Does Rathlin Energy have enough time to test and drill at Crawberry Hill?

Rathlin Energy has revealed testing and drilling plans for its exploration site at Crawberry Hill near Beverley in East Yorkshire. But there are questions over whether the company can complete the work programme before its planning permission expires in October.

The details are in the company’s application to the Environment Agency for mining waste, industrial emissions and radioactive substances permits.

Rathlin says it has not carried out any work at Crawberry Hill, other than maintenance, since the summer of 2013.

In October 2014, East Riding of Yorkshire Council granted an 18-month extension to the site’s planning permission for testing, possible drilling of a second well, well abandonment and site restoration.

Condition 1 of the permission required Rathlin to complete all drilling and testing work within 12 months of the date of the permission. The latest date that the work must be completed is 27th October 2015. Another six months were set aside for site restoration.

A public consultation for the environmental permits runs until 27th May. If the permits were issued the following day, which is optimistic, that would leave Rathlin 153 days to complete its work.

On the company’s figures, given in its planning statement and permit application, the likely durations of the different elements of the work are:

10-14 days: Rigging equipment

14 days+: Mini fall-off test

90 days: Extended well test

35-70 days: Drilling a second well

5-7 days: Demobilisation

?? days: Well abandonment

On the most optimistic calculation, with no account for work where no durations are given, the total number of days is 154. To meet the 27th October deadline, the second well would have to be drilled before the results of the extended well test were known.

But in the permit application, Rathlin suggested that drilling the second well was dependent, at least partly, on the outcome of tests on the first well.

The Non-technical summary said:

“The [second] well may be required to investigate and test the extents of any potential petroleum reservoir encountered during the drilling and testing of the first well or to investigate and test a formation that may not have been encountered in the first well.”

On a more pessimistic reading, the work could take at least 195 days, assuming the second well was drilled after the extended flow test. If work started immediately and the permits were issued as soon as the consultation closed, both optimistic assumptions, this would take drilling and testing up to early December.

East Riding of Yorkshire Council said it imposed Condition 1 to protect the local landscape. It said in the decision notice:

“This is a temporary permission to allow a period of exploration and testing in the search for hydrocarbons to take place. At the end of the 18 month period the sites need to have been restored to its former use in the interests of protecting the Wolds Area of High Landscape Value and amenities of the area.”

Also in the application

Other details in the permit application include plans for a soak-away to deal with surface water. This would, Rathlin said, avoid the need for tankers to take off water from the site.

The company lists the chemicals it will use in the drilling mud and fluid for the second well and the dimensions of each section of the borehole.

It also indicates that if the formation contains petroleum and is capable of flowing, there are likely to be 95.74 tonnes/day of gas from the flow test. The gas will be burned in a flare.

Flaring problems

Rathlin had problems with its flare during flow testing its well at West Newton last summer. Pressure in the well was not high enough to ignite the flare. As a result, gases escaped, creating smells which some local people described as noxious. The Environment Agency recorded this as pollution and breaches of Rathlin’s permit condition.

At a meeting of the Crawberry Hill liaison group in November 2014, John Foster, Rathlin’s health and safety manager, said the company was working with the Environment Agency to find a different flaring solution for Crawberry Hill.

Consultation details

The consultation on Rathlin’s permit applications is open until 27th May 2015. The Non-technical summary and other permit application documents, along with the comment form, are on the Environment Agency website.

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