- 21/5/2019 Public meeting on earthquakes fills up village hall
- 19/4/2019 Public Meeting 18 May: Earthquakes & Unconventional Drilling in the Weald Basin
- 9/4/2019 Our New Leaflet
- 3/4/2019 Traffic Light System Or No System At All ?
- 24/3/2019 Update on Air and Water Monitoring
- 22/2/2019 FRACKING OR NOT? Oil & Gas Extraction Plans in the Weald Basin – Some Planning Considerations
- 12/2/2019 Horse Hill Application to drill 5 more wells – Comment by Monday 18 February!
- 12/2/2019 BOW Blog Post for Talk Fracking
- 5/1/2019 Angus are back and restarting work on Monday, 7th January!
- 30/11/2018 New Environmental Permit at Brockham
- 24/10/2018 Meeting in Horley Tomorrow 7:45pm / Permitted Development – NSIP Consultation DEADLINE THURSDAY
- 17/8/2018 Dorking Advertiser – 16 Aug Article Headline
- 9/8/2018 Our thoughts on SCC’s decision to grant permission for 3 years
- 7/8/2018 Letter From Four Geologists Calls For a Moratorium on Hydrocarbon Exploration In The Area Affected By Earthquakes (Including Brockham)
- 5/8/2018 Public Meeting – 25th July (links to videos and presentation)
- 1/8/2018 BROCKHAM DECISION – Wednesday, 8 Aug 2018, 10:30am, Surrey County Council in Kingston
- 18/7/2018 Public Meeting: Wednesday, 25th July, Brockham Village Hall Bar, 7:30pm
- 6/7/2018 EARTHQUAKES AND OIL & GAS OPERATIONS
- 1/7/2018 Decision delayed again! & Regulatory loophole
- 29/5/2018 PROFESSOR SMYTHE’S EXPERT OPINION / ENVIRONMENTAL PERMIT FOR BROCKHAM
- 21/5/2018 MOLE VALLEY OBJECTION / OFCOM COMPLAINT / BALCOMBE OPERATORSHIP
- 24/4/2018 Crowdfunder to defend against UKOG injunction goes live
- 2/4/2018 Retrospective Application For Disputed Sidetrack at Brockham – Points for Objection
- 21/3/2018 Retrospective Application For Disputed Sidetrack at Brockham – CONSULTATION OPEN
- 11/11/2017 Awaiting Planning Application for BRX4Z
- 5/9/2017 BOW Update – EA Consultation and SCC Planning Meeting
- 7/7/2017 Mole Valley Development Control Committee
- 23/7/2017 CONSULTATION ENDS 31 JULY – PLEASE WRITE / IS ANGUS ENERGY BACK?
- 7/7/2017 Planning Application SCC/2017/0089 (MO/2017/0916) – OBJECT BY 31 JULY!
- 26/6/2017 Felton’s Farm – Planning Application SCC Ref 2017/0089 / MO/2017/0916
- 6/6/2017 Newsletter 2
- 26/4/2017 Easter Sunday Meeting
- 30/3/2017 Newsletter 1
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.
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.
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.
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 seem 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.  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.
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: “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.”
 “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 https://bit.ly/2WonKQ2
We are pleased to report that we have received laboratory results of the first air and water samples collected around the Brockham wellsite. The levels of pollutants are in line with what one would expect in a rural location. (Please see below for more details.) The forced break in Angus Energy’s operations earlier this year due to unexpectedly finding water in their new well is allowing us the time to continue sampling and laboratory analysis to establish a robust baseline reflective of seasonal weather changes before any extraction from the unconventional Kimmeridge layers starts. Having good baseline data is necessary to provide a reference point against which to assess the future monitoring of air and water quality after oil production starts.
We are paying for this work with funds raised from the community through crowdfunding, and from grants. Unfortunately, the current regulatory regime doesn’t require any baseline monitoring. There has never been any groundwater testing at Brockham despite the fact that the risky practice of waste water reinjection underground (including from another site in Lidsey) had been allowed for a number of years. This practice was banned at Brockham in November 2018 thanks in part to our efforts and the pressure we were able to put on the Environment Agency through our petition signed by over 27,000 people. In their decision to prohibit reinjection the EA cited concerns over well integrity and Angus Energy’s operating procedures that “are not up to the required standard.” (Please note waste water was reinjected into well BRX3 drilled many years ago. The issue of injecting acid mixed with other chemicals into the new sidetrack BRX4Z remains).
To our knowledge, there has never been any air monitoring around the well either, except for the reporting by the operator of the amount of gas produced annually, which they reported as nil. It is not known whether these reports are based on estimated or actual volumes, and they are not verified by the EA (links here and here).
We commissioned H2Ogeo to provide a baseline water quality report for ground and surface waters in the vicinity of the Brockham Oil Well. A total of five sampling locations were identified consisting of three groundwater wells and two surface water points. A total of nine water samples were collected over two events and sent under appropriate chain of custody to an accredited laboratory for analysis. Quality Control procedures were used with the laboratory to provide assurance that the results were accurate and good quality data was obtained. The field and laboratory results indicated some chemical differences between major ions in surface and groundwater, but they did not identify any hydrocarbons or methane gases above the limits of detection.
We commissioned Gair Consulting to assist with the set-up of six monitoring points on three farms around the wellsite, together including six NO2 and three BTEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, Xylene) tubes. Those are changed on a regular basis and sent for analysis. We are aiming to collect c. 6 months of baseline data. Results so far are in line with average air quality in a rural location. Slight variations in hydrocarbon levels across locations were detected, but those are likely attributable to the proximity to a road. Production from the Kimmeridge layers has not started yet and so there has not been any flaring at the Brockham wellsite, or any production of gas from these strata.
If you would like to contribute to the cost of collecting baseline data and future monitoring, please donate via the crowdfunder:
This blog is based on a submission to Surrey County Council regarding application SCC Ref 2018/0152 for the drilling of four more hydrocarbon wells and one reinjection well, site expansion, workover and sidetrack drilling, and production from six wells for 25 years at Horse Hill. For a related post with instructions on how to object see here.
- The strata targeted by the proposed wells are interbedded micrites (references to the “Kimmeridge Limestones” are misleading) and shales of very low permeability – an unconventional reservoir. Unconventional reservoirs likely require stimulation such as acidisation or hydraulic fracturing to produce commercial quantities of hydrocarbons.
- Current Surrey Minerals Plan was adopted in 2011, before unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs were identified in the UK. It lacks specific policies, creating a void in the local planning system.
- The National Planning Policy Framework’s definition of fracking is broad and includes acid stimulation techniques, which are planned in the Weald according to an industry sponsored paper. One of the key planning policies developed elsewhere in the country for fracking sites is a min 500m buffer zone. Well density is also a key consideration given the requirement for back-to-back drilling to scale production.
- There are significant inconsistencies in the definition of fracking across the UK onshore oil and gas regulatory regime. This presents a challenge with respect to monitoring and enforcement of breaches.
Background – The Kimmeridge Clay Formation – Unconventional Target Reservoir
Three out of the four new production wells proposed in this application are targeting the so-called Kimmeridge limestones, which are inter-bedded with shale layers forming the Kimmeridge Clay Formation (KCF) hybrid reservoir. The KCF stretches across the Weald Basin and is currently pursued at various drill sites in Surrey and West Sussex including Brockham, Broadford Bridge, and Balcombe. David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics in the University of Glasgow, points out that the so-called limestones of the KCF are very impure and have high content of mudstone (shale) and he concludes that “both the micrites and the shale have extremely low permeability, and will require to be fracked if oil is ever to be exploited commercially from the KCF”. Permeability (the ability to allow fluid to pass through it) is a key measure used to determine whether a reservoir is conventional or unconventional, i.e. requiring stimulation such as acidisation or hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to flow hydrocarbons. The permeability of the Kimmeridge micrites is between 0.02 and 0.032 mD (and that of the shale layers is even lower) – well below the generally accepted boundary of 0.1 mD below which a formation is considered unconventional.
In addition, according to a 2014 study of the Jurassic shales of the Weald Basin by the British Geological Survey and the Oil and Gas Authority (then Department of Climate Change), a close analogue to the KCF is the Bakken Formation of North Dakota – unconventional hybrid reservoir that requires fracking to produce commercial quantities of hydrocarbons.
Even if it is assumed that HHDL will contain their extraction to the so-called limestones (although from an engineering point of view it seems difficult if not impossible to limit extraction to these layers only, if oil is found in a single pool within the fracture network present across at least two so-called limestones separated by shale) which the company says will not require fracking, the micrites are only the first target, the main target being the entire Kimmeridge Clay Formation, as explained by Stephen Sanderson, Executive Chairman of UK Oil & Gas Investments PLC (HHDL’s parent company). However, once this application is approved, the planning authority is unlikely to be consulted on any changes to the target geological layers as this will be within the remit of the Oil & Gas Authority. Therefore, Surrey County Council (SCC) should consider that this application is for wells that will be used for the extraction of Kimmeridge shale oil from the entire Kimmeridge Clay Formation.
Policy for Shale Oil (Unconventional Oil Resource) and Fracking
SCC’s Q&A document Oil and Gas Development in Surrey classifies shale oil as unconventional oil resource which “has to be extracted using a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or, more commonly, as fracking.” The document says that shale oil is likely to be present in Surrey, citing the BGS/OGA study of the Jurassic Shales of the Weald Basin already mentioned above, but that none of the operations – either existing or planned – are for unconventional oil extraction. We propose that this is incorrect; both Horse Hill and Brockham are unconventional oil sites.
The Surrey Minerals Plan Core Strategy 2011 doesn’t offer any policies for unconventional reservoirs; it doesn’t even mention the words unconventional or fracturing. Therefore, if SCC recognised that this application is for unconventional shale oil extraction that will require fracking or acidising, it would have to look to the national planning policy, and to other local minerals planning authorities, which started developing policies for fracking sites. In particular, the North Yorkshire Minerals Plan is going to be the first plan in the country that includes policies on fracking. This plan was discussed in April 2018, when a planning inspector provisionally approved proposals for a minimum 500m buffer zone between fracking sites and homes or schools to protect against significant impacts such as noise, light pollution, negative health effects due to flaring for example, visual and other, unknown impacts.
According to the planning statement submitted as part of the Horse Hill application, there are 16 residential properties within 500m radius from the site: Wray’s Farm House, approximately 370m to the east, Five Acres approximately 410m southeast and High Trees Court (14 flats) approximately 350m to the north. The access road is in closer proximity to residential properties with the entrance being located near to Wray’s Farm House. The statement fails to mention the Lomond Equestrian Centre, which borders with the site, and which was significantly affected by flow tests at the Horse Hill site in 2016. Impacts included noise, lighting overnight, smells and health effects. Local press reported that “four people have had nosebleeds, two of whom have never had them before, while two horses in particular are suffering runny noses and eyes.” Clients as well as the business owner expressed concerns and worry.
The residential properties and the equestrian centre are at a high risk of significant negative impacts from this significantly expanded development.
Development of a shale reservoir is different from conventional oil and gas fields, where most of the development takes place up front ahead of any production. In shale, development is incremental, meaning that development and production progress simultaneously throughout the field life. Therefore pad density is another crucial consideration in terms of land use.
UKOG state in their Investor Presentation dated Nov 2018 that they plan 4 to 8 sites per 100km2, which is up to one site every 2 miles. Each pad would have multiple horizontal wells. The company also just announced a new proposed site in Dunsfold, Surrey and it said that it would submit an application to Surrey County Council in spring 2019 to drill, core and test the Godley Bridge Portland gas discovery and the underlying Kimmeridge. Therefore it would seem prudent for the planning authority to have a policy in place to manage long term land use and safeguard against potential significant cumulative effects arising from this incremental industrial development across the county.
“No Fracking” Condition
On the other hand, if SCC maintains that this application is for a conventional development, it might want to offer assurances that there will be no fracking taking place. The definition included in the National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) on minerals, paragraph 129 Reference ID: 27-128-20140306 is as follows:
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of opening and/or extending existing narrow fractures or creating new ones (fractures are typically hairline in width) in gas or oil-bearing rock, which allows gas or oil to flow into wellbores to be captured.
This definition covers not only the very high volume hydraulic fracturing, but also acid stimulation treatments such as acid fracturing and matrix acidisation – a process performed below fracturing pressure but which does extend existing fractures (through dissolving them with acid mixed with other chemicals). Acid stimulation is much less recognised and studied than high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but it has recently received increased attention; for example it is currently on route to being banned in the state of Florida, along with other forms of fracking. Acid stimulation uses lower volumes of fluid and lower pumping pressures than high volume fracking, but the number and concentrations of chemical is higher, raising concerns about the toxicity of this process. According to a paper commissioned by UK Oil & Gas Plc and authored by EY, a multinational consultancy, the Kimmeridge so-called limestones, even if naturally fractured, will require the use of acid stimulation.
In the event that SCC approves this application, the planning authority is likely to impose a condition that no fracking as defined in NPPG will be allowed under this planning permission (as it did for the Brockham wellsite). However, it is unclear how the planning authority would determine a breach of such a condition and how it would enforce it. The other regulators (i.e. the Oil & Gas Authority and the Environment Agency) define fracking in different ways. The NPPG definition of hydraulic fracturing used by planning authorities is very wide, whereas the volume-based definition in the Infrastructure Act 2015 (and its subsequent regulations) used by the OGA are very narrow. The Environment Agency has a different approach altogether. It uses a pragmatic assessment based on the materials, equipment and methods being used to determine whether hydraulic fracturing is taking place. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be a mechanism anywhere in the current regulatory system for onshore oil and gas, by which it could be verified whether fracking operations that do not qualify under the volume-based definitions are actually taking place.
Horse Hill Application
It appears that Angus Energy temporarily left Brockham after unexpectedly finding water in the new sidetrack well (see below for more detail), but the Horse Hill site – only a 13min drive from Brockham – is currently facing a huge expansion. Horse Hill Developments Ltd have submitted their planning application for the drilling of five new wells (one for water reinjection) and other infrastructure to enable the production of oil from six wells for a period of 25 years.
Please object to the plans before the deadline of February 18th (although the County Council will consider objections up to the time of the planning meeting, currently 20th March).
- To view the planning application and comment on this application click here.
- To view a summary of proposals on Drill Or Drop? click here.
- Frack Free Surrey put together a handy list of points to consider in your comment, available here.
- This video is a great summary of the threat of back-to-back horizontal drilling and acid stimulation threatening the Weald Basin.
Operational Update for Brockham
On 4th February, Angus Energy announced that the Brockham wellsite is producing water. The company said it was putting together what it called a “further engineering program” to isolate the water zone, and that a maintenance rig was expected to return to the site. Later that week, the testing kit including a flare stack was cleared from the site, and on Friday Angus announced that it had submitted an application to the Oil and Gas Authority for an extended well test at Balcombe, and that the operation “will also allow the utilization of the current well testing package from Brockham.”
Angus Energy News
There have recently been significant changes at the top of Angus Energy, which have been reported in several national newspapers. Managing director Paul Vonk was forced to resign in what the media describe as a “boardroom coup” spearheaded by Jonathan Tidswell-Pretorius – the ex Chairman who stepped down last summer after questions were raised over his involvement in Angus Energy share transfers. Mr Vonk is replaced by George Bingham, 8th Earl of Lucan. The company has also announced taking out another loan for £3M.
Please see the “News” part of our website for more detail.
Talk Fracking Blog
Many thanks to Talk Fracking for publishing our blog post on the Brockham campaign so far through the eyes of Ian M., a local Brockham resident and one of our members. Here’s an excerpt:
“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.”
Thanks for reading and do get in touch if you’d like to get involved.
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
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.
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.
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 work, 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.
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 split 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 of this information, and the due consultation was scrapped. 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.