What is high volume hydraulic fracturing? That depends on who you ask (if they know, of course)

Yesterday, Peter Lilley MP, a member of the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee told Channel 4 News that 200 wells had been fracked in the UK. Vanessa Vine, of Britain and Ireland Frack Free, told the programme that an email to her from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said there had been one, at Preese Hall, in Lancashire.

This isn’t the first time Mr Lilley has claimed 200 wells have been fracked in the UK. He said it during a phone-in with BBC Radio 5Live and during the Spectator debate Let’s Get Fracking on December 2nd last year.

Balcombe resident, Louise Delpy, received a similar answer from DECC to Vanessa Vine. Hers said: “Cuadrilla is the only operator in the UK to so far use high volume hydraulic fracturing – this technique was used on the Preese Hall well in Lancashire in 2011”

So who’s right, DECC or Mr Lilley? Or are they talking about different things?

Louisa Delpy decided to investigate further by asking each agency concerned with the process this straightforward question: “Please can you provide me with the most up-to-date definition of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing? Kind regards, Louisa”  

This is what the agencies told her:

The Environment Agency
The Environment Agency has used the following definition of high volume hydraulic fracturing in our environmental risk assessment of shale gas:  A September 2012 report on environmental risks from hydraulic fracturing for the European Commission recommended a working definition of high volume hydraulic fracturing as fracturing in which 1,000 m3 fluid or more is used in an individual fracture and flowback stage.  I hope that this answers your questions.

The Health and Safety Executive
Dear Ms Delpy
HSE has no definition of high volume hydraulic fracturing. Any proposed hydraulic fracturing stimulation is assessed on its individual merits; in that context a definition of high volume serves no purpose.

Department of Energy and Climate Change
Dear Ms Delpy,
Thank you for your further email. DECC does not have a specific definition of high volume hydraulic fracturing, however hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is likely to involve the use of large quantities of clean water, typically 10,000 to 30,000 m3 water per well (10,000 to 25,000 tonnes).
Yours sincerely,

A separate reply from John Arnott at DECC
You also asked if we have a formal definition of fraccing. We don’t. But generally speaking, we would recognise fraccing by the application of hydraulic pressure to the rock around a wellbore, with the intention of fracturing the rock or enlarging pre-existing fractures. For instance, there have been questions whether an acid wash procedure planned by Cuadrilla at Balcombe constitutes fraccing. We don’t think so, because no elevated pressures will be employed and there is no intention to fracture the rock, merely to clean up the mudcake and drilling debris around the wellbore.

West Sussex County Council
WSCC relies on definitions from the government, when available, and/or the information relating to a specific proposal and its anticipated impacts. The Department of Communities and Local Government’s guidance includes a definition of fracking (para 83, p19):
What is hydraulic fracturing?
83. 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.
DECC has also provide some useful information:

In December last year, Helz Cuppleditch then sent a series of questions to West Sussex County Council to find out more. Here are her questions and the the council’s response:

Q1. Have any sites in West Sussex been hydraulically fractured? Please answer yes or no
Answer: Information on our files indicates that a site at Baxter’s Copse may have been fractured in the 1980s as per the attached information but we are uncertain whether the method would be considered ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or whether the method, once approved, was implemented. No other sites have been hydraulically fractured.

Q2. If yes, please state which sites and when
Answer: Please see above.

Q3. Do operators notify WSCC when hydraulic fracturing is going to be used / has been used? Please answer yes or no
Answer: Yes. We ask applicants to state in planning application for oil/gas development whether hydraulic fracturing will be used.

Q4. Is permission needed by WSCC for the hydraulic fracturing process? Please answer yes or no.
Answer: Planning permission is needed for hydrocarbon extraction which may, or may not, involve hydraulic fracturing. Any planning permission will control the impacts of the development that can be controlled through the planning system.

Q5. Please supply full disclosure of WSCC’s definition of the following aspects of onshore gas/oil exploration and extraction
(a) Methane flaring
(b) Acid etching
(c) Flow testing
(d) Well stimulation
(e) High volume, high pressure hydraulic fracturing
(f) Hydraulic fracturing
(g) unconventional gas / oil extraction

Answer: WSCC does not have its own definitions of these.

Q6. Please provide the name of advisory body that has provided training for WSCC in relation to hydraulic fracturing.
Answer: No advisory body has provided such training.

Q7. Please provide the name of advisory body that has provided training for WSCC in relation to high pressure, high volume hydraulic fracturing.
Answer: No advisory body has provided such training

Updated 21/12/16 to correct the name of the DECC official, John Arnott

4 replies »

  1. So both are right. High volume fracking in shale has only been carried out once, but fracking as a process has been carried out hundreds of times. Fracking covers the process in vertical wells for oil and horizontal wells for shale gas. Fracking itself is not dangerous. It is the drilling that could potentially cause the problems. But drilling has been carried out for oil thousands of times with little if at all problems in damaging the environment. Environmentalists pick on fracking because they know they can’t blame drilling. They also pick on high volume fracking because they know they can’t blame fracking as a process. So this nit picking of definitions by the environmentalists shows that they can’t argue about the overall process in the wider context of the UK’s energy policy.

    Everything has costs and benefits. There were lots of costs in getting to the current modern society we live in. Many coal miners lost their lives digging out the coal that allowed England to be the power house of the industrial world in the 1800s. But the benefits to the society of the time was seen as worth it. It got people off the farms living hand to mouth into the factories where they might be working hard but in better conditions than on farms. The UK has gone through the whole process from an agricultural society to a manufacturing society to the current high skill and service society using energy, cheap plentiful energy. Environmentalists would prefer us to go back to the middle ages where we have to wait for a sunny or windy day before we can all switch on our laptops to get on the internet.

      • I would disagree. The antis are guilty of obfuscation, the pros are guilty of being nampy pampy and afraid to push their case with conviction. That’s because the political environment [pun intended] is predominately geared to everything green after the success of the whole global warming scare that the end of the world is nigh so they have to push against that first before they can push their own case.

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