The planning application we highlighted in our last update is under public consultation until 20 December.
It seeks consent to perforate the upper section of the BRX4 well to produce oil from the Portland sandstone reservoir until 2036 as well as to abandon the controversial sidetrack BRX4Z, drilled in 2017 without planning permission.
See the application here and a summary in Drill Or Drop? here.
To comment on the application online click on the link below or email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, including either SCC Ref 2021/0165 or MO/2021/2103 as well as your name and full postal address – your comments won’t be accepted without these details. Email a copy of your comment to all levels of your elected representatives (find them here) and Helyn Clack, Surrey County Councillor for Dorking Rural email@example.com
We offer three reasons to object to this application (with thanks to the Weald Action Group for helping pull together detail for reason 3):
1. Production = Waste reinjection
As stated numerous times by Angus Energy, in order to restart production from the depleted Portland reservoir, Angus will have to reinject waste fluids in the BR3 well to maintain pressure support in the reservoir (see here, here and here). The company said the volume of produced water from Brockham alone was “insufficient to restore reservoir pressure to the target pressure” and therefore waste from all over the Weald Basin would need to be trucked into Brockham to restart production.
This would mean truckloads of toxic, radioactive and salty waste fluids coming through local country roads to be disposed of at Brockham. This also means a real risk of groundwater pollution, which is the reason why the Environment Agency (EA) prohibited reinjection of waste at Brockham in 2018. In addition, science tells us that reinjection of fluids can cause earthquakesand Brockham is located in a recently seismically active area.
A proposal to allow reinjection at Brockham again is currently under review by the EA. In our view, a positive decision would be a major retrograde step. See our detailed Q&A for the EA consultation here as well as detailed reviews by geophysicist David Smythe and hydrologist David Walked accessible from here.
In summary, as reinjection of waste fluids is necessary to provide pressure support to enable continued oil extraction from the conventional Portland Sandstone reservoir, we are opposed to any plans to restart production from this layer due to the associated unacceptable environmental risks. This means that the current application should be refused and that all wells at Brockham should be properly plugged and the site restored.
2. Angus Energy’s record of brazen non-compliance, dishonesty and lack of competence
Angus Energy first became known in the local community when it made it to national papers for drilling an unauthorised sidetrack well in 2017. Angus have been criticised by the Oil and Gas Authority for lack of clarity and documentation of the drilling operations, and by the Environment Agency for their operating procedures not being up to the required standard. Tim Hall, who is the chair of Surrey County Council’s Planning and Regulatory Committee called Angus “the least reliable hydrocarbon applicant we have dealt with” and expressed his frustration at how Angus and other firms are playing the regulators off against each other. Another Surrey councillor accused the company of repeatedly betraying trust. The company made it to national titles again in early 2019 because of a boardroom power struggle involving high-profile individuals and irregular share dealings. Read more on our website.
3. Climate change & No need for oil
Last but not least, restarting long-term oil production from a field which has been unproductive for years goes against the policy direction to reduce climate change impacts, as highlighted by recent developments (see below). Contrary to the applicant’s assertions, there is no mention of the strategic importance or need for further onshore conventional oil and gas exploration in current Government energy policy. Below is a summary of main points, please see a detailed objection highlighting these issues filed by the Weald Action Group.
Mole Valley District Council resolved at a recent Council meeting to take a stand against the extraction and use of fossil fuels in the district and Surrey County Council declared a ‘climate emergency’ in 2019
The International Energy Agency has said there is no room for new oil if we are to limit warming to 1.5°C: “There is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply in our net zero pathway.” International Energy Agency, May 2021
Boris Johnson said at COP26 on 10 November 2021: “What we want to do is move beyond hydrocarbons completely in the UK and do it as fast as possible.”
The UK Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget, (Dec 2020) said: “Our Balanced Pathway sees an 85% reduction in UK oil demand”
We have news that Angus has posted a formal notice and distributed leaflets that it is applying for planning permission to reperforate, retain and produce oil from the BRX4 well until 2036. They plan to reperforate the upper section of the BRX4Z well to reach the Portland Sandstone.
Angus also intends to plug part of sidetrack BRX4Z reaching the Kimmeridge which it drilled without planning permission in 2017. Following a failed appraisal of BRX4Z and our campaign to highlight the risks of acidisation – a fracking-like technique of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction – Angus Energy abandoned plans to extract from this layer in July 2019.
Since then, the focus of our campaign shifted to oppose plans to restart the equally risky practice of waste fluids reinjection (preliminary decision on this from the Environment Agency is still forthcoming, although it was expected in September). As reinjection is necessary to provide pressure support to enable continued oil extraction from the conventional Portland Sandstone reservoir, we are also opposed to any plans to restart production from this layer. This means that all wells at Brockham should be properly plugged and the site restored.
See more about this new planning application in Drill Or Drop? and on the Mole Valley planning register. The application must be validated by Surrey planners before it is posted online and opens for public comments. You can comment about it already; the best thing is to email all levels of your elected representatives (find them here) and Helyn Clack, Surrey County Councillor for Dorking Rural firstname.lastname@example.org
On another note…
BOW hasn’t been campaigning about climate change, but since the all-important COP26 is starting today and the issues are all connected, we wanted to highlight the following:
Horse Hill Rally
If you wish to show support for climate action as part of the Global Day of Action on Saturday, 6 November, join this rally at Horse Hill. Only recently, The Times reported that the Horse Hill appeal case “is threatening to overshadow the prime minister’s attempts in Glasgow (…) to convince world leaders to sign up to more ambitious targets to reduce their fossil fuel emissions.” Additional info: Facebook 6 Nov rally pageAbout the HH legal case
Britain is the source of some of Europe’s worst methane emissions, according to the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force (source: Bloomberg Green). The group used a special infrared camera to detect significant leaks across the UK, including from five sources at Horse Hill. See more about this project on the Weald Action Group website or watch this insightful webinar with James Truitto who filmed the leaks, and WAG campaigners who assisted him at some of the oil & gas sites. Reducing emissions of the super-warming methane is crucial in slowing the rate of global warming and would show results in as little as a decade (this is not the case with CO2 which hangs around in the atmosphere for a long time: between 300 to 1,000 years). Incidentally, inactive oil wells (such as the ones at Brockham) could be big source of methane emissions.
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.
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.
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.
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:
More adequately capture the current unconventional oil and gas exploration and production which the operators pursue under the guise of conventional activities,
Help to streamline the regulations and
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.