The oil company behind plans to drill in West Sussex in the next few weeks has written to local people accusing its opponents of “unsettling levels of scaremongering” and “extraordinary levels of misinformation”.
UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) has said it expects to drill an exploratory oil well at Broadford Bridge, near Billingshurst by the end of June this year.
Keep Billingshurst Frack Free, which opposes the plans, said it was “shocked” by the tone of the letter and described the accusations as “nonsense”. The group and other opponents have rebutted points made by the company (see second half of this post).
The letter, signed by UKOG’s executive chairman, Stephen Sanderson, appears to have been prompted by a public meeting, organised by Keep Billingshurst Frack Free, in nearby Pulborough tonight (30 April 2017).
The company told DrillOrDrop it had not been invited to the meeting but had seen what it described as the “rather alarming agenda”. UKOG said it was distributing a four-page letter and three-page fact sheet to “as many local homes as is feasible” before the event. It was also sending the letter to local councillors in three villages surrounding the well site at Wood Barn Farm, off Adversane Lane.
UKOG added that it had been advised not to attend the meeting because it would not be “guaranteed a fair hearing”.
Keep Billingshurst Frack Free has said UKOG had been invited to attend through various newspaper articles, although the company may not have been sent a formal invitation. A spokesperson said:
“It’s a public meeting. Everyone’s welcome.”
The spokesperson for the group added that neither UKOG nor its subsidiary Kimmeridge Oil and Gas Limited, the site operator, had arranged any public consultation or meeting with residents about Broadford Bridge.
“You’d think they’d jump at the chance to answer genuine questions from concerned people who live near the site, who will be directly affected by what they do there.
“This letter looks like they’ve suddenly realised more people are about to find out what they’re up to and get some of their PR out – quick”.
Planning permission for the Broadford Bridge well was granted planning permission in 2013 to explore for gas in the Triassic sandstone reservoir. The site was prepared in 2014 but the well was not drilled because of a financial dispute between the then owners, Celtique Energie and Magellan.
In August 2016, UKOG bought the exploration licence for the area (PEDL234) and the right to drill at Broadford Bridge. In February 2017, its subsidiary Kimmeridge Oil and Gas Limited (KOGL) applied for a variation to the environmental permit for the site, revealing details of its plans to explore for oil in the Kimmeridge limestone.
Campaign groups and some local residents have opposed the permit application, pointing out mistakes in the supporting documents (DrillOrDrop report). They have also said a well drilled to explore for Kimmeridge oil would be in breach of the original planning permission. This set a condition which required the development to be carried out in accordance with the environment statement, which was for exploration of the Sherwood Sandstone. Key facts and timeline about Broadford Bridge
- Tonight’s meeting, chaired by actor Sue Jameson, is from 7pm-9pm, Pulborough Village Hall, Swan View, Lower Street, Pulborough RH20 2BT. More details
Photos: Broadford Bridge, 27 April 2017. Keep Billingshurst Frack Free
UKOG’s letter and the opponents’ responses
UKOG told residents the main concern about its drilling at Broadford Bridge centred around the use of acidisation. You can read the full letter to residents here and UKOG’s leaflet 10 things you need to know about Broadford Bridge. A speaker at tonight’s meeting, Emeritus Professor, David Smythe, has written a response: Ten questions to be asked about Broadford Bridge.
DrillOrDrop has extracted some of the company’s key comments and opponents’ responses.
“We have been fully aware of a pressure group in the area who have been spreading extraordinary levels of misinformation about our planned activity, which is causing unnecessary alarm to some residents. However, the feedback we have received regarding public responses to the EA regarding our application has been largely in support.
“However, the scaremongering has reached unsettling levels and we feel compelled to respond. We are aware of a meeting taking place at Pulborough Village Hall on Sunday 30th April. We have been advised not to attend because we are not guaranteed a fair hearing.”
Keep Billingshurst Frack Free said
“We are shocked by the tone of this letter, making out the ‘pressure group’ to be ‘scaremongering reaching unsettling levels’ and ‘spreading extraordinary levels of misinformation about our planned activity’ makes us sound like we are nastily whipping up fear with unfounded concerns and bullying people to believe what we say.
“This is nonsense. Locals have come to us with their genuine concerns, knowing nothing about what is going to be happening at the site but seeing work beginning – as there as been no public consultation by UKOG/KOGL.
“To just dismiss our facts, born out of a lot of research and scientific background, as fiction is insulting, and they are wrong. It is unsurprising that they won’t come to the Public Meeting, but will they even be holding their own and answering our valid questions?
“Anyone would think they were trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes. But we are watching what they do very closely.”
Opponents had “erroneously and mischievously linked to massive hydraulic fracturing, “fracking”.
“We are not fracking. We do not want to or need to, because the Kimmeridge Limestones rocks that we are targeting are naturally-fractured by mother nature.”
Rocks below Broadford Bridge, though naturally fractured, were held tightly together by pressure and so permeability was very low.
Keep Billingshurst Frack Free said
“Our main concern is not that acidisation techniques are linked to “massive hydraulic fracturing”. We are concerned about the acidisation process itself, after much research.”
Acidising would use a 15% solution of hydrochloric acid.
This makes acidising a more concentrated chemical mix than fracking fluid, which is about 98% water.
Acidising would not use hydrofluoric acid, which is used to dissolve silica oxide (sandstone) and is not used in limestone reservoirs.
“Hydrofluoric acid is very corrosive and, as a matter of policy, we would not use it in any of our site operations, now or ever.”
No-one had claimed the company would be using hydrofluoric acid.
“We know that’s for sandstone.”
What happens to the acid?
The hydrochloric acid reacts with calcium carbonate to form water, calcium chloride (CaCl2) and carbon dioxide. In the reaction with the limestone the acid is used up (the correct term is “neutralised”, i.e. it no longer exists as an acid). The process dissolves the calcium carbonate converting it to calcium chloride which is highly soluble. CaCl2 is a major constituent of seawater and human bones, so it is a naturally occurring salt and harmless.”
The hydrochloric acid is not always completely spent and care has to be taken with the “flowback” in case it is not fully spent.
Matrix acidisation was used to dissolve some rock surrounding the wellbore. This makes pores between rock grains large and enables fluids to flow more freely. The process had been used for 120 years to drill water and oil or gas wells.
“The acid used by the drinking water industry in the UK’s limestone reservoirs (mostly chalks), is typically stronger than KOGL will use. It is 20% to 30% acid and hence 80% to 70% water. It’s safe to use in wells used for drinking water because the acid reacts and is neutralised. After acidisation, water wells are also fully cleansed and the water treated before being used for the supply of public drinking water. So, acidisation is safe for drinking water supply and is a standard technique used by the water industry.”
Acidisation had been used for decades without any oversight by regulators or record-keeping. Water companies say they never matrix or acid frack.
Acidisation was used “in just about every oil production well in a limestone reservoir in the Weald Basin and in the Midlands”. The acid was put into rocks thousands of feet below any fresh water-bearing horizons. Acidisation was a one-time process, used only when an oil well was first tested or prepared for production.
They expected sections of the well would be acidized separately to better target oil.
“Critically, acidisation is done in an oil well comprising three cemented steel casings (concentric pipes). There is therefore no possibility of a leak to the surface or to shallow rocks.”
“Stephen Sanderson has great confidence in the integrity of his well”.
“Anyone who researches what oil and gas companies do to the countryside can find out for themselves. It’s not all plain-sailing and pollution-free. Look at what life’s been like for people living next to the Horse Hill site. UKOG can insist it is risk-free to try to allay fears. But that cannot ever be true as every industrial process, especially involving chemicals – and eople – always has risks. The public aren’t stupid enough to believe the industry’s PR, rushed out at the 11th hour before a public meeting they aren’t even going to attend.”
Acid would be injected at pressures that were “far too low” to fracture the rock so acidisation at Broadford bridge would not be “fracking by any shape or form”
Permission creep would lead to acid fracking.
Water use in acidisation
Acidisation typically involved about 100 barrels (approximately 3,600 gallons) of mostly water (i.e. 85 barrels of water and 15 barrels HCl). Fracking uses millions of gallons of stimulation fluid consisting of over 90% water and sand plus chemical additives used to lubricate, prevent bacteria from forming in the injected water and to permit the sand to be carried more efficiently.
“We are concerned about the massive volumes of water being in a water-stressed area, increases in traffic volume and pollution and the fact that the Weald is a highly-faulted area, according to many expert geologists we have consulted.”
Geological faulting and seepages
Faults in the Weald, and their ability to allow fluids to move along them, were predictable and well-understood. Faults were under “extensive compressional forces which close them shut” and they were not open and leaky, as had been claimed. The faults did not penetrate to the surface. No fluids could escape from the site to drinking water supplies or into nearby rivers.
CPRE Sussex told the Environment Agency
The Lower Tunbridge Wells sands were an important aquifer supporting water for agriculture and drinking. This formation could connect via a fault with shallow groundwater in the Weald Clay and into tributaries of the River Arun.
Professor Smythe said
Oil seepages in the Weald Basin have been documented for 150 years. A paper by Professor Richard Selley, published in 1992, identified 11 petroleum seepages in the Weald. He questioned how UKOG could identify a fault at Broadford Bridge and drill its deviated well accurately without 3D seismic data.
Fluids produced from flow tests from the Kimmeridge Limestones at Horse Hill – the company’s exploration well in Surrey – did not contain any naturally- occurring radioactivity. The Kimmeridge rock composition was consistent across the whole of SE England.
The company could not know there would be no naturally-occurring radioactive material in the waste from Broadford Bridge.
“Producing oil local to the UK population reduces carbon emissions since it avoids the need to transport oil vast distances from countries such Saudi Arabia and Russia. The other clear benefits include employment, tax revenues to the Treasury and security of supply in the post-Brexit era.”
“Their ‘fact’ about climate change is laughable. Do locals to the site believe that producing oil local to the UK population reduces carbon emissions, when the amount to heavy traffic to that local area will massively increase? That oil will be transported and processed elsewhere, it’s not going to be piped directly into homes in Adversane Lane, is it? Ours and the whole, massive, environmental movement’s argument is that it’s now way past time. We should be using renewables, thereby increasing energy security in a safer and cleaner way, and keep the oil in the ground”
Conventional versus unconventional
The operation at Broadford Bridge would use conventional oil field techniques.
Professor Smythe said
UKOG should provide information to prove that the Kimmeridge limestones qualified as a conventional formation. This should include the permeability of the rocks, details of the geological structure of the Kimmeridge limestones and an assurance that the formation would never be fracked.
Oil flow rates
Natural fractures in the Kimmeridge limestones would allow oil to flow at good rates without fracking.
Professor Smythe said
Why had the Weald limestones never been exploited as conventional plays, despite exploration by BP, Shell and Conoco
UKOG’s letter addressed what it said were “false claims” about a lack suitable disposal facilities in SE England. It said “the majority of waste produced from the site will be sent to an Environment Agency licensed facility in Kent”. It said its operations were designed to prevent any spill from penetrating into the ground.
Professor Smythe said information submitted by the company to the Environment Agency on the geology expected to be encountered in the well was “seriously in error and internally inconsistent”. He said: “There is a section absent where it should be present and vice-versa”.
He also said the site at Broadford Bridge was south of the limit mapped by the British Geological Survey for mature Kimmeridgian oil.
“Why is KOGL persisting in using a drill pad set up for a deep, well-defined Triassic sandstone target, when a much more suitable location for its Kimmeridge project would be several kilometres to the north, while still lying within its PEDL234.”