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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.

Summary of our “Fracking by stealth” peer reviewed paper

This is a summary of our recent research article Acid stimulation: Fracking by stealth continues despite the moratorium in England, published in the international peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy earlier this year (see press release). The article is a fuller, updated policy discussion of our previous briefing paper on acidisation.

  • Nearly two years after the introduction of the fracking moratorium (2 Nov 2019), at a time when the UK is trying to demonstrate climate action leadership by hosting COP26, the threat of “small-scale fracks” and fracking-like acidisation still hangs over multiple communities across the country.
  • This is because the moratorium only covers very high volume fracking as defined by the Infrastructure Act 2015 (IA2015), leaving out entire gamut of lower volume fracking operations.
  • Our recently published paper describes the source of this flawed definition and how it trickles down through the oil and gas regulatory framework, denying vital protections to the environment and surrounding communities.
  • We follow the evolution of this definition in legislation, namely the substitution of “each stage” with “any stage” (with relation to the 1000 cubic meters of fluid volume threshold) first in 2016 for ‘protected areas’ and then in 2017 for all hydraulic fracturing operations. This small change of a single word tightened the definition significantly, indicating the government’s own realisation that the IA2015 definition was not adequate.
  • Even after the amendment, the definition remains deficient. We demonstrate this by looking at the history of the three shale wells fracked in the UK to date, all of which triggered notable seismic events (Preese Hall-1 in 2011, PNR-1 in 2018 and PNR-2 in 2019) – none of them would have met the original definition and only Presse Hall-1 met the tightened definition.
  • In addition, the amended definition is far from capturing acid stimulation – the fracking-like method of unconventional hydrocarbons extraction that involves many of the same risks and concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing, namely: induced seismicity, air and noise pollution, groundwater contamination and industrialisation of the countryside.
  • We clarify the distinction between conventional and unconventional rock layers and explain the key concept of permeability. A low permeability (by consensus defined as less than 0.1 millidarcies) implies that the resource is unconventional, meaning that it requires special methods to extract the resource. Above that value, conventional methods suffice.
  • Further, we point out that the Environment Agency regulates acid-based injections on the basis of operator “intent”, often exempting them from any further reporting or monitoring of these activities. Acid stimulation is also exempt from the Traffic Light System (TLS) monitoring of induced seismicity. 
  • We also describe the inconsistencies between the four oil and gas regulatory regimes (Oil & Gas Authority, Health & Safety Executive, Environment Agency and the planning regime) – they all use different definitions of hydraulic fracturing.
  • Due to the changes to legislation and confusing regulatory landscape, the 2019 moratorium is also ambiguous as to which operations fall under its scope. Confusing statements have been made by politicians and Ministers, including Andrea Leadsom in her written statement on 4 Nov 2019 announcing the moratorium. We discuss these ambiguities and confused, inaccurate messaging.
  • Finally, we propose a new definition of unconventional hydrocarbon exploitation that could be adopted across the regulatory regime. This definition would:
    1. More adequately capture the current unconventional oil and gas exploration and production which the operators pursue under the guise of conventional activities,
    2. Help to streamline the regulations and
    3. Finally allow the affected communities to call the threats by their name. Fracking is a highly emotive word for a reason; the industry knows it well and it is in their interest to play down what they’re doing with confused language.
  • Most crucially, if our definition were to be adopted, it would stop most, if not all, new onshore oil and gas developments because conventional deposits have already been discovered and many of them depleted. 
  • Our proposed definition of fracking (in relation to treatments aimed at increasing hydrocarbon extraction) is:

All well stimulation treatments of oil and gas wells which increase the permeability of the target rock volume to higher than 0.1 millidarcies beyond a 1 m radius from the borehole.

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

1st Anniversary of the Fracking Moratorium

We take another look at the fracking moratorium in England ahead of its 1st anniversary on 2 November. Much of this update is based on reporting by Drill Or Drop.com, publisher of independent, evidence-based journalism about the onshore oil and gas business in the UK and the campaign against it.

Picture credit: John Houston

In our last update we shared Mr Kwasi Kwarteng’s response to our letter asking the Government to replace the current moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing with a ban on all fracking, that is all well stimulation for oil and gas exploration and production. We made this request when the moratorium was announced last year because we are concerned that, although these stimulation techniques involve similar risks to those posed by high volume hydraulic fracturing, they are currently exempt from many of the legal and regulatory constraints. Furthermore, the climate change implications are equally as problematic for all forms of well stimulation. (See more here).

Mr Kwarteng’s response was a polite but firm refusal and a dismissal of our concerns, but he maintains his assurances that fracking is “extremely unlikely” to happen in England (see also here and here).

It is ironic then that on the same day the above assurance was last made, Egdon Resources confirmed that it would use a “small-scale hydraulic fracturing activity” to stimulate oil flow at Wressle in Linconshire. Also recently, UKOG said they considered using stimulation to fix the ongoing water issue at Horse Hill, located in an earthquake zone near Gatwick, although they did not clarify what type of stimulation (and previously ruled out matrix acidisation). None of these methods are covered by “fracking” as referred to by Mr Kwarteng. Neither is exploratory drilling into unconventional rocks, including for shale gas; for example, IGas just said it intends to ask for an extension of its planning permission at the shale gas site at Misson Springs in north Nottinghamshire.

Several other existing or proposed sites in the Weald Basin and across the country are at risk of acid washing and squeeze. Acid wash is meant to be a well maintenance technique, but the Environment Agency, which regulates this area, has failed to clarify the boundaries between well maintenance and the fracking-like acid stimulation, and as it stands, permits and exclusions are granted based on the oil and gas firms’ stated intent…

Why moratorium and not a ban?

Mr Kwarteng says that the Government’s position on the moratorium won’t change unless the science shows that it can be done safely and with minimal disturbance. Other voices argue that the moratorium is more likely to be reversed by politics than science and Cuadrilla’s owner, AJ Lucas, expects it to be lifted, but not before the end of 2020… Aurora Energy dropped its application to frack at Altcar Moss in west Lancashire, but vowed to challenge the moratorium. Third Energy, which intended to frack at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire, is trying to extend the life of its Ryedale gas wells despite an order from the Oil & Gas authority to plug and abandon them, raising suspicions they might be biding time until the moratorium is lifted.

The moratorium has always been criticised as electioneering ahead of the December 2019 UK general election and, in our view, the recent developments don’t offer a great deal of confidence that it is truly permanent. Some well-known researchers and campaigners pointed to a link between Brexit and investment in fracking, suggesting that the climate for fracking might become more positive in post-Brexit Britain, negotiating its trade deals alone. Possibly without any deal with the EU, the UK will be more keen to strike a deal with the US, where, no matter the outcome of the presidential election, fracking is not going away.

New Research

New peer-reviewed research by emeritus Professor David Smythe, focused on the regulation of unconventional oil and gas exploitation, shows us, through 14 case histories from around the UK, “a laissez-faire and frequently incompetent regulatory regime, devised for the pre-unconventional era, and which has no geological oversight or insight”. 

Another paper, focused on air pollution, environmental justice and shale gas exploration in England, concluded that the UK Government and its advisers “marginalised, downplayed or ignored” public health concerns, that regulations lagged behind the science and that the industry was able to influence decision-making. We now also know that, in just one week in January 2019, the fracking operations at Preston New Road caused an unintended release of planet-heating methane equivalent to the environmental cost of 142 transatlantic flights.

This research highlight, yet again, the need for an expanded ban for all well stimulation treatments for oil and gas exploration and production.

Meanwhile, a new in-depth report by the Weald Action Group, the SE England campaign network group, shows why we don’t need more onshore oil in the UK, regardless of how it is extracted.

Update on our open letter to the Government calling for a ban on all forms of fracking

We would like to thank all signatories to our open letter that asked the Government to replace the current moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing with a ban on all well stimulation for oil and gas exploration and production.

We are sharing with you the response we received on behalf of the Government from the energy minister, Kwasi Kwarteng.

Mr Kwarteng’s letter doesn’t respond to the issues carefully detailed in our letter to him. The documents cited within his response have been referenced in our in-depth legal brief that was attached in our letter. This brief is based on months of research into the regulatory framework, co-authored and signed off by leading environmental firm, Harrison Grant.

The response is a polite but firm refusal and a dismissal of our concerns. Specifically on acidisation, it is true that the Environment Agency regulates this area, but the EA has failed to clarify the boundaries between well maintenance techniques and acid stimulation – a fracking-like technique. As it stands, permits and exclusions are granted based on the oil and gas firms’ stated intent, which results in insufficient restrictions, reporting and monitoring to guard against acid stimulation taking place under the guise of well maintenance. The EA’s regulatory position remains opaque, with no clarity whatsoever over where the boundary between unacceptably dangerous acid stimulation and routine well maintenance lies.

Confusion also remains with respect to which operations require hydraulic fracture plans, while the ministerial statement on the moratorium on fracking referred to by Mr Kwarteng refers to hydraulic fracture plans as well as to hydraulic fracture consents – two different regulatory consents that apply to operations of different scope. This highlights the many inconsistencies in the legal and regulatory framework for hydraulic fracturing and the need for an expanded ban for all well stimulation treatments.

We also believe that investment in the post-covid recovery should be in line with climate change targets and therefore on green energy, not domestic oil and gas, involving acid stimulation or otherwise. Given the drop in demand, it would be an easy win for the Government to look proactive on climate change by switching their focus to renewables.

BOW

@BrockhamWatch

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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