Brockham Environment Agency Permit – Update

Thank you all who sent comments to the Environment Agency (EA) about Angus Energy’s proposals to reinject toxic and radioactive waste from all over the Weald Basin under Brockham. Our Consultation Q&A page received over 1,000 visits and hopefully this translated to many responses to the EA. Thank you also to those who contributed funds to help pay for specialist hydrologist advice. Along our submission, which was an adapted version of the Q&A, we made two other submissions: a scathing analysis by geophysicist David Smythe (produced for us pro bono) and a review by hydrologist David Walker, as well as his additional comment:

The following report provides a baseline water quality assessment of Controlled Waters (surface and groundwater) in the region of the Brockham Oil Well. Grab samples were collected from surface water and groundwater samples were taken from existing wells situated in the Weald Clay Formation. Brooklands and the Allotment groundwater sources were pumped for use at the time of assessment. Anecdotal evidence at the allotment suggested the well has provided a continuous supply of groundwater to the allotments, other than during the dry period in the 1976 drought. It appears there is groundwater at relatively shallow levels in the Weald Clay Formation in the area. Without assessing the presence of Secondary Aquifers (Sandstone/Limestone) on and/or near the site it is not possible to quantify the risks posed to Controlled Waters from the proposed activity.

As reported the other day in Drill Or Drop, Angus expect a preliminary decision from the EA in September. If the EA reach a ‘minded to issue a permit’ stage they will produce a decision document which will include all the comments and their response, and then send it out for a further stage of public consultation. This is when your input would be needed again.

Acid stimulation: Fracking by stealth

Earlier this year, a research article co-authored by one of our members and titled Acid stimulation: Fracking by stealth continues despite the moratorium in England was published in the international peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy. The article is a fuller, updated policy discussion of our previous briefing paper on acidisation. See our announcement here and a summary of main points here.

Sad news

We were extremely saddened to learn of the death of Max Rosenberg. Max was involved in our work advising BOW from the beginning of our group’s existence. He was engaged in many different fights to protect the Green belt and his passing is a huge loss. Read more about Max here and here.

Max at the Waverley listening panel Jul 2019. With Lisa Scott, Jill Sutcliffe and Ada Zalucka

We’re also deeply concerned about the disappearance of Derek Hardman. He spoke to many folks in Brockham as part of a door-knocking effort with Brockham Oil Watch in 2018 to raise awareness of unconventional oil drilling plans. He’s been involved in our work on and off since.

Couple of other notes:

Hydrogen greenwash alert!!!

You might have heard about oil companies pivoting to hydrogen production to, which they say is to ‘support national transition towards net zero’, etc. There are serious reasons to be skeptical about these statements, as pointed out here and in a brand new academic paper from Cornell and Stanford Universities (read more in Drill Or Drop?,the New York Times and other outlets). The UK Government just published its hydrogen strategy and launched a consultation – see more here.

Sam & Simon Cycle Around Spain

…to highlight the risks of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction across the Weald. They’re raising funds for the Horse Hill legal challenge. Even tough their tour is now finished, you can still support them here. See many great videos on their Facebook page, including with David Smythe discussing Horse Hill, acidid stimulation, climate change, etc.

Proposals to reinject waste fluid from across the Weald Basin at Brockham – Q&A for EA consultation

As you may have heard, the lull of activity at Brockham Oil Well may soon be coming to an end. Angus Energy have applied to use the site to dispose of waste fluids from hydrocarbon extraction at Brockham and other oil & gas fields in the Weald Basin. Reinjection of waste fluids at Brockham has been prohibited because of concerns over risk to groundwater (see our earlier background post here). As a rural community with a water table that feeds fields, streams and rivers on which we all depend, this is hugely important. We are worried about these proposals and we think you should be as well! Here are some Q&A to help you understand the issues to raise in your response to the Environment Agency’s public consultation.

You can respond to the consultation here: https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/psc/rh3-7au-angus-energy-weald-basin-no-3-limited/

If you have questions, please include them in your response to the public consultation for the EA to take into account. If you think we can help with your question, email contact@brockhamoilwatch.org  

Q1: Which issues should I raise in my consultation response? (more detail on p. 2)

  1. Risk of groundwater pollution
  2. Reinjection of fluids can cause earthquakes 
  3. Why should Brockham become a waste disposal site for the benefit of a private company?
  4. The risk is too great justify declining production from an already depleted reservoir
  5. Angus Energy’s record of brazen non-compliance & questionable competence (see below pt. 2 & 3 in Q2)

Q2. Why should I respond to this consultation if the Environment Agency is reviewing the proposals? (more detail on p.3)

  1. Weak regulations and monitoring means public scrutiny and pressure is needed
  2. Angus Energy’s record of brazen non-compliance 
  3. Angus Energy’s record of questionable competence, including specifically around reinjection

Click on page 2 & 3 for more detail on each point.

Acid stimulation: Fracking by stealth continues despite the moratorium in England

BROCKHAM, SURREY, 12 April 2021

A new research article Acid stimulation: Fracking by stealth continues despite the moratorium in England was published in the international peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy. The article is a fuller, updated policy discussion of our previous briefing paper on acidisation.

The article is co-authored by Adriana Zalucka of Brockham Oil Watch, Alice Goodenough of Harrison Grant Solicitors and David Smythe, Emeritus Professor at the University of Glasgow. The article can be accessed and downloaded until 27 May here, after which the accepted manuscript text version will remain available on our website.

The article’s key highlights are:

  • The legal definition of fracking is too limited in scope.
  • Acid stimulation is excluded despite the environmental harm involved.
  • Regulators have failed to grapple with ambiguities and inconsistencies.
  • The 2019 moratorium is ambiguous fails to remedy the issue for many affected communities.
  • Our new definition of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction is scientifically robust.

Our definition and proposals for implementation will close the existing loophole in the current phase of hydrocarbon exploration and production in England, which targets mainly unconventional oil and gas, but which the operators are pursuing under the guise of conventional activities.

To meet climate change concerns, the 2019 moratorium should be converted into a ban. In the interim, we argue that, in order to comply with the government’s policy of ensuring safe and sustainable operations, the moratorium should be extended to all well stimulation treatments for unconventional hydrocarbon extraction, including acid stimulation.

Notes:

About Brockham Oil Watch:  Brockham Oil Watch (BOW) is a non-political group of local residents concerned about the threat of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction from the Kimmeridge Clay Formation (or other unconventional reservoirs) at Brockham, and gaps in the current legislative/regulatory framework. For more information visit www.brockhamoilwatch.org

About Professor Smythe:  David K. Smythe is Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at the University of Glasgow. He took early retirement from the Chair of Geophysics in 1998 when the Department of Geology & Applied Geology was closed. He lives in France. His main current research interests are fracking, nuclear waste disposal, and nuclear accidents. For more information visit: www.davidsmythe.org

About Harrison Grant Solicitors:  Harrison Grant provides experience and expertise in public law, planning and environmental law (including international law), human rights and advice on governance for charities and campaign groups. Noted for its role in high profile cases, it is recognised as a leading law firm of leading lawyers. For more information visit www.hglaw.co.uk/

[END]

Brockham needs you NOW!

After nearly two years of relative silence at the Brockham oil well, Angus Energy have applied for a variation of their environmental permit to allow for reinjection of waste fluid produced from hydrocarbon extraction at Brockham, Lidsey and other producing fields in the Weald Basin (despite the fact there is currently no planning permission for the importation of any waste fluids from other well sites).

Angus said the permit change was needed to support oil production at Brockham by increasing reservoir pressure. It would also eliminate the cost of transporting and disposing of the waste, which is very salty. Angus also said it would abandon Brockham if this application is refused.

See here a summary of current proposals in Drill Or Drop? 


We are concerned about these new proposals because, amongst other things, reinjection of waste fluids – especially at shallow depths as is proposed here – risks polluting the groundwater.

It is because of this risk that reinjection at Brockham was explicitly prohibited by the Environment Agency in 2018, after we discovered that Brockham had been operating under an old environmental permit that did not regulate or require monitoring of many risky activities, including waste fluid reinjection. 

Because of these loopholes and Angus Energy’s track record of non-compliance (the company drilled an unauthorised sidetrack well in Jan 2017), Brockham became a site of “high public interest” and the EA rushed to issue a new permit in November 2018 to impose stronger controls on Angus, who were pressing ahead with operations on a new geology under the old permit. With respect to reinjection, the EA concluded that Angus did not have the required documents, procedures or monitoring in place to mitigate the risk to groundwater and that they would need to apply for reinjection again. 

See our background note from November 2018

It was public interest and public pressure that brought close scrutiny to Brockham in 2018 and we need you to show your interest again. We would like to ask you to help in the following ways:

  • Write to your elected representatives (on all levels: parish, district, county and beyond) asking them for proper scrutiny of these proposals and – should should this permit be considered for approval by the EA – for the requirement for baseline and long-term monitoring of groundwater through groundwater monitoring boreholes. Find your representatives here https://www.writetothem.com/. Brockham parish councillors are listed here, contact at clerk@brockham.org
  • Contribute funds to help pay for specialist reviews of Angus Energy’s technical documents. We commissioned input from a hydrogeologist and a geophysicist. Such reviews have been helpful in assisting the EA’s assessments at other drill sites by identifying issues which might have been missed otherwise. You can transfer funds directly to our account (Sort code: 30-90-91, Bank Account: 71699760) or use PayPal.
  • Respond to the EA consultation on issues that could affect you or where you have particular knowledge. The EA said: “We are keen to understand the views of local people before we make a final decision and would urge anyone interested to let us know what they think.” To comment and see all of Angus Energy’s proposals go here. We are working on some pointers to help with your response and will share ASAP.

The consultation closes 4 May 2021!

Act NOW

Blog Posts

Acidising and Fracking Posts

Brockham Oil Well & Earthquakes Posts

New Ministers Face Renewed Calls For Extension of the Fracking Moratorium

BROCKHAM, SURREY, 24 Feb 2020 – An open letter to the Government signed by more than 600 academics, politicians and campaigners was delivered today to key ministers overseeing fracking, including Alok Sharma and George Eustice, the newly appointed secretaries for BEIS and DEFRA. The letter was also sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and copied to chief executives of national onshore oil & gas regulators.

The letter – which was launched by Brockham Oil Watch on 2 November 2019, the day the fracking moratorium was announced – calls for replacing the current moratorium with an outright ban and an extension of this ban to all forms of hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation techniques to enhance the productivity of onshore oil and gas wells. Together with the letter, addressees received a copy of the legal brief, Acid Stimulation: Fracking by Stealth, detailing the issues raised.

Signatories include professors Denis Hall, Stuart Haszeldine, Robert Howarth, Anthony Ingraffea and David Smythe; politicians Caroline Lucas MP, Jonathan Bartlett, co-leader of the Green Party, Baronesses Jenny Jones and Natalie Bennett; Doug Parr on behalf of Greenpeace UK, Bill McKibben, Co-founder of 350.org, George Monbiot, Vivienne Westwood, Joe Corré, Jeremy Leggett, Alistair Beaton – playwright and the author of Fracked!, actors Susan Jameson and James Bolam, Josh Fox – Director of Oscar Nominated Film Gaslands, Dr Gail Bradbrook of Extinction Rebellion and many more.

Nearly 100 anti-fracking and related groups in the UK and internationally also signed the letter.

David K. Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at the University of Glasgow who provided scientific advice to the project, said “Current legal drafting and accompanying technical definitions are in places self-contradictory and shambolic. We can cut the Gordian knot around controls on fracking (and its ugly sister acidisation) by basing the legislation on the concept of ‘stimulation’, this being defined as the permanent alteration of the bulk physical properties of the rock volume to be exploited for oil or gas.”

Alice Goodenough, consultant solicitor at Harrison Grant, who co-authored the legal brief said: “Where well stimulation activities fall outside the narrow legal definition of “hydraulic fracturing”, there is no clarity over what legal and regulatory controls apply.  Many of the restrictions in place for fracking do not apply to other forms of well stimulation.”

Ada Zaffina from Brockham Oil Watch said: “This issue unites anti-fracking campaigns across the country. People don’t want fracking, whether it’s high volume, fracking with acid, or using some other extreme extraction technique. The associated environmental and public health risks are unacceptable, and so is continuing to extract oil and gas from unyielding rocks instead of tackling the climate emergency.”

[1] Open letter to the Government: Stimulation of oil and gas wells – reforms required is available here and the legal briefing: Acid Stimulation: Fracking by Stealth  is available on request.

The brief was co-authored by Brockham Oil Watch and Harrison Grant Solicitors, with scientific Advice from David K. Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, University of Glasgow.

[2] Fracking moratorium announcement 2 Nov 2019: https://bit.ly/39m2YHF. Government clarification on the limited scope of the moratorium https://drillordrop.com/2020/01/29/government-statement-confirms-fracking-is-still-allowed-under-moratorium-campaigners/

Editor’s Notes

About Brockham Oil Watch:    Brockham Oil Watch (BOW) is a non-political group of local residents concerned about the threat of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction from the Kimmeridge Clay Formation (or other unconventional reservoirs) at Brockham, and gaps in the current legislative/regulatory framework. For more information visit www.brockhamoilwatch.org

About Harrison Grant Solicitors:    Harrison Grant provides experience and expertise in environmental, wildlife, human rights, planning and public law, and advice on governance for charities and campaign groups.  For more information visit https://www.hglaw.co.uk/

About Professor Smythe: David K. Smythe is Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at the University of Glasgow. He took early retirement from the Chair of Geophysics in 1998 when the Department of Geology & Applied Geology was closed. He lives in France. His main current research interests are fracking, nuclear waste disposal, and nuclear accidents. For more information visit: https://www.davidsmythe.org 

2 Nov 2019 moratorium – What’s the fracking problem?

 

A temporary pause

The moratorium has been widely criticised in the press as an “election stunt” to hold on to voters as public support for fracking has dropped to an all-time low. The main criticism has been around the fact this moratorium is only a temporary pause and so easy to reverse when “compelling new evidence is provided”.

Published a few days later, the government response to consultation on whether to introduce permitted development rights for shale gas exploratory drilling, said that although not being taken forward now, “there could be considerable merit in taking forward these proposals in the future” and that “the government remains committed to making planning decisions faster and fairer for all those affected by new shale developments.”

 

Limited scope

But the temporary nature is not the only problem with this moratorium. It is also partial in scope, only covering some fracking operations. And there is confusion about which ones.

The moratorium announcement says that the government will take a presumption against issuing Hydraulic Fracturing Consents (HFC). The requirement for an HFC, along with other controls on shale gas exploration, was introduced by the Infrastructure Act 2015 (IA2015). An HFC is given by the Secretary of State (SoS) for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). It is required for operations that meet the “associated hydraulic fracturing” definition in the IA2015, which is hydraulic fracturing that “involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of—

  1. more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or
  2. more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total.”

However, since the 29 November 2017 BEIS ministerial direction to the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), all operations that meet the definition of “relevant hydraulic fracturing” (introduced in 2016 regulations for protected areas) should also be referred to the SoS for consent. The difference between “relevant” vs “associated” hydraulic fracturing is that the volume is, or is expected to be 1,000m3 at any stage vs each stage (this does make a very big difference!).

So we interpret this as that the moratorium covers only to operations that meet either the “associated” or “relevant” hydraulic fracturing definition.

 

4 Nov 2019 – Andrea Leadsom’s Written Statement Confusion

The above interpretation is contradicted by Mrs Leadsom’s statement to Parliament on 4 November 2019, where she refers to HFCs but also says that “the OGA are therefore unlikely to approve future Hydraulic Fracture Plans unless new evidence is presented.”

Hydraulic Fracture Plans and Hydraulic Fracturing Consents are two different things.

A Hydraulic Fracture Plan (HFP) is required by the OGA. Its main purpose is to mitigate the risk of induced seismicity through a traffic light system contained within the HFP. The OGA guidance states that an HFP will always be required for hydraulic fracturing operations (any operation where injections are above fracture gradient), but in evidence given to Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLGC) in 2018, the OGA seems to contradict this by saying that they would not always require an HFP for operations that are below the IA2015 volume thresholds.

It is therefore unclear when exactly an HFP is required, but it is clearly required for a wider spectrum of fracking operations than either “associated” or “relevant” hydraulic fracturing. Therefore, Mrs Leadsom’s statement suggests that the moratorium covers a wider spectrum of operations than “associated” or “relevant” hydraulic fracturing.

Since the reason for imposing the moratorium is because “it is not possible with current technology to accurately predict the probability of tremors associated with fracking” and since seismicity is regulated through an HFP, this conclusion seems correct.

 

Fracking of PNR1 and PNR2 – neither “associated” nor “relevant” hydraulic fracturing

Neither of the Preston New Road (PNR) fracking operations in 2018 (PNR-1) and 2019 (PNR-2) met the definition of “associated” or “relevant” hydraulic fracturing. The maximum volume in any stage in both cases was only 400m3+, while the total volumes were well below 10,000m3 (see the numbers highlighted in pale salmon below).

In both cases Cuadrilla sought Hydraulic Fracturing Consent from the SoS for BEIS because the expected volumes were much higher than those achieved in the actual operations. It appears that, had Cuadrilla made more realistic expectations, they would not have had to obtain HFCs for neither of the PNR wells.

However, even if the expected volumes matched the reduced volumes actually achieved, Cuadrilla would have likely had to submit and agree Hydraulic Fracture Plans with the OGA for both.

Screen Shot 2019-11-29 at 15.53.18.png

Comparison of all three high volume hydraulic fracturing operations carried out in England to date

 

Testing the Moratorium  

It looks like the fracking problem isn’t gone at all. The first test case for the moratorium (if it is not reversed before then) might be the Wressle, North Lincolnshire planning enquiry decision, where a Hydraulic Fracture Plan is required for the planned operations (and according to Drill Or Drop, the Environment Permit for the site makes 27 references to hydraulic fracturing), but where the volumes are not expected to meet the “associated” or “relevant” definitions of hydraulic fracturing, and therefore won’t need a Hydraulic Fracturing Consent.

Other cases to watch are the Harthill site in S Yorks where Ineos is pursuing a shale gas development but the company said that the moratorium has no effect since they are not fracking, and Woodsetts (also in S Yorks), where Ineos installed new protest injunction notices.

What about acid stimulation? 

In any case, the moratorium definitely does not cover matrix acid stimulation – a form fracking carried out through injections below fracture gradient (where the rock is dissolved by acid rather than fractured under hydraulic pressure). It is suspected that this form of well stimulation might already be taking place at sites in Surrey and Sussex under the guise of acid wash, therefore escaping vital protections and regulations, including the traffic light system for induced seismicity. Given that, according to data from the British Geological Survey (BGS), Surrey is now one of the UK’s earthquake hot spots, this is a truly shocking state of affairs.

 

P.S. We are inviting signatures for our open letter to the Government to close this loophole and ban all forms of fracking. The letter is based on an in-depth legal briefing that goes into the above issues in more detail. See here for more.

 

*****

Acknowledgements: the above analysis would not have been possible without the comprehensive and in-depth reporting by Drill Or Drop?

*****

 

Sources for comparison chart of high volume hydraulic fracturing:

Preese Hall, 2011

PNR-1, 2018

PNR-2, 2019

Crowdfunder for a judicial review of Horse Hill decision

190911-horse-hill-dod4.jpg

A local campaigner has launched a Crowdfunder appeal to raise funds for a judicial review of Surrey County Council’s decision to allow massive expansion of oil drilling at Horse Hill in Surrey.

Sarah Finch is looking to raise £25,000 to cover legal costs.

She says, “Like many other people, I wrote objections to the plans for four more oil wells and 20 years of production at Horse Hill. So I was dismayed when the planning committee ignored our well-researched objections.

“The decision to allow 20 years of oil production was wrong.

“It was wrong because of the climate emergency. 20 years takes us way past the time when we need to have stopped using fossil fuels like oil.

“It was wrong because of the earthquake risks in this vulnerable area – and Surrey County Council refused to look at the evidence on this, saying it wasn’t their responsibility.

“And it was wrong because Green Belt countryside is no place for industrial development.

“That’s why I am seeking a Judicial Review of the decision now.”

Ms Finch, working with others from the Weald Action Group, has secured a team of leading environmental and planning lawyers, including barristers Marc Willers QC from Garden Court Chambers, Estelle Dehon from Cornerstone Chambers, and solicitors from Leith Day.

She said, “Our lawyers are working for a fraction of their usual fees but even so, fighting through the courts costs money. I hope that local residents and people concerned about climate change will donate what they can. Together we can get this very bad decision overturned, and make sure Surrey and other planning authorities look at all the implications of oil and gas drilling in future.”

 

Visit the Crowdfunder appeal:
https://chuffed.org/project/support-surrey-oil-legal-challenge

Brockham Update – Oct 2019

  • After announcing in June 2019 that the company was in preliminary discussions with a third party regarding a sale of its 65% interest in the Brockham license, Angus Energy is no longer actively selling, although a market buyer could still offer to purchase the site and licence. Angus said it received a temporary extension of its production license PL235 from the Oil and Gas Authority (it was due to expire in Oct 2019) but they have not told us the new expiry date.
  • Angus said there was oil in the Kimmeridge shale at Brockham, but “not in sufficient quantity or under sufficient pressure to want to release itself and come up the pipe.” They said there are variations in the Kimmeridge and that it is really an unknown. Multiple wells in multiple locations would have to be drilled to understand how the rock behaves in different areas.
  • Angus confirmed they have ruled out high volume fracking. The Kimmeridge layers are shallower than 1,000m below ground, and high volume fracking is not allowed. They also told Drill Or Drop? that it is too expensive and too difficult to get community support. Angus did not comment on other fracking-like methods such as acid stimulation.
    • Our comment: if there is not enough oil in the Kimmeridge, it makes little sense to try to extract it.
  • Angus says it plans to re-start production from the conventional Portland reservoir via well BRX2. The Portland has already been exploited at Brockham and is towards the end of its life.
  • Angus will need to apply pressure management techniques (namely reinjection of waste water), to produce the Portland. They previously said: “if we can’t reinject we can’t support the pressure in the reservoir and we can’t get rid of any water that has been produced.” Angus said they were in discussions with the Environment Agency to find a way around this technical issue, but no application has been made.
    • Our comment: In November 2018, Angus was granted a new environmental permit by the EA. This permit prohibited the reinjection of waste water (from Brockham and another drill site – Lidsey) at Brockham because of the risk of pollution of groundwater. There is no groundwater monitoring at Brockham, and Angus was not able to demonstrate to the EA that they had the required procedures in place to monitor well integrity when injecting waste water underground.
    • 31 Oct update: the EA confirmed that they have not received an application from Angus Energy for reinjection, and that they have not had formal discussions with them on this matter. If Angus were to make an application, the EA would need further information from them to formally make an assessment including of any required conditions. 
    • 30 April 2020: the EA confirmed that they have not received an application from Angus Energy for reinjection.
  • Angus also believe there might an opportunity to access the Portland via the infamous sidetrack BRx4Z drilled without planning permission. Although they also obtained a cost estimate to plug and abandon it.
  • If Portland extraction is not viable, the entire site will be probably abandoned and restored to agriculture.
  • Angus also told the Parish Council that they might target other layers, but no other detail is available.
  • Angus tentatively agreed to form a local liaison committee with the Parish Council and members of Brocham Oil Watch. Meetings of this group would begin in November 2019.
  • On 25 Oct 2019 Angus announced that it raised a £1.5m loan facility to pay for the costs of decommissioning oil and gas wells, and that £1m of the loan has been drawn down immediately to be set aside to fund the future restoration of oil sites at Brockham in Surrey and Lidsey in West Sussex. In this announcement Angus also says that Brockham is a valuable asset it still expects to exploit, and that a decision on whether to impair or fully write down its carrying value will be made at the time the full year accounts to 30 September 2019 are prepared and reviewed by its auditors.

Link to PC/Angus meeting notes will be posted if permission given

Link to Drill or Drop Interview