes kill 2 (accessed on 2019-02-26)

[10]专家解答:为什么荣县又地震了?(accessed on 2019-02-26)

[14] 自贡市荣县地区地震频发,居民整日惶恐不安!(accessed on 2019-02-26)

[1] Shale gas mining halted after quake hits Sichuan

(accessed on 2019-02-26)

[11] No direct evidence shale gas mining cause of frequent earthquakes in Sichuan: Seismologists (accessed on 2019-02-26)

[15] Sina Weibo @吴长今 (accessed on 2019-02-26)

[17] PetroChina says shale gas output hits record at Sichuan field (accessed on 2019-02-26)


[2] 荣县召开2.25地震新闻发布会(accessed on 2019-02-26)

[20]四川荣县连发地震已致2人死 全县停止开采页岩(accessed on 2019-02-26)

[3] Sichuan County Suspends Fracking After Quakes, Deaths(accessed on 2019-02-26)

[4] Chinese authorities halt fracking in Sichuan after residents protest (accessed on 2019-02-26)

[7] Chinese county stops shale gas mining amid quake fears: Xinhua (accessed on 2019-02-26)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[9] Fracking-off: Extreme Energy Action Network (accessed on 2019-02-26)

[18]四川自贡荣县发生4.7级地震以后,反对开采页岩气(accessed on 2019-02-26)

[19] 自贡地震:荣县政府电动门被愤怒群众撞成S波浪型,排山倒海!(accessed on 2019-02-26)

Other documents

Defending homes, no shale gas fracking[18]

Protest in front of the county government[19]

Local residents running out of the buildings for fear of earthquake[20]

schoolchildren cowering under their desks[15]

Meta information

Contributor:EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB
Last update04/03/2019



schoolchildren cowering under their desks[15]


Defending homes, no shale gas fracking[18]


Protest in front of the county government[19]


Local residents running out of the buildings for fear of earthquake[20]