Open letter to the Government asks for a ban on all forms of fracking

BROCKHAM, SURREY, 2 November 2019 – The Government’s announcement today to end its support for fracking is welcome news, but the moratorium covers only high volume hydraulic fracturing as defined by the Infrastructure Act 2015. It does not cover other forms of stimulation of oil and gas wells, including acid stimulation.

This is despite studies conducted abroad suggesting that many of the risks and concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing are the same as for acid stimulation, namely induced seismicity, air and noise pollution and groundwater contamination. This has not been well studied or publicised in the UK, despite a number of communities across the country potentially affected.

So today we are launching a legal briefing that sets out the loopholes and ambiguities that exist in the legal and regulatory position surrounding the use of acid stimulation in England. The briefing is titled Acid Stimulation: Fracking by Stealth (available on request) and co-authored by Brockham Oil Watch and Harrison Grant Solicitors, with scientific Advice from David K. Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, University of Glasgow.

We are also launching an open letter to the Government based on the recommendations of the legal briefing. We are asking for 1) an amendment of the definition of fracking in the Infrastructure Act 2015 to include all well stimulation treatments which may enhance the productivity of oil and gas wells by increasing the permeability of the target rock, and 2) a permanent ban on all well stimulation for oil and gas exploration and production. We are inviting signatures from campaign groups, environmental groups, elected representatives in the affected communities, academics, NGOs and other supportive individuals and groups.

One specific recommendation of our briefing is that the traffic light monitoring system to monitor and manage induced seismicity should apply to all well stimulation treatments, not only high volume hydraulic fracturing. This is further supported by the fact that the Preston New Road (PNR) tremors, which have brought about today’s moratorium, were caused by injections of fluid well below the volumes defined in the Infrastructure Act 2015 definition [1,2].

The largest tremor at PNR was 2.9ML whilst the largest tremor registered in Newdigate, Surrey was 3.1ML. Suspicions that the Newdigate tremors are caused by operations at the nearby Horse Hill site could be better understood with the implementation of a well-designed traffic light system and adequate reporting requirements.



Editor’s Notes

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

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

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

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: 

The Newdigate Earthquake Swarm:   As of 2nd November 2019, 57 earthquakes have been registered in Newdigate. The strongest tremor measuring 3.1 ML was recorded on 27th February 2019.



Brockham Update – Oct 2019

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

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

Link to Drill or Drop Interview

BBC’s “The Corrections” Needs Correcting

Weald Action Group & Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association complaint, October 2019

Re BBC ‘The Corrections’ programme on fracking in Balcombe, first broadcast on Friday September 27th, 2019.

1)    The programme was unbalanced. The subject was ‘the incorrect way fracking in Balcombe was reported in 2013’. But no one from the anti-fracking side of the argument was consulted or interviewed. No member of the Balcombe community was contacted, and no Balcombe resident was heard in the programme. The programme focussed on the industry’s view.

2)    The programme was very poorly researched, in so many ways, detailed below, with evidence/links in footnotes.

3)    Pre-broadcast warnings of error and bias went unheeded. Balcombe residents learnt of its intended broadcast and could see the view it would take from the on-line trail. They supplied factual, balancing information and evidence to the editor and to BBC Complaints, asking that the programme should be dropped or postponed pending investigation, to ensure truth and balance. We received the same answer from the Complaints department and from the editor. They said we should wait to hear the programme before complaining. By then, by now, the damage has been done. Many listeners will believe there is no cause for concern in Balcombe. That is not true.

4)    The programme’s dismissal of the fracking argument was especially damaging at that particular time, exactly one week before the release of Angus Energy’s new planning application was due – for three years of ‘testing’ at Balcombe.

5)    The tone of the presenter was sarcastic and mocking. She spoke of protest and environmental concerns with inexplicable jokiness and scorn. She presented protesters and campaigners as ill informed and violent (neither was true) and as coming largely from outside the village. We have been researching the subject now for eight years, and we are most certainly better informed than the producers of this programme. A great many people from the village protested at the site.

6)   The programme was based on an incorrect assumption that fracking was never planned for Balcombe. That is not true. Oil company Cuadrilla had clearly announced at public meetings and in letters that their intention was to frack.

7)   The ‘we are not fracking at Balcombe’ message came out only in January 2014. In 2014 and 2015, the government, supportive of the oil industry, changed the legal definition of fracking and the definition of ‘conventional’ oil and gas source rocks in planning guidance. Subsequently, many activities that would have been called fracking would not now be called fracking. This ‘Corrections’ programme was about alleged manipulation of vocabulary. They failed to mention those two important cases of manipulation of definitions.

8)    The makers of the programme failed to understand the nature of the planning and permitting process. Planning permission comes in slices. First a company applies to drill, then to test, and then to produce. In Cuadrilla’s case, they applied in the first instance to drill and test. Villagers were clearly told at meetings with Cuadrilla that the test would involve injecting fluids at a pressure just below fracturing point ie ‘not quite fracking’. The fracking would come later, within a new planning phase. Protesters and campaigners knew that. They/we knew that fracking would not take place in 2013. Fracking was for later. We are not stupid. The oil industry increasingly exploits this ‘permission creep’ phenomenon in its eagerness not to admit, yet, that their end game is to frack.

9)   The makers of the programme failed to understand that to stop fracking at the Balcombe site at a later date we knew we needed to protest at drilling stage. Once a company has spent £3.5m on drilling a well, it is hard for council minerals planners to say, ‘No, you can’t test it and you can’t produce from it!’ The protesters/campaigners knew the current planning permission was due to run out at the end of September 2013. The aim of the protests was to delay the drilling so that they would run out of time, and to raise awareness of the hazards of fracking.

10) The programme presents the idea of fracking for oil in the South East as a construct of silly-season journalists and dim-wit protesters. On the contrary, fracking in South East England is a deeply concerning future prospect that has been belittled by this programme.

11) The programme said oil production in the South East would be ‘conventional’ ie in geological terms from permeable rocks. This is a matter of spin and vocabulary manipulation. See below and please ask for further detailed explanation and evidence if required.

12) The programme makes no mention of acidising, an interim stage before fracking the shale – see below and see the attached leaflet 


Screen Shot 2019-07-10 at 16.57.10

Fracking was in truth always the plan – the detail

Oil and gas prospectors Cuadrilla and their then operator Bolney Resources wrote to the Department for Energy and Climate Change in June 2011 that their plan had ‘always been to drill (a) well(s) (vertical and/or horizontal) targeting the Kimmeridge Shale and to hydraulically fracture stimulate… Without the ability to undertake hydraulic fracture operations, Bolney will not be able to attempt commercial production.’(1) Fracking was at that time subject to a government moratorium following induced earthquakes near Blackpool. The following January 2012, in front of a packed hall in Balcombe, Cuadrilla explained how fracking worked and expressed their intention to frack. See below (2) an article in the Telegraph about this meeting. Thus, when in 2013 protesters from the village and beyond gathered at Balcombe to oppose Cuadrilla’s plans, there was no doubt whatsoever that at some point in the future Cuadrilla intended to frack.

Cuadrilla in fact could do no more than drill during the summer of 2013 because they ran out of time, thanks to the protests. Their planning permission expired at the end of September and they had to leave the site.

Balcombe’s current site operator for Cuadrilla, Angus Energy, own a site on the same geological formation only 14 miles away in Brockham, Surrey. They announced recently that ‘It is extremely unlikely that commercial hydrocarbon flow can be established from the Kimmeridge layer at Brockham’ without fracking (3). (‘Kimmeridge layer’ means the thick layer of shale interspersed with thin layers of muddy limestone.)

The Kimmeridge layer of interbedded shales and limestones under the Weald is the kind of geology that needs to be fracked, cracked open, to release its oil. Once the fractured portion of rock runs dry, another well needs to be drilled, and then another. Looking into the future, the industry would need hundreds of wells across the region to exploit to the full the areas they have licensed. The CEO of one company exploring the Weald has spoken of ‘this kind of geology’ requiring wells ‘back to back’(4).

A new oil field across this beautiful countryside, especially at a time of climate crisis, is no joke.


For the oil and gas industry it’s a ‘seismic event’ when the earth shakes. For affected communities it’s an ‘earthquake’. Dictionaries define both in the same way. The programme followed the industry line and scoffed at campaigners using the (perfectly correct) term ‘earthquakes’. Their interviewees said that fracking-induced earthquakes are tiny, comparable to a bus passing your house. But earthquakes near Cuadrilla’s Lancashire fracking site peaked at 2.9 on the Richer scale and have damaged houses. The earthquake at Cuadrilla’s earlier Lancashire fracking site in 2011 damaged the well so badly that it had to be shut down. Earthquakes are stronger underground. Damaged wells can release methane and other pollutants into the environment.

Don’t use the F word! Manipulating language – the other side of the argument

By the end of 2013, the public had correctly begun to realise that fracking was a threat to the environment and public health. The word ‘fracking’ had become a PR menace to the oil and gas industry. In the ensuing months and years, ways were found to avoid the F word.

In January 2014, three months after the end of the roadside protests, Cuadrilla declared they had drilled horizontally into a thin muddy limestone layer amidst the thick layer of shale (muddy limestone is much easier to drill through than the jagged shale) and they had found that it ‘didn’t need fracking’. Instead they would dissolve channels through the limestone using acids and other chemicals. This is known in the trade as acidising, and, at a certain pressure, acid fracking (5).

‘Hydraulic fracturing’, in the industry, had always been used to mean fracturing the rock. But in 2015, the government, eager to support the fracking industry, introduced into the Infrastructure Act a new, narrower definition of hydraulic fracturing/fracking based on the amount of water used(6). Under this definition, 89% of the oil wells that have been fracked in the USA would not be considered in the UK to have been fracked(7). The government also inserted an incorrect definition of ‘conventional’ oil-bearing geology into minerals planning guidance(8). Now all limestone was to be considered ‘conventional’ – so the industry could declare all their activities in the thin limestone-rich layers to be ‘conventional’.

Yes, language matters. Communities across the Weald have had eight years to study fracking and acidising with all the politics, antics and semantics that come with them.

Some other errors that also need correcting

a)    The industry writes frac’ing with an apostrophe. They do say frac’ing, and that apostrophe stands for a k.

b)    ‘Shale deposits are mostly in the North. Yes, but there are significant shale deposits in the Weald Basin in the South East. The north has mostly gas, the South East has mostly oil.

c)    Barton Moss in Lancashire had little media coverage, the programme said. How shocking that the BBC, so close to Barton Moss from their new home in Salford, for the most part failed to cover this ‘story’. Yes, there is a southern media bias and yes, Balcombe had the advantage of being on the London to Brighton line and being inhabited by, amongst others, lawyers and professors within easy commute of London. Successful publicity does not equate with spurious story.

d)    The programme said ‘shale gas produces less carbon dioxide than coal or oil. Yes, when it’s burnt. But during production, treatment and transmission enough methane is lost to outweigh that ‘advantage’. In any case, all three must be phased out.

e)    The American flaming tap (or ‘faucet’ as the producer described it, adopting the vocabulary of her American industry-influenced source) had nothing to do with nearby fracked wells, the industry and this programme insists. See for the balancing view of this industry-driven denial.

It is a pity that ‘The Corrections’ failed to do their research, failed to speak to the people of Balcombe, and took no notice of detailed information sent to them by Balcombe residents in plenty of time for this error-ridden programme to be pulled.


  1. Letter reveals Cuadrilla “had to frack Balcombe area of the Sussex Weald to be commercially productive”
  2. Shale gas: the battle for Balcombe’s riches
  3. Angus looks to sell Brockham after sidetrack found “uncommercial” without fracking
  4. CEO Interview: Game changer for UKOG, the Weald Basin, and the UK oil and gas industry
  5. Weald Action Group — Frack Free Sussex
  6. Infrastructure Act 2015
  7. Haszeldene S and Smythe D, Nature August 2017
  8. Minerals



Kathryn McWhirter, Balcombe

Professor Lawrence Dunne, Balcombe


More Drilling For The Kimmeridge Oil That Angus Energy Said Could Not Be Produced Without Fracking

On 4th July IGas announced that it is planning to drill two wells at a new site in PEDL (Petroleum Exploration and Development License) 235, just west of Dunsfold, where another driller – UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) is in the process of securing a planning permission to also drill an exploratory well. In addition to the conventional Portland sandstone, the new wells are to target the Kimmeridge rocks – the same strata UKOG and Angus Energy (the third Weald player) are after at various locations around the South East including Brockham, Horse Hill, Balcombe, Broadford Bridge, Arreton on the Isle of Wight and an, as yet unnamed, location targeting the Holmwood prospect in PEDL 143 (which was going to be drilled from Leith Hill until the Environment Minister, Michael Gove, pulled the plug on these plans after nearly 10 years of planning battles).

The IGas announcement comes hot on the heels of news from Angus Energy the week before that their infamous Brockham sidetrack was extremely unlikely to flow commercially without stimulation such as hydraulic fracturing.

Screen Shot 2019-07-10 at 16.37.16.png

In light of the recent persistent assurances of UKOG, Angus and now IGas that the unconventional Kimmeridge reservoir can be produced via conventional methods (or conventional wells), this is an astonishing admission, which vindicates what we have been saying all along – that the Kimmeridge will need fracking (whether with water or with acid) to flow commercially. Our warnings have been based on the available geological and extraction data from similar reservoirs elsewhere in the world, and on the expert opinion of David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at the University of Glasgow.

Angus Energy’s statement agrees with what Cuadrilla (who since handed over the operatorship to Angus) said about producing the Kimmeridge in Balcombe in 2011; their letter to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (the predecessor to today’s Oil and Gas Authority) reads that the company would “need to rely, to a significant degree, on being able to undertake hydraulic fracture stimulation(s) of this unconventional reservoir.” Some years later, the Balcombe Kimmeridge is yet to be successfully tested…

Screen Shot 2019-07-10 at 16.57.10.png

At Broadford Bridge, where UKOG tested the Kimmeridge in late 2017/early 2018, it concluded that the rock “appears to be unproductive due to low reservoir permeability” and that new completion and “other reservoir stimulation techniques” would be considered on future wells (see here and here).

Horse Hill, also operated by UKOG, is the only site where, according to the company, the Kimmeridge has been flowing oil (although its development has been put on hold until after the start of full-scale Portland production..). Detailed analysis shows that the Horse Hill exploratory well was drilled into a fault, presumably to help the flow. And UKOG has been less than clear about the methods it is using on this well. In 2015 Stephen Sanderson, the firm’s chief executive and executive chairman, was openly talking about stimulation; while a 2016 paper published by EY – the global consultancy – and commissioned by UKOG, said that the Kimmeridge will likely require stimulation with acid to flow to surface at commercial rates (despite the apparently naturally occurring fractures). But since then UKOG has revised its position, claiming that only a weak acid wash should be used (while inadvertently confirming they did more than that at Broadford Bridge, but that it didn’t work).

In addition to this confusion we are also dealing with muddled definitions in the UK legal and regulatory framework about what fracking actually is, and whether it includes acid stimulation (we will explore this in another piece). Whatever the definition, the Kimmeridge rock is tight and any production expected to decline rapidly, and the proliferation of wells we are seeing looks like the beginning of what Mr Sanderson described in early 2016 in his famous statement: “this type of oil deposit very much depends on being able to drill your wells almost back-to-back so it becomes very much like an industrialised process”. You can watch see the exact excerpt here:

Who knows, maybe none of the above matters anyway? If, as Angus seem to also surmise (somewhat contradicting the above conclusion), the Kimmeridge at Brockham is not mature and doesn’t have enough recoverable oil, then no amount of fracking, acidising or other extreme methods will make the Kimmeridge wells commercial.

Breaking Brockham News, Earthquakes & Horse Hill Update

Brockham News!

We have some very important news to share: last Friday Angus Energy announced that “it is extremely unlikely that commercial hydrocarbon flow can be established from the Kimmeridge layer at Brockham” and that they have entered into discussions to sell their 65% interest in the Brockham license to an unnamed third party. The news slashed Angus’s share price by 60% in a single day. It came as a huge surprise not only to us, but also the investor community, who were expecting Angus to continue with the well tests commencing in the week of 17 June, as per the published regulatory news release two weeks prior.

Angus also clarified that the Kimmeridge would not flow “on any conventional approach” and that they ruled out the use of stimulation techniques including hydraulic fracturing (because Angus Energy is a non-fracking company, i.e. they don’t have the expertise or the financial resources to frack successfully), in effect confirming what Professor David Smythe, BOW and others have been saying all along – that it will not be possible to commercially produce from the Kimmeridge without hydraulic fracturing or acid stimulation.

This means that there’s still a danger that Angus will sell the Brockham operatorship and their 65% interest in the license to a company who will want to frack. We will be watching developments closely.

In the meantime, we’d like to thank all those who have been keeping a watchful eye on the actions of Angus Energy at Brockham, and helping to maintain pressure on the regulators to make sure the site is monitored closely. We can say with certainly that the scrutiny by regular people made a difference.

Earthquakes Meeting

Over 150 people, including a number of local councillors, attended a public meeting on earthquakes and unconventional drilling in the Weald Basin we held last month at Beare Green Village Hall.

David K Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics in the University of Glasgow, delivered the main talk, covering the history of oil & gas exploration in the Weald between 1960-90 versus the current phase led by penny-share companies of questionable competence and integrity, the reasons why he supports the Edinburgh University thesis that the Newdigate earthquakes are induced by activity at the Horse Hill site, and recommendations for local residents as well as their elected representatives.

To watch the recording/ see slides, go here.

On a related note, we created a page dedicated to the Newdigate earthquakes and a page tracking related news, where you can catch up on what happened so far.

More on Horse Hill

The meeting to decide on the significant expansion proposals at Horse Hill has been postponed yet again, and it is currently planned for 11th September 2019. This application received over 1,000 objections. Although the official consultation has now ended, you can still comment to the council (here are some helpful links).

And more..

We also want to share this recent story about a breach of blowout preventer safety laws at Horse Hill. Blowouts pose risk to life for well workers, and can have profound consequences for the environment and wildlife. Please share this story with anyone concerned.

Public meeting on earthquakes fills up village hall

Click here to go to David Smythe – Beare Green playlist

Video credit: Phil Jackson, itistv 

Over 150 people, including a number of local councillors, attended a public meeting on earthquakes and unconventional drilling in the Weald Basin held last Saturday (18 May) evening at Beare Green Village Hall. The gathering was organised by Brockham Oil Watch and chaired by Max Rosenberg, Chairman of CPRE Mole Valley.

David K Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics in the University of Glasgow, delivered the main talk, covering the history of oil & gas exploration in the Weald between 1960-90 versus the current phase led by penny-share companies of questionable competence and integrity, the reasons why he supports the Edinburgh University thesis that the Newdigate earthquakes are induced by activity at the Horse Hill site, and recommendations for local residents as well as their elected representatives.

Professor Smythe criticised the authorities and the operator for withholding crucial work programme logs from the Horse Hill site, and advised that the precautionary principle should apply halting operations while more research is undertaken. He called for residents to collate systematic data on earthquake damage.

Earthquakes meeting- Full room.jpg

Photo credit: John O’Houston

Ada Zaffina of BOW gave a brief overview of the loophole in the UK regulatory system with regards to acid stimulation, potentially allowing these stimulation treatments to take place under the guise of acid wash. The presentations were followed by a lively Q&A time stretching the duration of the meeting to two hours.

We are very pleased with the turnout, especially since we were competing with the Eurovision Final and the FA Cup Final. The level and detail of questions and comments from very astute locals and councillors shows deep concern about the earthquakes and the possibility of larger magnitude tremors. We hope that this will embolden more people to speak up about their concerns and demand clear action.

With the recently released FOI documents showing that a well intervention on HH-1 was planned for early April 2018, UKOG’s fundamental argument that the earthquakes started before they did any work on this well is put into question. There are striking coincidences between the timings of operations (at Horse Hill) over the last year or so and ongoing tremors, and those are much stronger than the 0.5ML that halts operations on fracking sites up North. Many people in Newdigate live in constant anxiety over the prospect of another, possibly stronger earthquake. We shouldn’t be searching for a smoking gun that Horse Hill is inducing the tremors, we should be asking that operations be stopped until we are absolutely sure that they are not causing them.

We would also like to thank everyone involved in the organisation and promotion. This event is a great example of worried communities coming together.


Presentation Slides:

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Smythe surrey earthquakes talk 18may19 v1.1 annotated

Traffic Light System Or No System At All ?

This blog is based on our submission to the All PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP ON THE IMPACT OF SHALE GAS – TRAFFIC LIGHT SYSTEM, held on 2 April 2019.

Our submission focused on the fact that there is no TLS in the Weald basin because the regulatory regime doesn’t view the operations taking place here as fracking. Fluid injections under pressure up to fracture pressure are allowed at Horse Hill and elsewhere in the Weald (and beyond), but there is no monitoring or reporting of injected fluid volumes, injection pressures or even dates of these operations!

Acid-based stimulations already are or will be a relevant concern at sites across the South East of England (mainly in Surrey and West Sussex plus Isle of Wight) as well as places such as Wressle in Lincolnshire, Ellesmere Port in Cheshire and West Newton in East Yorkshire.

Acid stimulations involve pressurised injection of fluids underground, including acid in various concentrations, at below hydraulic fracture pressure (matrix acidisation) or above (acid fracturing). These types of stimulations, along with high volume hydraulic fracturing, should be seen as forms of fracking. Indeed, in California, where there is a history of extraction using the various methods, fracking bill SB4 (2013-14) regulates hydraulic fracturing and acid stimulation treatments at any applied pressure in exactly the same way. In Florida, a heated debate is taking place right now about the proposed bills banning hydraulic fracturing, some including matrix acidisation and some leaving it out.

Acidisation - Smythe

Source: David Smythe

In the UK, the regulations of acid stimulations are virtually non-existent. This includes induced seismicity regulations. The Traffic Light System only applies where a Hydraulic Fracture Plan is required, although it seems not in all cases, as the Oil and Gas Authority retains discretion over the details required in an HFP. It is not clear either for which operations an HFP is required, but in any case, an HFP would never be required for operations intended at below hydraulic fracture pressure. (See below note: When is Hydraulic Fracture Plan Required?)

Operations proposed in the South-East are never described (by the operators) to the regulatory agencies as any kind of fracturing. In fact, they are not described as stimulation at all, but rather as acid wash, arguably exploiting the loophole in the system created by the lack of a clear definition of what is acid wash and what is acid stimulation. The permitting of these procedures lies with the Environment Agency, which is the only regulatory body in the UK to even make a reference (although in very vague terms) to acid stimulation. By calling their intended operations acid wash the operators are also able to escape environmental regulations though de minimis exclusions.

Despite the procedures being described as acid wash, the pressure at which they are allowed by the EA to be performed is anywhere up to hydraulic fracture pressure.[1] [2] And for these types of operations, an HFP is never required, nor is the reporting of dates/timings of treatment, volume of injected fluid or pressure at which it was injected. Environmental permits for the so-called acid washes are issued based on “operator intent” and there is very little monitoring of what actually takes place once the permit is issued. Monitoring is limited to visual observations of equipment on surface during occasional site visits (for example we were told by the EA on 4 Feb 2019 that heir most recent routine site inspection of Horse Hill occurred on 23 August 2018), which might include on site document check, for example of waste records.

This is a stark contrast with the type of monitoring and reporting required for high volume hydraulic fracturing operations, which includes daily reporting of injection summaries and charts, such as the example here.


Hydrochloric acid at Horse Hill – photo taken in July 2018

HCl at HH 21.1.19.jpg

Hydrochloric Acid with Additives – photo by Horse Hill Monitoring Post taken on 21 Jan 2019

According to analysis by David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics in the University of Glasgow, the Horse Hill-1 well was drilled into a fault zone.  And the assessment of Professor Stuart Haszeldine, Dr Cavanagh and Dr Gilfillan at the University of Edinburgh supports the concern that oil exploration at Horse Hill triggered the recent swarms of earthquakes around Newdigate, possibly also by bleeding the well annulus to manage pressure prior to testing. Therefore, it could be inferred that anything that has the potential to change the downhole pressure, either to increase it or to decrease it, could induce seismicity. And if that is correct, then even activities such as an acid wash under a pressure slightly greater than formation pressure could be responsible for earthquakes. And even more so if the acid is applied at a greater pressure, approaching hydraulic fracture pressure.  Moreover, there is no monitoring in place to ensure that the injection pressure never exceeds fracture pressure. This is left to the operators themselves to monitor.

In addition, the Cuadrilla data on fracking at Preston New Road (example in Appendix 2) confirms that on several occasions the company put some (1 or 1.5 cu m) of 15% Hydrochloric acid into the well, presumably at the start of the frack.  So they have been, at least partially, acid fracking already.  This should also be a strong indicator that the Traffic Light System should apply to acidisation and acid fracking as well.

We therefore propose that the Traffic Light System (along with all the required reporting and monitoring) should be extended to include all pressurised injections at any applied pressure, and that it should be considered whether other operations that have the potential to induce seismicity should also be included.


When is a Hydraulic Fracture Plan Required? 

The Oil and Gas Authority’s Consolidated Onshore Guidance (Dec 2017) says that HFP is required when hydraulic fracturing is proposed as part of completion. It also says: If the proposed injection volumes fall below the BEIS associated hydraulic fracturing thresholds, the OGA may decide less information or monitoring is appropriate, but an HFP will always still be required. This implies that an HFP is always required for operations which exceed hydraulic fracture pressure.

However, in May 2018, as part of oral evidence given to Communities and Local Government Committee regarding planning guidance on fracking, Tom Wheeler, Director of Regulation at the OGA, seemed to have contradicted this guidance suggesting that HFP is always required only when the operations meet definitions set out in legislation[3]: “We use the Infrastructure Act definition as clarified by the Secretary of State last year to determine when a company needs to submit what we call a hydraulic fracture plan.  If a plan does not meet the water-based tests that are set out in the legislation, we would not always require one.  We reserve the right in guidance to require one should we think there are risks of seismic activity as a result of it.  We would always require a hydraulic fracture plan when it meets the tests set out in the Infrastructure Act.  We find the definition useful and we rely on it for that purpose.”

[1] “The activities outlined in the Waste Management Plan and any of the application supporting documents does not include proposals for well stimulation techniques above the fracture pressure of the surrounding target formations.” P.36

[2] See here, pink highlight

[3] Q123: