Strengthen policy on “acid fracking” in South Downs – National Park Authority


Markwells Wood oil site where UKOG wants to use acidizing

Members of the South Downs National Park Authority have called for stricter controls on how oil could be produced in future.

At a meeting on Thursday (10/11/2016), the authority’s planning committee said a proposed policy banning hydraulic fracturing in the national park should be extended to other techniques including acid fracking or acidisation.

The committee was considering new guidance that would be used to decide planning applications for minerals developments in the South Downs National Park from 2018.

The draft joint minerals local plan distinguishes between operations that use hydraulic fracturing – which would not be allowed in the national park – and those that don’t.

But several members were concerned that the use of acid stimulation in oil production was not specifically mentioned in the plan.

A planning application by UK Oil & Gas Investments, currently before the authority, proposes to use acidisation in oil production at Markwells Wood.

alun-alesburyAlun Alesbury, a committee member from Stoughton, the parish which includes Markwells Wood, asked:

“Is the absence of that new technique going to cause us any problems? Are we going to be left behind by this technical development because the policy doesn’t say anything about it? I am concerned that this policy does not get overtaken by technical advances.”

doug-jonesAnother member, Doug Jones, representing Hampshire parishes, said:

“We want to be sure that we are future-proofing in the words that we use”.

Ian Phillips, a landscape architect on the committee, proposed the minerals plan should have different policies for unconventional and conventional oil operations, rather than distinguishing between those that used hydraulic fracturing and those that did not.

Tim Slaney, the director of planning for the national park, said officers would check whether there was a definition for acidising or acidisation and whether the local plan could refer to oil operations using unconventional means, rather than specifically hydraulic fracturing.


Brenda Pollack, South East Regional Campaigner, for Friends of the Earth welcomed the committee’s move. She said:

“Many people are concerned that acidisation is as worrying as its big brother – fracking. And whilst everyone’s eyes are on fracking in the North, UKOG is pushing forward with its risky fossil fuel exploration under the Home Counties’ feet.”

“The park authority is taking sensible precautions to avoid having unwanted oil extraction operations spreading across our most precious areas of countryside”.

Government policy

The government has said companies cannot frack wells drilled from the surface of national parks. But operators can frack under national parks from horizontal wells drilled outside the boundaries.

Ministers have defined fracking by the volume of fluid used in the operation: 1,000 cubic meters per frack stage or 10,000 cubic meters in total. There is no specific mention in government policy of other techniques for stimulating oil or gas production, including the use of acid.

Markwells Wood

UK Oil & Gas Investments has described its acidisation plans as a routine operation to clean out debris from perforations in the well and enable oil to flow more freely into the wellbore.

But people living near the Markwells Wood site are concerned about the lack of information about the process and a potential threat to groundwater.

The public consultation on UKOG’s Markwells Wood planning application ends on 17 November 2016. More than a thousand people have objected to the proposal so far.

  • A public consultation on the South Downs draft joint local minerals plan, which is being produced by the national park authority and West Sussex County Council, is expected to begin in January 2017. If approved by a planning inspector, it would come into force in 2018.


Draft joint minerals local plan

Planning application for Markwells Wood

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here

6 replies »

  1. Acidizing is a standard oil well stimulation technique used for decades in limestone reservoirs. The acid is not considered as a hazard to ground water as it immediately reacts and becomes ‘spent’. Yet again we have people who know nothing about drilling passing comments about which they know nothing. Rather than passing I’ll informed comments they should contact the scientists at the Environment Agency, who can explain it all to them.
    It’s rather sad that this type of stuff is reported as ‘ news’ Ruth. The only news value is that councilors need some basic science education.

  2. Mr. Wilkinson has said in the past that “fracking is just like normal drilling”, which is demonstrably untrue. I do believe that thorough investigation of acid fracking, its advantages and possible drawbacks should be carried out by local and park authorities. I also believe that fact finding trips to the current operations at Leith Hill should be undertaken to see how operations are carried on there. From the videos I have seen, multiple emission sources are present which, if the same standard of production was used in Markwells Wood, could negatively affect air quality in the park and surrounding area.

    • Cows, sheep, tractors, lorries, cars, sewage, agriculture – multiple emission sources…….. Do you not have these in the South Downs National Park?

      Do you understand what acid fracking is? And how that differs from acid wash, or acid squeeze? I thought not. Which are they proposing to do at Markwells Wood? From what I have read there is no plan to acid frack at Marwells Wood.

      As Mike New notes below, many water wells are subjected to an acid wash prior to production.

    • Where have I said ‘fracking is like normal drilling’? Drilling has its hazards, as does fracking. You need engineers to sort these issues out. Good to see some engineers commenting btw.

  3. They use acidisation in water bore holes so hardly the danger it is made out to be. It does not fracture. It is a chemical reaction between alkali and acid to break down the soft material between fissures.

  4. These discussions of semantics are interesting but bypass the point. People don’t need to know the exact difference between these terms to know they don’t want to see beautiful land damaged for fossil fuel production. The South Downs National Park Authority is right to want to protect itself from oil and gas development. It is right to protect itself by looking to block acidisation as well as fracking if using that term will help protect it in legislation. We know UKOG is looking to drill multiple wells across as much of the Weald as it can get its hands on. These all have flares and affect air quality. The cumulative effect of the flaring and the traffic involved in transportation will have a very detrimental impact on air quality. Yes, there are multiple emission sources in the countryside, you’re right, and these are supposed to be our clean air areas. All the more reason not to add to those emissions. What we don’t want to see is the kind of ‘oil/gas field haze’ that is proving so detrimental to the health of people leaving among wells abroad. When you factor in the general risks of increased traffic, airport expansion, etc, we are very right to limit any more emissions to our air. Thank goodness that there are ways to produce energy that do not do this. Well done South Downs National Park for trying to protect our park from polluting development.

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