BOW Blog Post for Talk Fracking

Sunday 16.12.18 - 2 (1)First published here: http://www.talkfracking.org/slider-3/brockham-oil-watch-the-campaign-so-far/

It has been just over two years now since I first became involved in the issue of onshore oil production in the Weald area of South-East England. I had been worried about the proposed developments on Leith Hill and the threat of ruining a beautiful area I knew quite well, but as a Brockham resident, it became real for me when I started to see night lights and signs of new activity on the old oil site to the West of the village in December 2016.

My cycle commute at the time took me along Old School Lane right by the site, so one dark evening I stopped by at the ‘Protector’ camp that had been established by the side of the road, and had a chat with the people there who had been maintaining a dedicated 24-hour vigil, recording the comings and goings of vehicles and other activities and reporting these to the council and Environment Agency, as well as ‘slow walking’ in front of vehicles on the road and various other protests.

Through them, I eventually became involved with the newly formed ‘Brockham Oil Watch’ local residents’ group. I heard that there had initially been quite a lot of hostility towards the camp, who were perceived to be causing a nuisance and creating an ‘eyesore’ in the picturesque village, and that all campaigners were tarred with this same ‘activist’ brush. But it seemed clear to me that they were providing a service in drawing attention to what was going on, filling a gap in public awareness that council bodies and local press had failed to fill (many villagers didn’t even know the well existed) and ultimately ensuring that evidence of operator Angus Energy’s actions stayed in the public eye, and their dishonest tactics were fully revealed rather than being swept under the carpet.

The story eventually emerged that sometime between the 16 and the 26 of January 2017, Angus had drilled a side-track well 1,391m deep into the Kimmeridge limestone formation. This was the same tight oil formation targeted at Horse Hill and prospectively for Leith Hill and other licenses across the Weald. Angus had claimed to Surrey County Council (SCC) that it was just a ‘workover’ of the pre-existing BRX-1 well, followed by essential safety maintenance work. SCC had in fact written to Angus on two separate occasions stating that they did not have an existing planning permission to do any new drilling, including side-tracks from existing wells (an intention they had stated at the time).

So it appeared that Angus had deceptively proceeded with their plans anyway, regardless of their legality. A long period of legal wrangling ensued, during which time Angus loudly insisted their permissions were adequate, threatened legal action against those who claimed otherwise, which by this time included BBC London and several articles in the national press, and sought backing of their position from a Queen’s Counsel lawyer.

SCC had initially asked Angus to apply for ‘retrospective’ planning permission for the unauthorised side-track well, which the company eventually did in late 2017. Permission was subsequently granted at a council planning committee meeting in August 2018. A Brockham resident expressed the outrage many felt at the council’s decision:

“I was not angry before. Having listened to that meeting, I am very angry. There is one law for residents and locals who pay their council tax, and there is another law for corporations. If you are an individual and you build a house without planning permission you would be told to pull it down. If you are a corporation that drills a side track without planning permission that is ok and you can go ahead.”

More trouble appears to be brewing in Brockham now at the start of 2019. Following the unexpected victory at Leith Hill, where the Forestry Commission refused to renew the lease for Europa Oil & Gas, the unprecedented cluster of earthquakes centred around the nearby village of Newdigate, and the issuing of draconian injunctions to criminalise direct action protests within ‘exclusion zones’ around oil sites, it appears that Angus are once again, as of January 2019, operating in Brockham without full disclosure of their activities.

This time it is the Environment Agency which appears to be performing an enabling function for the operator. A new environmental permit issued at the end of November 2018 introduced welcome requirements for air monitoring, restrictions on gas flaring and acid stimulation, and finally disallowed the reinjection of ‘produced’ water (containing hydrocarbons) from active wells into one of the old wellbores at Brockham.

It is not clear how long reinjection has been going on for as the Environment Agency were not required to keep records. However produced water from Angus’ Lidsey site has been disposed of at Brockham since at least April 2018. The EA permit was rushed through without the customary public consultation and still left a loophole for the potential use of deeper acid stimulation under the guise of an ‘acid wash’ as long as the fracture pressure of the rock wasn’t exceeded.

Further confusion arose in December, when the ‘pre-conditions’ for gas management were split into appraisal and production sections, with the EA saying they had approved the former but not the latter. All of this seemed to be a rather panicked reaction to Angus’s move towards flow testing, the start of which they announced to shareholders on December 19 2018.

For me, the last two years have been an education in the underhand practices of the oil and gas industry, their disrespect for local communities and manipulation of the legal system to get their way. It has also showed the toothlessness of regulatory bodies which are supposed to protect the safety and well-being of the public, but one way or another end up rubber-stamping the industry’s malfeasance, making a mockery of the government’s original claims of gold-standard regulation when it comes to fracking and other unconventional oil extraction.

I attended a meeting with representatives of the Environment Agency back in August 2017 and they were full of reassurances about how they were going to ensure operator competence, implementing compliance action reports in the event of a problem, and noting with regards to Angus that “trust has been eroded” over the side-track issue and “we will be standing over them”. These now sound like empty promises, whether due to budget cuts limiting their effectiveness, being outmanoeuvred by Angus, having to abide by central government guidelines or other reasons. What still stands out in my memory was the way they acknowledged their role as one of ‘managing risks, not stopping industry’, even describing it as a process of ‘handing out permits to pollute’ (although they didn’t speak in these terms in public for fear of ‘scaremongering’). The public had to accept a certain amount of risk, they said, because we all benefit from the industrial production they permit.

I have found myself thinking more about this and the related accusation of NIMBYism, which several people have mentioned to me as a reason they feel they can’t oppose the oil and gas industry, being reliant on petrol-derived products for so much of their day-to-day existence. I’m tempted to respond: ‘well okay, but how did it come to be that way in the first place?’ with the point being that personal demands haven’t driven the supply of oil-based products so much as the reverse: the supply made available by oil companies inevitably generates our demand because the whole of society has been designed around this availability of cheap fuel to the point where there’s no other way to live!

Taking this view, it appears logical to oppose new oil extraction, not just in defence of the health and integrity of our back yards, but also as a way to resist the production that would lock us further into the oil-based economy with all the long-term negative effects that would entail, for us and the wider world. Brockham has seen first-hand evidence of the flooding generally understood to be exacerbated by global warming, with streams and rivers bursting their banks only a short distance from the oil site in 2013.

But yes, to be consistent and avoid hypocrisy we should extend the effort to regulate and (I would argue) stop all polluting industries not just where we live but everywhere, to avoid simply externalising the problem to others less able to defend themselves. That’s why my preferred acronym is NIABY – Not In Anybody’s Back Yard.

In the meantime, Brockham is still arguably a key spot in the onshore oil and gas industry’s efforts to expand into fracking and other unconventional extraction techniques such as the acid stimulation that industry insiders admit will be necessary for commercial exploitation of the Kimmeridge limestone and similar tight formations.

As such it will be an important testing ground, both for the industry and for campaigners attempting to limit its destructiveness.

For more information, please visit our website where you can also sign up for occasional updates via email. You might also consider donating to the group’s crowdfunder to help fund independent air and water monitoring of the Brockham site.

– Ian M, Surrey, January 2019

Angus are back and restarting work on Monday, 7th January!

Last month, Angus Energy started a production testing programme of the sidetrack well they drilled without planning permission two years ago. They stopped work over Christmas and are restarting on Monday, 7 January.

The new well is targeting a shale layer that has not been extracted from before at Brockham, and which is likely to require the use of acid stimulation or fracking to flow hydrocarbons.

In our last update on 30 November, we reported that Brockham was given a new environmental permit, which would push back work on the new well. The pushback has not happened. See more on this below in New Environmental Permit, Lack of Transparency and Moving Goalposts.

Injunction

The injunction against protest at Brockham granted in August in a closed court was renewed in mid December. The injunction is against “Persons Unknown” and prohibits trespass on the site and interference with access along private access roads and the public highway. It specifically outlaws direct action protests, such as slow walking, lock-ons and lorry surfing.

Thanks to the brave efforts of Pat Smith and Vicki Elcoate, the judge did not allow the inclusion of a list of names that was bought from a security firm, which compiled it on behalf of another oil company applying for an injunction at another site several years earlier. The list included names of people who had never visited the Brockham site and had no involvement in protest or campaigning.

The injunction doesn’t stop people from walking along Old School lane or any of the public footpaths around the site (FP84, 86 and 92; but note the stone road leading up to the site is not a footpath), or from taking pictures.

48376308_300600630587973_557880689421189120_n

Monitoring of Air and Water

The first air, surface and groundwater samples have been analysed and we are continuing with the monitoring process. We will write more on this in next updates. If you’d like to support this effort, you can donate via this link.

New Environmental Permit, Lack of Transparency and Moving Goalposts

The new environmental permit granted in late November included three pre-operational conditions. Paperwork for the condition on gas management plan (PO 01) needed to be submitted at least one month prior to commencement of appraisal or production operations via the new well.

So, we were surprised that work at Brockham started so soon after this new permit was issued. Deliveries of heavy equipment started in early December and a rig was mounted on the new well on the 11th of Dec. We asked the Environment Agency about this apparently pre-mature, but were told that they didn’t have the resources to answer our queries and that those would be treated as freedom of information requests, with a time limit of 20 working days to answer.

Delays in sharing of information run the potential risk of failure to prevent permit breaches and we think that this 20 working day delay on information coming from the Environment Agency is regrettable and unacceptable. Unfortunately, it is written into their current rules of working. We would like to get it changed, but have to live with it for now.

An update from the EA was finally shared on 20th Dec. It said that conditions on well treatments including the use of acid were now discharged, but that the condition on gas management was only partially met – it was split into “appraisal” and “production” stages, even though there was no mention of this in the recently issued permit. The EA approved the appraisal stage of this condition on 11 Dec making Angus’ work in December compliant.

We don’t know the details of what Angus agreed with the EA in the pre-op conditions because there is a delay in publishing this information, and there is no consultation. The EA issued the new permit hastily (after a 2-year long re-permitting process dragged out by Angus Energy), it appears in a desperate attempt to gain some regulatory control over the new activities at Brockham. As a result, the public was denied an opportunity to comment as there was no time for public consultation.

Cancellation of a public consultation and the change to pre-operational conditions are not minor details. They point to a weakness of the system, which allows for moving of the goalposts to accommodate operators who have little regard for the regulatory process or the local community.

Appraisal or Production?

The splitting of the gas management condition again brings out the issue of whether Angus are appraising the new well and a new geological layer, or whether they are going straight into commercial production. According to the Oil and Gas Authority (who issued a production consent) and the EA, the site will be in production. But the council only gave permission for appraisal, (although they don’t have any criteria on how appraisal is different from production other than the length of the stage, which they granted in this instance for a “temporary” period of 3 years). We are pursuing this issue with the council.

 

BOW

Twitter: @BrockhamWatch

Facebook

New Environmental Permit at Brockham

Dear BOW Followers,

Back in May, we have discovered that Brockham was operating under an old environmental permit that did not regulate or require monitoring of many risky activities, including: waste water reinjection (from Brockham and Lidsey), injection of acid and chemicals, gas flaring or burning in a generator, etc. This was particularly concerning given the plans of Angus Energy to start production from unconventional shale rock, which is likely to require stimulation with acid to flow hydrocarbons, producing significant amounts of associated gas.

We have been campaigning about this issue since, through various avenues including a petition signed by over 27,000 people, to bring pressure onto the Environment Agency to close this loophole. We have a partial success to report.  The Environment Agency have accepted that the old permit didn’t offer sufficient control and have moved to issue a new permit. Crucially, this new permit doesn’t allow acid stimulation or reinjection of contaminated waste water.  

Whilst we are relieved that reinjection of water produced at Brockham and Lidsey is no longer allowed to take place it is very unsettling that this process has been taking place virtually unregulated over the years at Brockham and other sites. There is still no requirement for groundwater monitoring at Brockham under the new permit, which also sidestepped the long anticipated public consultation.  Local people and independent experts have thereby been denied the opportunity to properly scrutinise and comment on the proposals.

There are a number of detailed conditions in the new permit that the operator needs to fulfil before they can start the new work. We will be following this process closely. This also means that Angus have been slowed down somewhat with the new type of extraction, which they had been planning to start before the end of the year.  

You can read a full report on the new permit here.

We remain very concerned about the loophole in the national regulatory regime with respect to the regulation of acid based stimulations. This issue affects Brockham (even under the new permit) as well as other sites in the Weald Basin, and beyond. Now, that the old environmental permit loophole was closed, and the planning permission was granted despite the many objections, we are shifting our focus onto this issue. You can read about it in more detail here.

In the meantime, we have started our own air monitoring regime and collected surface and groundwater samples to establish baseline environmental data before work on the unconventional Kimmeridge shale and micrite layers begins.

 If you would like to donate to our crowdfunder to help with our independent monitoring work, you can do so here.  Any contributions gratefully received.

Thanks so much for your support – it’s making a difference! 

Twitter: @BrockhamWatch

Facebook

Meeting in Horley Tomorrow 7:45pm / Permitted Development – NSIP Consultation DEADLINE THURSDAY

Dear BOW Followers,

We were very relieved to hear the amazing news that there would be NO drilling at Leith Hill (Holmwood), but the threat to the Weald and south-east England remains and stretches as far as the Kimmeridge rocks the drillers are targeting. If you missed our July public meeting about earthquakes and acidisation, or if you would like to hear more about these hot topics, and about how to get involved, join tomorrow:

“Back to back” wells are Horse Hill?

Catholic Church, 4 Vicarage Ln

Horley RH6 8AR

Tuesday 23 October, 7:45pm

 

11:45pm this Thursday, 25 October is the deadline for responses to the consultation on the proposals to:

  1. Make non-hydraulic shale gas exploration a permitted development (i.e. not needing planning permission)
  2. Include shale gas production projects in the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime

Frack Free United produced very handy guidelines for folks pressed for time. It really should only take a few minutes to respond! Link to guidelines here.

Why is this directly relevant also in the south-east? Here are our thoughts:

Point 21 of the permitted development consultation document states that the appropriate definition of shale gas exploration could be:

‘Boring for natural gas in shale or other strata encased in shale for the purposes of searching for natural gas and associated liquids, with a testing period not exceeding 96 hours per section test’.”

 We believe that the following interpretation is possible: that strata encased in shale could be micrite (what the drillers incorrectly call limestone) and associated fluid could be oil.

We also don’t see anything that could stop oil companies using the right in the Weald Basin to drill for gas within their licensed areas as a pretext for their real target, which is oil. They could simply follow on from shale gas exploration to oil development appraisal and/or production.

The NSIP consultation document gives a clue on page 9:

The areas in England identified by the British Geological Survey with potentially large reserves of shale gas and oil are the Bowland-Hodder area in northern England and the midlands and the Weald Basin in Southern England.

 So much happened last week.. The first high-volume fracking since Cuadrilla’s foul start in 2011 started last Monday, 15 October at Preston New Road. On Wednesday, the three protesters recently jailed for anti-fracking protest were freed as the appeal judge said their sentences were “manifestly excessive”, while the judge who sent the “Fracking Three” to jail was accused of having links to the oil industry, and is now facing an investigation by the Judicial office. On Friday, a series of tremors was reported around the Preston New Road fracked well. Professor David Smythe posted a blog on this today.

Dorking Advertiser – 16 Aug Article Headline

You may have seen the article on page 7 of the Dorking Advertiser yesterday that bore the headline “Earthquakes NOT linked to oil drilling in the county”.

Whilst the article is factually correct, it omits many things that were said, and the headline is totally misleading.

DA NO LINK TO DRILLING

The article fails to point out that the planning case officer said:

“we’ve had a response back from the OGA (the Oil and Gas Authority) and they have confirmed that they have consulted with the BGS (the British Gelological Survey), and academic experts and at this stage, they find it very difficult to see how the resumption of small volume production and water reinjection at the Brockham field could have triggered the recent seismic events.”

 “the OGA have said they will be auditing the records for the Brockham field regarding the reporting of production and injection volumes, and (…) if they see any evidence that operations at the Brockham field have resulted in seismicity, then they will instruct Angus to change their planned activity.”

This account suggests that a causal link cannot be ruled out at this stage, and is at odds with the statement made by the Deputy Development Planning Team Manager, Stephen Jenkins, which was reported in the Dorking Advertiser. Mr Jenkins said:

“but they” (the OGA) “are preparing a statement along those lines, that there is no causal link between the earthquakes and particularly Brockham. It’s the distance and the low levels of volumes that are important here.”

Mr Jenkins also said, concerning the Oil and Gas Authority:

“We’ve just got an initial email, and they haven’t made a formal statement, but that is coming.” 

But the Dorking Advertiser reporter quoted a spokeswoman for the OGA that

“no statement to the public about the earthquakes had been planned”

 and that

“Based on the evidence it is difficult to see how oil and gas activities in the area could be linked to these seismic events.”

So, according to the spokesperson, the OGA are not ruling out a causal link based on available evidence.

We would also like to refer you to a letter sent by four eminent academic geologists to the Secretary of State, Greg Clark, and the Chief Executives of Surrey County Council, the Oil and Gas Authority, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive. Its shorter version, copied below, was published in the Times on 6th August 2018. The letter calls for a moratorium on all drilling, re-injection and flow testing until the records of fluid injection and local faulting activity have been comprehensively surveyed and interpreted, and the triggering mechanism for this quake cluster properly understood. One of the signatories is none other than Prof Richard Selley, a resident of Brockham Park.

In the light of this, are you reassured by the statement of Mr Jenkins? Or do you, like us, the BGS and several prominent scientists, think that a causal link is possible and more analysis is needed?

Times_letter_6aug18

 

Our thoughts on SCC’s decision to grant permission for 3 years

Surrey County Council Planning Committee has given the go ahead to plans for further oil extraction at Brockham – despite a call by leading geologists for a temporary halt to hydrocarbon exploration in the area in Surrey following a swarm of 12 earthquakes.

The scientists are concerned that activities at either nearby Horse Hill or Brockham may have contributed to the recent earthquake swarm and that the earthquakes might have compromised the safety of existing wells.

We’re shocked and disappointed that the members of the planning committee so blatantly ignored the advice they’ve received from experts.

It appeared that the committee was swayed by a-last minute intervention from the Oil and Gas Authority, who officers said was the regulatory body responsible for monitoring and responding to seismic activity. An unofficial statement from them was read out at the meeting saying that it was unlikely there is a causal link between reinjection at the Brockham site and the earthquakes.

They seem to have ignored the significant increase in volume of reinjected water at Brockham reported for April, which coincided with the onset of earthquakes. We think this is concerning and any relationship between the two needs to be investigated further given that wastewater reinjection has been proven to be the main cause of earthquakes in the Central U.S.

We would also like to point out that the data available on the OGA’s portal is several months old and only an aggregate monthly number of water injected is provided. It is insufficient for any kind of credible analysis. We are calling for detailed and up to date records of injection data at Brockham to be immediately released to allow for independent analysis.

The Oil & Gas Authority can hardly be regarded as independent or impartial. Its objective is to support the industry  in maximising the economic recovery of oil and gas, and it is largely funded by an industry levy. We are disappointed that the planning officers relied on such advice in favour of the recent advice from a group of leading independent geologists.

The planning permission was granted for the full three-year period, even though appraisal phase normally takes weeks not years. Angus Energy explained that this was necessary to test a new geology.

This is a cause concern, as Angus are targeting an entirely new geology that has never been produced from anywhere in the country, whilst operating under an old style environmental permit. Astonishingly, under the existing permit, there is NO monitoring of many of the proposed and ongoing activities. This puts the local environment and people at risk.

The Brockham site is currently going through a re-permitting process by the Environment Agency, a process that started over two years ago. It is unclear when the new permit will be put in place. The EA didn’t submit an objection to the proposals, but they did submit a comment to inform planning officers that a number of issues are still being evaluated and additional data is being sought from the operator, including on the flaring of gas, well stimulation treatments using acid, wastewater re-injection.

We are convinced that Angus will attempt to start commercial production under this appraisal permission, which is what they had consistently told their investors. This is reminiscent of the events in January 2017, when Angus drilled an unauthorised sidetrack whilst openly communicating this to investors. It clearly demonstrates a cavalier attitude from Angus to both the local authority and the local community. The assurances from the planning authority that they will expect the maximum standards of professionalism and transparency gives us no confidence whatsoever.

This permission was given against the objections by the Parish Council, the Mole Valley Council and the local people. When this operation begins, it will make the area less desirable to live in and only Angus board members and investors are set to prosper.

 

Link to webcast from meeting.

Letter From Four Geologists Calls For a Moratorium on Hydrocarbon Exploration In The Area Affected By Earthquakes (Including Brockham)

Dear BOW Followers,

 
Please see below an open letter on the recent cluster of earthquakes in Surrey published on Monday (6/8/18) in the Times newspaper. An accompanying article is at this link.
 
The letter is directly relevant to the current planning application for the Brockham well site, which will be decided on Wednesday morning (8/8/18) at County Hall, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2DN. The meeting starts a 10:30am and is open to the public. 
 
A longer version of the letter was sent to Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the chief executives of Surrey County Council, the Oil and Gas Authority, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive and has been written by four leading academic geologists from both sides of the “fracking” debate, including Professor Richard Selley who resides in Brockham.  
 
The letter calls for a moratorium on all drilling, re-injection and flow-testing in the affected area be put in place immediately, to remain in force until the records of fluid injection and local faulting activity have been comprehensively surveyed and interpreted, and the triggering mechanism for this quake cluster phenomenon is properly understood, and that, in the interest of safety, a respect distance is made mandatory when drilling near faults.
 
A related article in Drill Or Drop goes into more depth on the available data on fluid injection.
Times_letter_6aug18.jpg

 

BOW

Twitter: @BrockhamWatch

Facebook