A complex tale of thumper trucks, leaks and dirty bath water

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Still from a video of INEOS vibroseis machines, or “thumper trucks”, in a field on the Oxcroft Estate, 5 October 2017. Used with the author’s permission

Last week, the Bolsover MP, Dennis Skinner, asked the prime minister to investigate drinking water problems in an area of his constituency where the shale gas company INEOS had been carrying out seismic surveys.

People on the Oxcroft Estate, a land settlement area of scattered homes and small holdings, had complained about discoloured water coming out of their taps.

Residents said the problems began after INEOS used vibroeseis machines, called thumper trucks by the residents, in fields near their homes earlier this month.

INEOS denied its work caused the problem. Severn Trent blamed a leak in a private water supply 3km away. It said a contractor (not INEOS) had damaged a pipe with a digger.

A timeline compiled by DrillOrDrop shows there are other differences in the accounts of what happened from the residents, water company and INEOS.

A key piece of information is when the problems began on the Oxcroft Estate and when the private water supply pipe was damaged. Residents have photographs of discoloured water from 5 October. Severn Trent said it was aware of the damage to the pipe on the following day. But the company said it was unable to say when the damage was caused.

The timeline also reveals a deteriorating relationship between INEOS and the local people who oppose its plans.

On Friday, an INEOS statement blamed what it called the anti-fracking lobby for “unfair commentary which altered reality to suit its point of view”.

Residents on the Oxcroft Estate who DrillOrDrop spoke to last week were unwilling to give their names for fear of “reprisals”.


Thursday 5 October 2017

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Vibroseis vehicles or “thumper trucks” on the Oxcroft Estate on 5 October 2017. Photo used with the author’s permission

Residents on the Oxcroft Estate settlement near Bolsover report that INEOS Shale and its contractors are carrying out seismic surveys using three vibroseis vehicles in fields within 50m of their homes. People in their homes during the testing say they felt vibrations through their feet and their homes shook.

Residents talk online about changes to the colour of their water.

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Names redacted. Used with the author’s permission

Residents also photograph discoloured water that evening when filling sinks and baths.

They say the problem appears to be restricted to the Oxcroft Estate, later confirmed by Severn Trent.

Friday 6 October

More residents experience discoloured water and report the problem to Severn Trent.

Severn Trent Water

Residents say call centre staff tell them there are no other reported issues in the local area. According to residents, call centre staff say they are unaware of any seismic surveys in the area.

Severn Trent says it believes the water is safe to drink and informs customers to run taps for 20 minutes to clear sediment from the system. No tests have been carried out on the water at this stage.

Severn Trent says it learns that a contractor with a digger has cut through a private water network in a field off Mooracre Lane, Bolsover, 3km from the Oxcroft Estate.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Residents continue to experience discoloured mains water and ask Severn Trent to test the water and investigate the cause.

Severn Trent says it collected a tap water sample and tests came back as satisfactory.

Sunday 8 October 2017

Residents continue to experience intermittent discoloured mains water and ask Severn Trent to carry out testing and an investigation. One resident experiences further deterioration in water colour.

Monday 9 October 2017

1pm: Oxcroft Estate residents speak to a Severn Trent engineer who arrives in the neighbourhood. The residents say he was unaware of any discoloured water issues and was responding to the detection of “a significant loss of water” in the area. Residents say the engineer investigated pipework close to the area that had been seismically surveyed.

Residents talk to INEOS representative, Gordon Grant, on the Oxcroft Estate about the possibility that pipes may have been disturbed or damaged.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

8.20am: Severn Trent vehicles return to the Oxcroft Estate. Residents speak to a different member of staff who is not aware of the seismic testing. Residents say that after hearing a description of the seismic testing process he says it could explain the discolouration and “multiple leaks” on the Oxcroft Estate. Residents say the engineer investigates pipework near the areas that have been seismically surveyed.

Look North

3.20pm: BBC Look North team records interviews with residents on the Oxcroft Estate and plans to include a live report in the evening news programme. The team films a Severn Trent representative who tests the discoloured water samples collected by residents from the weekend. BBC Look North does not air the item. A BBC spokesperson told DrillOrDrop:

“Look North checks out many stories, not all of which make it to air, for a number of reasons. The programme has covered many stories related to fracking in the region, and will continue to do so when appropriate.”

Residents write to their MP, Dennis Skinner, about their concerns.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

7.52am: Residents report Severn Trent vehicles return to the Oxcroft Estate. Mmebers of staff reportedly investigate pipework again near the area that has been seismically surveyed and at the front of properties on a private lane.

Thursday 12 October 2017

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Water in an Oxcroft Estate resident’s home, 12 October 2017. Photo: Used with the author’s permission

9.34am: Residents say they continue to experience intermittent discoloured mains water and some experience a further deterioration. They call on Severn Trent to test the water and investigate the cause.

Residents report Severn Trent vehicles return to the Oxcroft Estate and investigate pipework again in the same area as on Wednesday 11 October. Engineers drain water directly from the mains to flush out the worst affected water.

One household, which had an external filter, reports there has been no water discolouration but the filter had collected sediment. Severn Trent provides bottled water to one resident after she raises concerns about the health of her baby.

Dennis Skinner replies to residents, saying he will write to INEOS and Severn Trent. Residents say they write again to Mr Skinner to update him and they make a complaint to the Drinking Water Inspectorate.

Severn Trent tells DrillOrDrop the burst pipe is on Mooracre Lane in Bolsover. INEOS tells DrillOrDrop it was working 3km away from Mooracre Lane.

Friday 13 October 2017

Residents on the Oxcroft Estate say they continue to experience intermittent discoloured mains water. They again ask Severn Trent to carry out testing and investigations.

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Co-op water donation to the Oxcroft Estate, 13 October 2017. Photo: Used with the author’s consent

The local branch of the Co-op delivers 100 2l bottles of water to affected residents

Residents report Severn Trent vehicles return to the Oxcroft Estate and staff again investigate pipework in the same areas as on previous days.

One Oxcroft Estate resident says Severn Trent confirms there is a leak in front of their property, within 300m of the seismic survey sites and on pipework that has sections within 150m of the sites.

3.24pm: An online Derbyshire Times article says:

“Severn Trent says it believes the discolouration has been caused by a burst water pipe and the company has told Bolsover District Council that there is no evidence to suggest that damage was caused to pipes or that the surveys played a part in the discolouration.”

Monday 16 October 2017

8am: Residents report that Severn Trent vehicles return to the Oxcroft Estate and staff investigate pipework in the field that was seismically surveyed along Oxcroft Lane. Residents say the staff member confirms that the company suspects a further rupture in this separate section of pipe – the second suspected leak near the seismic survey area.


Severn Trent staff on the Oxcroft Estate, 16 October 2017. Photo: Used with the author’s permission

Severn Trent press office tells DrillOrDrop the Mooracre Lane leak in Bolsover “was not related to INEOS”. The press officer also says:

“There’s no other leaks in the area at the moment. I’ve checked the area for Oxcroft Estate and nothing else has been reported.”

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Derbyshire Times online article updated with a statement from Derbyshire County Council. This says Severn Trent “have informed us they have no evidence to suggest there had been any damage to their pipes or that the seismic surveys have been a factor in the discolouration.”


Dennis Skinner at Prime Minister’s Questions, 18 October 2017.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, local MP Dennis Skinner calls for a full investigation and the halting of the seismic survey programme.

INEOS issues a statement in response:

“INEOS takes its responsibility for all its works very seriously and takes into account all relevant environment and infrastructure before working on site. Underground imaging surveys have played a long-time role in understanding the UK’s geology, particularly in the era of coal.

“In this case, our survey was carried more than 3 kilometres from the leak reported at Bolsover. There is zero evidence that links the Severn Trent water leak to our work.

“Severn Trent is currently investigating the reported water supply issues in the area. In the meantime, we are disappointed that Mr Skinner chose to make his comments in Parliament before receiving our response to his letter. As a former miner, he knows better than most what is underground and the work we are doing in Bolsover. Our invitation to him stands, to meet with our geologists to discuss our activity and its proximity three kilometres from the Severn Trent leak.”

Residents report that BBC Look North tells them that it is still following the story.

Thursday 19 October 2017

Residents tell DrillOrDrop Severn Trent staff have told them there are two leaks in pipes on the Oxcroft Estate.

Some residents who were affected by the water problems say they have no confidence in Severn Trent or INEOS’s explanations. They say they are not willing to be identified “for fear of reprisals”.

Severn Trent offers to organise a meeting with residents to explain what happened.

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INEOS vibroseis trucks stored on a farm on the Oxcroft Estate, 19 October 2017. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Friday 20 October 2017

Severn Trent repeats to DrillOrDrop that the problems were caused by a digger going through a private water pipe near Mooracre Lane in Bolsover. A Severn Trent team went to that location on 6 October but the company spokesperson was unable to say when the damage was done.

The Severn Trent spokesperson adds:

“The [Bolsover] leak affected out network by increasing flows through our pipes and that led to discolouration for a small number of customers who reported this on 6/10.”

He adds:

“There have been no other leaks in the area, other than a customer reporting a leaking stop tap that was due to be fixed in December but, as we were in the area, it made sense to fix it there and then.”

Residents on the Oxcroft Estate confirm with photographs that the problems began on 5 October. They also say there are no reports of a leaking stop tap.

INEOS issues a statement:

“INEOS Shale has been made aware that Severn Trent has finished its investigation into the recently reported water leak in Bolsover. It concluded the damage was caused by a local contractor, not related to INEOS, who burst a pipe with a digger (equipment that the INEOS survey team does not use).

“The unfair commentary on this issue from the anti-fracking lobby is a prime example of altering reality to suit their point of view.

“INEOS Shale remains committed to safe and community-conscious works as well as responsive and informative consultation and liaison.   We sincerely believe Shale gas development can transform the UK’s industrial sector and can bring much needed jobs and investment to the local area.”

Monday 23 October 2017

The community group, Bolsover Against Fracking, tells DrillOrDrop:

“Bolsover Against Fracking has been very aware of the ongoing problems of contaminated water supplies to the residents of the Oxcroft Estates at Bolsover.

“It would appear that there have been several contradictions between INEOS statements and those of Severn Trent and its workmen, both in time and place of the incidents.

“These differences undermine public confidence in the accuracy of statements made by these companies and also in their future integrity.

“The seismic surveying by INEOS is continuing unabated in the area and Bolsover Against Fracking will continue to pay close attention to these further activities.”

Reporting for this piece was made possible by donations from individual readers of

58 replies »

  1. Good point Paula.Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Germany, France,Spain, Poland, Roumania, in fact almost all of Europe have a ban of some form in place. In the USA, where fracking was initiated, states are now starting to ban fracking as the long term harmful effects to health and the environment are becoming evident eg. New York, Maryland , Vermont etc. In Australia, Victoria is the latest state to ban fracking. This begs the question – do all these know something that Martin Collyer doesn’t ?

  2. Meanwhile Keith, other states in the USA are producing enough oil using fracking that USA is looking to dramatically reduce their Strategic Oil Reserve saving around $6 billion. They are producing enough gas by fracking they are selling some to little old UK.
    I’ll focus on where they have found the answer, I leave the question to you.

  3. Paula-please explain what Ineos should have done differently? This was clearly the responsibility of the water company to look into and this was underway when the matter was raised in Parliament. Ineos clarified how far away their seismic tests were conducted and offered to meet and discuss whilst the water company investigated. How far away and when it happened is the limitation of your Ineos responsibility? I think there were a few water events in biblical times that could do with a thorough investigation, and perhaps Ineos should stop activities until they are sorted?
    I would not persist with the water pollution card, it has just lost all value. I really don’t expect you to recognise that, but I suspect it will soon be evident.

  4. Martin I don’t believe I was playing a card. Just waiting for an answer from you as to why Governments in other countries ban fracking, they don’t ban any renewables as far as I know. You still haven’t answered that question

  5. Martin why are some of the states in the US seeking to or have also banned fracking. Could it be increased seismic activity, eg Oklahoma?

  6. I read about this incident a week or two back and dismissed it when Severn Trent Water (STW) said it was merely a water pipe damaged nearby. However, yet another exemplary piece of journalism by Ruth (but don’t apply for a job with The Sun) seems to have unearthed the sort of foul smell associated with a ruptured sewage pipe.
    As a senior analyst for many years, I would tell the team not to analyse or report stuff they didn’t know enough about, but just to report exactly what happened, in what order, and let others decide. Ruth’s excellent timeline does precisely that. Unfortunately, laid out in this way, the evidence shows a great number of contradictions, suggesting some are being economical with the truth.
    Part of good analysis is to assess the quality and reliability of information. Some people involved could have much to gain from denial of responsibility. Others have nothing to gain from merely stating what happened. Remember that most residents affected will probably not have strong concerns about fracking either way, but quite rightly want to know why their water is brown, if it’s safe to drink, and when will it return to normal.
    Particularly interesting to hear conflicting versions from STW employees who had first-hand experience of events, and those making statements from senior management who didn’t. Interesting to note the complete lack of detail of the ‘incident’ in Mooracre Lane 3km away. No doubt that detail doesn’t exist, (or Ruth would have reported it) but why not STW? Also that this incident only affected properties on the Oxcroft Estate and not in Bolsover, parts of which are between the two locations. Perhaps STW could produce a map or assets register to let Dennis Skinner know how the two areas are directly connected by water pipes without properties in-between being affected.
    Why did STW engineers keep returning to inspect pipes on the Oxcroft Estate when they allegedly knew from senior management that the offending leak wasn’t there? One was even quoted as saying he was investigating a ‘significant loss of water’ in an area where others were claiming no leaks existed. How odd. More so when it was 3 days after the alleged major leak was claimed to be at Mooracre Lane 3km away.
    Of course, there is no good reason to believe there could be any collusion between STW and Ineos, despite the fact that STW could soon be selling a hugely profitable amount of water to Ineos and treating a huge amount of Ineos’ waste water. Also worth noting that basic economics decree that a commodity in great demand (or even short supply) will invariably increase in price. I wonder if water regulators Ofwat can stop that happening.
    I see Ruth came in for some stick from the usual suspects (playing the man rather than the ball as the saying goes). Back to the art of analysis, if someone chooses to cherry pick only specific bits of evidence that suit their agenda best, while disregarding the rest, their analysis will inevitably be deeply flawed. I preferred to look at the timeline and evidence in the round and I still just can’t get that smell of leaky foul drains out of my nostrils. I suspect it’ll get worse before it gets better.

    • Mike

      Good stuff. My last contribution to this is that STW ( my supplier ) are quite capable of behaving the way they did, without any help from INEOS. Plus, when you get asked by an MP, everyone at the top wants immediate answers, of course, cue confusion.

      There is still al lot of Seismic Surveying to do…. so let’s see if any other pipes burst nearby.

  7. Just wanted to highlight that Severn Trent have gone suspiciously quiet since residents pointed out that we have photographic evidence that the water was discoloured from THURSDAY 5th October, a whole 24hours prior to their suspect Mooracre Lane leak even occurring.

    We have still not been provided with water testing data (as requested and promised on numerous occasions), and Severn Trent have failed to set up a public meeting with residents (which was Severn Trent’s own suggestion!) – we can only assume that they are frantically searching for another earlier leak to pin the blame on.

    Interesting also, that we have had no response from the Drinking Water Inspectorate – not even an acknowledgement of our letters, are we to assume that they are not then investigating?

    It seems everyone is happy with their own convenient version of events – and no one is prepared to investigate further.

    Thank you to Ruth for simply stating the timeline of events – which is all we ever wanted from the press. No thanks can be given to the Derbyshire Times who are clearly not interested in fair reporting and whom refused to update their report after residents pointed out discrepancies in their reported dates and events.

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