The company preparing to frack for shale gas in Lancashire announced this morning it was applying for planning permission to test the flow of oil in its exploration well in West Sussex.
Cuadrilla drilled the well at Balcombe in summer 2013, attracting three months of protest.
The company ran out of time to do the flow testing and was granted a new permission in May 2014. This was unsuccessfully challenged by local people in a judicial review. The permission expired when Cuadrilla did not start work by May 2017.
Cuadrilla said a new draft planning application had been sent to West Sussex County Council today. If the council had no concerns with it, the final version would be submitted next week, the company said. The application would then be published on the council and company websites. Link to planning application
Cuadrilla Chief Executive, Francis Egan, said in a statement today:
“We were unable to undertake the permitted exploration well testing works within the allocated time, primarily due to the length of time and resource it has required for us to commence operational activities in our Lancashire exploration licence area.
“The new planning application will cover the same scope of work as the previous permission: a flow test of the existing exploration well followed by plugging the well with cement, and fully restoring the site.”
The company said it had contacted Balcombe Parish Council about the application. A letter, dated 18 October, has been written to residents. Cuadrilla said a community liaison group, which was a condition of the May 2014 planning application, had not been established because no work was carried out. But a spokesperson said:
“If granted planning permission for this new application we would, of course, establish a CLG ahead of any proposed works once we know they are going to start.”
Well testing and acidising
Cuadrilla said it was seeking temporary permission for six months of work. If the application were approved, the company said it expected West Sussex County Council would require the work to be completed within three years.
The company proposes to acidize the horizontal section of the wellbore at Balcombe before testing the flow rate of the oil. It said acidizing would involve circulating an estimated 15-20m3 of 10% solution of hydrochloric acid into the well. The solution would be pumped at pressures below those needed to fracture the rocks, Cuadrilla said.
The purpose was to remove any drilling mud from the wellbore and clean the limestone source rock within six inches of the well, the company said.
In March 2017, Cuadrilla applied to the Environment Agency to vary its permits for the site in woodland at Lower Stumble, Balcombe. A public consultation closed in April 2017 and the company awaits the decision. DrillOrDrop report
In the permit application, Cuadrilla said gases produced during the flow testing, estimated to be up to 35,000m3, would be burned in a 45ft flare.
Cuadrilla told the government in 2011 (DrillOrDrop report) that to be successful in the Weald Basin it would
“need to rely, to a significant degree on being able to undertake hydraulic fracture stimulation(s).”
In a letter to the then Department of Energy and Climate Change, an executive said that without the ability to undertake hydraulic fracture operations the company would not be able to attempt to achieve commercial production.
However, since then the company has repeatedly said fracking would not be necessary because it said the Kimmeridge limestone where it is exploring for oil is naturally fractured. It repeated this statement today.
Kathryn McWhirter, of No Fracking in Balcombe Society, said the village had expected the application in September and would oppose it.
“The local community does not want any oil exploration and most particularly we do not want exploration for ‘tight oil’, whether by fracking or by acidising.
“Other Sussex and Surrey communities are already facing the same issue, at Broadford Bridge, Horse Hill and Brockham. Oil-bearing geology is similar across the Weald. These are the first wells in what could become an oil field across the South East. This affects everyone around here, not just the people of Balcombe.
“Like the other oil companies, Cuadrilla continues to manipulate language for PR purposes.
“In 2013 Cuadrilla drilled into a narrow band of limestone within the shale. This micrite rock (Kimmeridge limestone) here in Balcombe is indeed naturally fractured, as Cuadrilla says, but what they don’t say is that those ancient fractures, so deep underground, are held tightly closed by pressure and stresses. This is not rock through which oil will flow without dissolving the rock with acid and/or. fracking.
“At test stage they will not need to frack. At production stage they would acid frack.
“So they are not fracking yet. And when they do acid frack the limestone, it will no longer be legally defined as fracking. Westminster changed the definition of fracking in the Infrastructure Act of 2015, dividing fracking from not fracking according to the amount of water used. Today, 88% of the oil wells that have been fracked in the USA would not count as having been fracked under UK law. And once they have acid fracked the limestone, they will hydraulically frack the shale.”