Last month, Angus Energy started a production testing programme of the sidetrack well they drilled without planning permission two years ago. They stopped work over Christmas and are restarting on Monday, 7 January.
The new well is targeting a shale layer that has not been extracted from before at Brockham, and which is likely to require the use of acid stimulation or fracking to flow hydrocarbons.
In our last update on 30 November, we reported that Brockham was given a new environmental permit, which would push back work on the new well. The pushback has not happened. See more on this below in New Environmental Permit, Lack of Transparency and Moving Goalposts.
The injunction against protest at Brockham granted in August in a closed court was renewed in mid December. The injunction is against “Persons Unknown” and prohibits trespass on the site and interference with access along private access roads and the public highway. It specifically outlaws direct action protests, such as slow walking, lock-ons and lorry surfing.
Thanks to the brave efforts of Pat Smith and Vicki Elcoate, the judge did not allow the inclusion of a list of names that was bought from a security firm, which compiled it on behalf of another oil company applying for an injunction at another site several years earlier. The list included names of people who had never visited the Brockham site and had no involvement in protest or campaigning.
The injunction doesn’t stop people from walking along Old School lane or any of the public footpaths around the site (FP84, 86 and 92; but note the stone road leading up to the site is not a footpath), or from taking pictures.
Monitoring of Air and Water
The first air, surface and groundwater samples have been analysed and we are continuing with the monitoring process. We will write more on this in next updates. If you’d like to support this effort, you can donate via this link.
New Environmental Permit, Lack of Transparency and Moving Goalposts
The new environmental permit granted in late November included three pre-operational conditions. Paperwork for the condition on gas management plan (PO 01) needed to be submitted at least one month prior to commencement of appraisal or production operations via the new well.
So, we were surprised that work at Brockham started so soon after this new permit was issued. Deliveries of heavy equipment started in early December and a rig was mounted on the new well on the 11th of Dec. We asked the Environment Agency about this apparently pre-mature, but were told that they didn’t have the resources to answer our queries and that those would be treated as freedom of information requests, with a time limit of 20 working days to answer.
Delays in sharing of information run the potential risk of failure to prevent permit breaches and we think that this 20 working day delay on information coming from the Environment Agency is regrettable and unacceptable. Unfortunately, it is written into their current rules of working. We would like to get it changed, but have to live with it for now.
An update from the EA was finally shared on 20th Dec. It said that conditions on well treatments including the use of acid were now discharged, but that the condition on gas management was only partially met – it was split into “appraisal” and “production” stages, even though there was no mention of this in the recently issued permit. The EA approved the appraisal stage of this condition on 11 Dec making Angus’ work in December compliant.
We don’t know the details of what Angus agreed with the EA in the pre-op conditions because there is a delay in publishing this information, and there is no consultation. The EA issued the new permit hastily (after a 2-year long re-permitting process dragged out by Angus Energy), it appears in a desperate attempt to gain some regulatory control over the new activities at Brockham. As a result, the public was denied an opportunity to comment as there was no time for public consultation.
Cancellation of a public consultation and the change to pre-operational conditions are not minor details. They point to a weakness of the system, which allows for moving of the goalposts to accommodate operators who have little regard for the regulatory process or the local community.
Appraisal or Production?
The splitting of the gas management condition again brings out the issue of whether Angus are appraising the new well and a new geological layer, or whether they are going straight into commercial production. According to the Oil and Gas Authority (who issued a production consent) and the EA, the site will be in production. But the council only gave permission for appraisal, (although they don’t have any criteria on how appraisal is different from production other than the length of the stage, which they granted in this instance for a “temporary” period of 3 years). We are pursuing this issue with the council.