Is ‘test’ fracking by the Ocean Guardian to blame for the Forth Road Bridge closure?

You very likely haven’t heard of it but if you live in Kinghorn or Burntisland – or you’ve looked out the window of your train as journey toward Edinburgh – you will have seen the Ocean Guardian.  It’s an oil rig.


Talking to a neighbour a couple of weeks ago, he assured me that the rig was simply getting a refit from Briggs in Burntisland and so I checked (and you can too by going to the Marine Traffic website).  The Ocean Guardian is listed as ‘active’ which is to say, drilling.  Sorry neighbour but the rig is currently rooting around the Burntisland Anticline fault looking for coal gas which is allowed because ‘test’ drilling isn’t the same as actual drilling.  Apparently.

If you look at the screenshot (below), you’ll see that the fault-line detected by The British Geological Survey runs very close to the major fault-line that runs all the way down to Rosyth and quite obviously through the sandstone layer that connects the Fife coast… including the bit around north Queensferry.

Screenshot from 2015-12-07 14:37:13

You can see the map in its correct context on page 36 of the 105-page report, ‘The Carboniferous shales of the Midland Valley of Scotland: geology and resource estimation‘.   You can get your copy from the The British Geological Survey here.

I’m no geologist but I did – briefly – study civil engineering at Heriot-Watt University and one of the more interesting projects was studying how the Forth Road Bridge (and by extension, all suspension bridges) was put together, a project which culminated in scrambling along the gantry under the bridge to study its footings.

The Forth Road bridge has been checked every day of its life for wear-and-tear.  The only way that substantial cracks appear so suddenly (and so close to the footings on shore) is if the bridge comes under sudden stress and given the amount of ground surveys done in advance of building the new Queensferry Crossing, it would be very peculiar if that construction project was to blame.

While it cannot be denied that the Forth Road Bridge is old and has suffered from a lot of corrosion, all suspension bridges – whether fabricated from rope or steel – work on the same engineering principle: two fixed points on opposite banks of a river secure the load using cable under tension.  Modern bridges are designed to adapt to changes in ambient temperature and wind sheer stress but what they really struggle to cope with is sudden changes in ground movement, you know, earthquakes and such like.

So, two questions:

Will the Scottish government order a geological survey of the footings around the bridges, at the very least to rule out test fracking as a cause?

Will this be enough to ensure that a moratorium becomes an outright ban after the elections in May or were Scottish government ministers cursing as loudly as INEOS, iGas and GDF Suez?

Yes, some repair work has been delayed or simply put off but nonetheless, I look forward to being proven wrong.