Wildlife group warns of threat to Sussex woodlands from oil exploration

Tony Whitbread Sussex Wildlife Trust

Dr Tony Whitbread, Chief Executive of Sussex Wildlife Trust near the Broadford Bridge oil exploration site

Multiple oil exploration sites across the Sussex Weald threaten the region’s ancient woodland, a wildlife organisation has warned.

Sussex Wildlife Trust said the interconnected landscape of woods and belts of trees was at risk if the industry developed.

The Trust’s Chief Executive, Tony Whitbread, said:

“Any individual site does not seem that big but the industry has talked about four to eight wells per square mile.  It is the multiplicity of sites that creates the greater volume of problems and risks.”

Speaking on the eve of a decision about whether to extend planning permission at the Broadford Bridge oil exploration site, near Billingshurst, he said:

“It’s very sad from my perspective that we see development here. But we have to bear in mind it is threatened across the whole of the Weald.

“You’ve got huge problems when it comes to moving equipment on the Sussex roads, which are small. You’ve got problems when it comes to where does the water come from? Where does it go to? How does it get treated?

“There may be answers individually to each of these problems but added up it is a huge issue. A multiplicity of sites over a large area and you’re starting to see a real threat to our landscape.”

Broadford Bridge 170827 Weald Oil Watch 2

Broadford Bridge oil exploration site, 27 August 2017. Photo: Weald Oil Watch

Dr Whitbread was filmed in ancient woodland near the Broadford Bridge site, where the operator, Kimmeridge Oil and Gas Ltd, began flow testing last week (DrillOrDrop report).

He explained the importance to the landscape of belts of trees, called shaws in Sussex:

 “They are what links up the landscape so it acts as one big interconnected forest.

“You can nibble a hole in the landscape here and there and it doesn’t sound like much of a loss, the odd half an acre here, the odd half acre there. But you’re breaking up a matrix. It’s like you’re breaking up a jigsaw by losing one or two of the pieces, you lose the picture fairly quickly.”

Dr Whitbread said:

 “As we have such a lot of woodland it means we can support all sorts of woodland species that you simply wouldn’t get if you had the isolated occasional patch.

“Think of fairly common species like nuthatches. They’re around in Sussex. They’re actually quite common. You wouldn’t get them if you started to lose the woodlands.

“Other things that are rarer, like greater spotted woodpeckers, we see them all the time. But you wouldn’t get that if you started to nibble away at the trees.”

Sussex Wildlife Trust has objected to the application by Kimmeridge Oil & Gas Ltd to extend operations at the Broadford Bridge site for a year. The company wants to test to see whether the oil in a well drilled in July will flow at commercial quantities and rates. It proposes to use dilute hydrochloric acid to stimulate the oil held in Kimmeridge limestone rocks.

The application comes before West Sussex County Council’s planning committee tomorrow morning (Tuesday 12 September). The council’s planners have recommended approval of the application, saying the impacts on local people and the environment would be “minimal”.

Dr Whitbread said of the oil and gas companies:

“They are talking about the industrialisation of the Weald. It is a countryside area. It is probably one of the most well wooded area in the country. The connected forest matrix that attracts wildlife risks being damaged.”


DrillOrDrop will be reporting from tomorrow’s planning committee.

6 replies »

  1. That would be about right (minimal even) but only if they’re talking about gas or oil from shale. This doesn’t appear to be about shale/fracking but who knows what they’ll find by way of exploration? Maybe he’s imagining that as the ‘worst case’.

    Gas fields with longer laterals and tighter clustering (of wells) can reduce the surface sprawl. Mind you the haulage and (ultimately) the lattice of interconnecting pipes would be just as impactful.

  2. Is Dr. Whitbread not aware that around a dozen oil fields in the Weald have been unobtrusively producing for several decades?

    He also appears to be under the impression that Broadford Bridge is a Shale Well and will be frac’d.

    It is not. It is producing from natural fractures that are present in the Kimmeridge Limestones.

    As such, the Well density he quotes would not be applicable. It may not even be applicable for a Shale development, but that’s a another issue altogether and the data to determine that is simply is not available yet.

    In any case, you cannot Frac a Well that already has natural fractures in it – it would be like trying to fill a bucket that is full of holes.

    There are 640 acres in a square mile, so even if the access road takes up another 0.5 Acres, you are still talking about 0.156% of the land area. A conventional development wouldn’t need a Wellpad in every square mile, as we can reach much further out by directional drilling.

    By using directional drilling, we can also have some degree of control (there are obviously many other factors that have to be taken into consideration) over where the Well Pad would be placed. And as readers of this blog are no doubt aware, there is a great deal of consultation with many organisations over where a Well Pad can be placed, and cutting down trees to put a Well Pad in place would be a long, long way down the list.

    So Dr. Whitbread’s concern about ‘breaking up the matrix’ is unfounded.

  3. Forgot to explain the use of acid in this case.

    During drilling the Well, when a natural fracture is encountered, it has to be blocked up, otherwise drilling fluid will flow into it.

    The mechanism for doing this is to use various grain sizes of Calcium Carbonate, which clump together into the fracture and stop (‘bridge off’) the flow of mud into it.

    If the fracture is too large for just Calcium Carbonate to be effective, then other inert materials such as wood fiber, cellulose and ground walnut husks are used, with the Calcium Carbonate effectively acting as a binder for the whole thing.

    When it comes to putting the Well on test, these bridges have to be removed and the best way to do this is to use acid to dissolve away the Calcium Carbonate. This is called an ‘acid wash’ and uses a small amount of dilute hydrochloric acid which is placed opposite the perforation holes in the casing and allowed to soak for a period of time before being circulated back out of the Well.

    When it gets back to surface, the ‘spent’ acid is diverted into a separate tank where it is checked and treated (normally just requires some alkali material to be added to bring the pH back to neutral) and then disposed of.

  4. New Forest is still alive and well. The risk to that is not Wytch Farm but the huge demand for housing in the area.

    Biggest danger in the Weald is the antis flying their drones and scaring the wildlife.

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