Work on new exploratory gas wells in East Yorkshire could begin later this year after the Environment Agency announced it had granted Rathlin Energy a permit for its new site at West Newton.
The permit manages waste produced from two planned exploratory wells at Crook Lane, north of Hull. It allows the company to flare 2.5 million cubic feet of gas a day from short flow tests and requires it to send surface water during operations at the site to a waste treatment centre.
But the Environment Agency confirmed that Rathlin Energy had withdrawn its plans for extended flow tests on the wells. This was the test which led to breaches of permit conditions at Rathlin’s West Newton A site in autumn 2014 when gases escaped unburnt into the atmosphere.
If Rathlin decided to go ahead with extended well tests it would have to apply for a variation to the permit.
The EA has granted separate permits for handling radioactive substances and storing oil at West Newton B.
On the mining waste permit, the EA said in its decision document published today:
“We consider than in reaching that decision we have taken into account all relevant considerations and legal requirements and that the permit will ensure that a high level of protection is provided for the environment and human health.”
A spokesperson for Rathlin Energy said:
“The granting of these environmental permits brings us a step closer to starting work at West Newton B later in the year. Our plans have been developed to keep the effects of our operations upon local communities to a minimum. Traffic management will play an important part in this and we have a plan in place which will reduce the local impact for the very short period of our exploratory operations.”
Before work can begin, Rathlin must satisfy conditions included in the planning permission from East Riding of Yorkshire Council. in June 2015. Also needed are: authorisation from the Coal Authority, notification of the Health and Safety Executive and well consent from the Oil and Gas Authority.
The permit decision document gives more details of Rathlin’s proposed operation at West Newton B.
The wells. The work includes drilling two vertical wells into the Cadeby and Kirkham Abbey formations at depths of up to 2,044 metres. Rathlin Energy confirmed that high volume hydraulic fracturing within the Bowland Shale would not be carried out at the site.
Perforation of the wellbore. Perforating guns will be run into the wellbore and fired to penetrate the casing and the formation.
Liquid carbon dioxide. This would be injected into well to help remove wellbore fluids and debris, the decision document said. Between 2 and 3m3 is required for every 10m length of the well that is being treated. Underground, CO2 changes from liquid to gas, rapidly expands and forces formation fluid and debris from formation into wellbore and to the surface. According to the permit, no liquid CO2 will remain in the wellbore.
Nitrogen treatment. Nitrogen will be injected to help lift wellbore fluids and allowing petroleum to flow to surface.
Drill Stem Test. This short test may be carried out to provide an initial analysis of petroleum composition and flow characteristics. According to the decision document, the test will inform decisions on whether to carry out an extended well test. Oil, gas and produced liquids produced during the test would be separated. Oil would be transported to a permitted refinery for sale. Produced liquids would be considered as waste and taken to a waste treatment centre. Gas would be burned in a flare.
The flare. According to the permit document, Rathlin proposes to use a single tip shrouded flare with a “tube type” burner, provided by P W Well Services. It would be equipped with a propane permanently lit pilot, which ensures ignition takes place as soon as gas is present and reignites if there is a break in flow.
Acid wash. The permit allows Rathlin to inject a 15% concentration of hydrochloric acid under low pressure. The document says this process is used to clean natural fractures in the target formation. If used, an acid wash would be applied five times at a depth of 1,400m.
Acid squeeze. The permit says 6-11m3 of hydrochloric acid may also be selectively squeezed into the formation. The operation would be repeated if more than one interval were treated. The acid reacts with calcium carbonate in the rock to create carbon dioxide and calcium chloride.
Extended well test. The original permit application made in September 2015 included extended well tests. But according to the decision document, Rathlin later said it was no longer proposing to carry out this test. The EA said a variation would be needed if Rathlin decided to go ahead later. The company would have to submit details of the flare specifications. DrillOrDrop asked Rathlin Energy why it had changed its mind on this test. The company said it had nothing to add to its statement (see above).
Surface water run-off. According to the permit, surface water on the site must be contained in a perimeter ditch. During periods of activity on the well site the contents of the ditch must be removed by tanker and disposed of at a permitted waste facility. But when the site is not active the water in the ditch will be tested. If it meets the required standard it will go through an oil-water separator and then discharged into a nearby water course.
In the decision document, the EA made the following comments on concerns about the operation at West Newton B:
Fugitive methane emissions: These will “be prevented by mud control so there should be no emissions”.
Odour: This is “not considered to be a particular concern for this site considering its relatively remote location”.
Noise: “We are satisfied that adequate measures will be in place to manage noise”
Emissions to air from flaring: The EA said no air quality standards would be breached if information from the applicant was correct and the flare was controlled in the way stated in the permit application. It said the site operator would be required to monitor the temperature of the flare and the volume of gas to calculate emissions of oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, total Volatile Organic Compounds and methane. The operator would also be required to video the flare continuously when running.
Sustainability. In response to comments that the operation at West Newton B was unsustainable, the EA said: “We do not directly regulate the mining activity, we regulate the waste that is generated from mining.” However, it said the operator could not go beyond activities described in the permit.
Human health: The EA said: “We are satisfied that the activities we are permitting will not give rise to significant pollution or any emissions that will cause harm to human health” There had been no objection from Public Health England
Wildlife: Operations were not a risk to local wildlife populations or sites, the EA said.
Spillages: Spills on site would be dealt with under Rathlin’s risk assessment. Off-site outside scope of permit, the EA said.
Volume of gas flared. The decision document said an estimated 2.5 million standard cubic feet of gas per day would be burned during testing, for up to 14 days per test. The EA said: “We are satisfied that the contribution of emissions from the proposed flaring operations at locations of human habitation closest to the well site is considered to be insignificant”.
Operator competence: “We have no reason to consider that the application will not operate in accordance with the permit”.
Pollution incidence plan not made public: “We are satisfied we have sufficient information to determine the application”, the EA said.
Chemicals to be used not fully declared: “We have assessed the additives to be used and we do not consider that they will cause any environmental harm at the rates and levels of use proposed”, the EA said.
The EA added that the following issues were outside the scope of the application: site location, vehicle movements, climate change, industry self-regulation and light pollution.