“Burning throat, nausea, headaches: the effect on my family from a smell at Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton site”


Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton site, photographed from Claire Head’s garden, 600m away

As Third Energy prepares to frack a well at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire, a villager describes what happened last week when her family was affected by a smell from the site. DrillOrDrop asked Third Energy about the incident. You can read it’s statement at the end of this post.

Hi my name’s Claire Head. I’m 44, a mum of two, who lives at Kirby Misperton.

On Tuesday last week, a very strong egg smell entered the village. It came in our house. We live 600 metres or so from the well.

My son Liam (below right), who is 11, was already off school. We started experiencing a headache and burning in our throats so I called the Environment Agency to report the smell and symptoms.

I telephoned Third Energy to find out what happened, as it was from their site.

I spoke to the site manager from Third Energy. He told me they were cleaning tanks and maybe some oil was left in. He said I should shut my windows and it would go in a few hours.

I got no apology at all.

I was in tears and terrified because I had my son with me. We felt nausea, light-headedness but the burning throat was the worst. You could taste it in your mouth. My husband came home and straightaway he started feeling unwell with burning throat, nausea and headache. His work colleague got a headache and nausea too.

My parents also came to the house and felt unwell. The smell was so strong in our house. It was coming in through the air vents.

I telephoned my GP, who said we should go to hospital if it got worse. The Environment Agency rang me back to say someone was going to the Third Energy site.

On Wednesday I still felt unwell so I went to hospital where my blood pressure and heart rate were up and fast. I lost my voice because my throat felt burnt. I was observed for about four to five hours and then sent home.

On Wednesday, I telephoned the Environment Agency to see what had happened. I was told that there was a slight spike in hydrogen sulphide but they didn’t think that would cause my symptoms.

The Environment Agency said Third Energy had told two stories. One was about cleaning the tanks. The other was about cleaning the well. But they were only using fresh water.

The Environment Agency said they were going back to Third Energy on Friday to inspect and look around.

I got passed on to Public Health England who spoke to me on Thursday and they have spoken to my GP. My GP told me hydrogen sulphide causes irritation of the lungs. I’m an asthmatic so I’m more vulnerable.

The GP said hydrogen sulphide causes headache, nausea and sore throat yet the Environment Agency seemed to dismiss it, claiming it was only a small spike.

The smell was smelt two miles from the village. A number of villagers complained to the Environment Agency.

KM8 from KM Claire Head2

Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton, photographed from Claire Head’s back garden, 600m away

On Friday I had to go back to my GP for a check-up. At 2 50pm we passed a convoy of police escorting a Third Energy vehicle with a tank in the back saying portable water. Me and my dad both thought ‘That’s odd. A very big coincidence that the Environment Agency were at Third Energy for a site check. Was there something to hide in that tank? Very odd to have a police escort.’

Since I inhaled the fumes on Tuesday my health has been iffy. I’ve got a chest infection. I’ve spoken to neighbours who also felt sick and had symptoms. I’ve no doubt something happened on Tuesday.

Third Energy definitely used chemicals or something to cause the smell in the village. You don’t get that smell when you are using clean water, as Third Energy claim.

They said the smell was only on site. How would they know that? They never left the site.

It was told me the workers all felt fine and didn’t wear masks. I said ‘what rubbish’.

Kirby Misperton has now had four gas incidents from that well. The last one, sour gas, was March this year.

We moved into our house in 2006 and in 2007 there was a gas incident from the well. The smell came into the village. We all were out of our houses. We felt sick. The fire service came out and shut the road. I went to stay at my mum’s because the kids were tiny and I was scared to go back into the house. We all got a letter days later saying there was a natural release but because it was foggy it stayed low and we could smell it.

This is why we don’t want fracking and why we don’t trust Third Energy.

We also have no evacuation plan in the village. Third energy say it’s not their job. It’s for the fire service. So, if there’s a gas release no one would know as there’s no evacuation plan.

This was asked at the village meeting and it was passed to the Environment Agency who passed the buck.

Third Energy statement

DrillOrDrop invited Third Energy to comment on this account. The company sent this statement:

“We have been asked to provide further information on an odour reported as coming from the KMA well site on 17 October. Third Energy can confirm that the internal cleaning of water storage tanks with fresh water caused a low level of odour on site. There were no chemicals involved in this exercise.

“About fifteen people were working on the site at the time, including those involved in flushing the tanks, and none of them reported any adverse symptoms. We can clearly state that there were no health and safety issues on site and no leak of any gas.

“A local resident contacted Third Energy to say that they had noticed a smell in the village and wanted to know what might have caused it. As required, this odour complaint was reported to both Ryedale District Council and the Environment Agency.

“The Environment Agency confirmed that it was satisfied with the procedures taken and that no further action was required.”

24/10 Edited to remove a name


71 replies »

  1. Drilling has started hasn’t it? All part of the process overall. Trapped gas releases and particulates from various strata and boring operations can and do happen. Temperature inversions and other atmospheric conditions can keep plumes of gasses hovering at low levels. The wind effect (lack of) is a mystery though.

    • Hi Philip P,

      The basic work program will be to re-enter the Well and pull the current Completion – they are not drilling any new hole.

      This will involve circulating out the current Completion Fluid. Depending upon how long it’s been in the Well and the chemicals used in it’s original formulation, this – very occasionally – can contain low levels of H2S if the completion fluid does not contain any salt and has gone ‘rotten’.

      They will do a clean-out run to clean off scale / rust etc from the casing and also any sediment that has come into the well from the formation over the years.

      Depending upon the Frac pressure / flow-rate / monitoring requirements, they will either run a temporary Completion and do the Frac job through that, or run the Permanent Completion and do the Frac job through that. I don’t know which they will do at KM.

  2. Philip P
    Just fracking the existing well I thought. But when drilling, the drill mud is de gassed in the degasser and disposed of. Cue google for a full description of degassing drilling mud.

    • Feel free to describe the degassing process hewe62. Are they using a Lazy boy? How is the gas released and who analyses both gas and mud?

        • Phil P
          I must pass on that invitation 😏
          I did not think they were drilling, just cleaning up the existing well in order to perforate and frac it. The EA mentions well cleaning according to Claire, but Third Energy do not.
          But, for those interested in how mud is used to control a well when drilling, mud circulation, who looks after it, where you normally measure it and so forth, there is lots on the web. Plus some in a dusty folder in the attic from the 1993 ‘Introduction to offshore drilling’ course’.
          I do not have information as to the specific layout at KM, nor, of course, if they actually do it as they should, or if they are not doing it as they should when they ( or specifically the contractor ) drills the well.

      • Hi Philip P,

        I’m not familiar with the Rig or the exact layout they have at KM, but in general for an Onshore Rig;

        The rig itself will have a gas detection system with several detectors at vulnerable points (normally the Rig Floor, Cellar, Mud Tanks and Shale Shakers), but for hydrocarbon gas only. This is usually just a low / high level alarm system and is not normally recorded.

        A separate gas detection system will be supplied by the Operator (normally via the Mud Logging Company) and will comprise of separate parts as follows;

        In the Shale Shaker Header Box (i.e. where the mud first comes to surface out of the well), there is a gas detection system in the mud itself. This is essentially a paddle which agitates the mud to get some gas out. The gas is automatically pumped to the Mud Logging Unit and put through a gas chromatograph. This will provide real time, recorded measurements of the Hydrocarbons (C1 – C5’s) and CO2 that are entrained in the mud system. There are usually two separate chromatographs for redundancy and they will be calibrated on at least a daily basis. The Mud Logging Unit will also have low / high level gas alarms.

        They will also provide a separate gas detection system which essentially mirrors the Rig system, with several detectors at vulnerable points, set with low / high alarms and not normally recorded.

        In areas where H2S might be encountered, then the Mud Logging contract also includes an H2S sensor.

        What the Operator provides depends on the possibility of encountering H2S and what levels of H2S may be encountered. They will use a separate Service Company and the equipment can be as little as hand held portable gas detectors.

        At the other end of the scale (high levels of H2S will definitely be encountered), this would be a multiple detectors, installation of a full blown ‘cascade’ system, where all rig crews have rigorous training (including exams) have the capability of working wearing SCBA sets connected to an air supply ring main, plus have emergency escape masks & personal H2S monitors on them at all times, and have specialist H2S personnel on location.

        Some gas comes out when it goes over the Shale Shakers, but the main method is by circulating it through the poor boy degasser. The poor boy is basically a cylindrical container with numerous internal baffles which forces the mud to move in such a way as to release as much gas as possible. The mud comes out an outlet near the bottom, while any gas is vented out the top via a vent pipe. The length and size of the vent pipe is usually subject to local regulation, but in any event will be sized to easily cater for the maximum amount of gas expected.

        Many Rigs have an additional degasser called a vacuum degasser.

        Some mud systems (salt saturated mud systems in particular) are notorious for entraining gas, and the vacuum degassers are used to get the last remaining gas out so it is not recirculated down the Well.

        WRT the KM Rig, I doubt they have a vacuum degasser, as they will just be using completion brines (or water), which easily give up their gas content.

        The mud system is monitored by the Drilling Fluids Engineer. He monitors the mud properties and chemistry. In some cases, changes in the mud chemistry can also provide an indication that H2S or C02 is entering the mud system in small amounts.

        • Thanks Injuneer – great response.
          It seems that a cocktail of vapors and gases can get released, along with methane and undesirable particulates, depending on the underground geology/chemistry. I’m about to look up the ones that have caused the most trouble elsewhere. You say you only monitor for CH4 and (possibly) HS2?

          The most commonly reported health effects I’ve seen include skin, eye and throat irritation, respiratory problems, headaches and nose bleeds (…. longer range medical impacts are still being studied). These are from widely scattered regions where people have had no previous knowledge or contacts with others who have had strikingly similar exposure symptoms. Airborne toxicity is relatively easy to study compared to long term underground seepage so there should be enough around.

          • Hi Philip P

            I aim to please, but frequently miss 😉

            We always monitor up to C5’s and CO2. We also get a ‘Total Gas’ reading, which shows if anything else other than Hydrocarbons and CO2 is being produced. Offhand, I know some wells have a lot of Nitrogen and some produce Helium, but that’s about it.

            H2S is always monitored in areas where it is known to occur, which are actually not that common.

            On Exploration Wells, H2S monitoring depends upon the anticipated Geology and how that compares to similar Geology elsewhere – for example, H2S is known to occasionally occur in large Carbonate sequences where there has been a lot of water flowing through.

            Spent many, many days on Rigs without any effects myself. Not so much for many years though, too high up the tree 😦

            As for long term studies, try and get the ones that the UK Govt did on the workers on North Sea platforms, as they will be the most relevant to the Onshore UK – the only major ill effect they showed was they tended to put on a lot of weight… Note that these are people that spend half their working lives exposed to the allegedly “toxic” effluent from production flares.

            There are many studies that do show the effects of long term exposure. However, also bear in mind that these are in places like China, Russia, Romania and Albania where HSE was (and still is) effectively non-existent and really is not applicable to the UK.

            One field I worked in East Europe, it had been a state secret that H2S was present up until just before we arrived. The locals had no idea and had assigned the deaths (about one a year) to ‘natural causes’. In another Country, we weren’t even allowed to mark the well locations on our own maps, as they were also a ‘state secret’.

            I’ve worked in several areas where the locals were living in amongst old oil fields where large pools of crude and abandoned equipment & chemicals (which we didn’t know what they were) were laying on the ground all over the place – they were even growing crops and keeping livestock (for milk and meat) in the same area.

            In these places, all the side-effects you describe were apparent in the locals living close to the well sites and the smell of oil was pervasive in the air. In one place, pollution was so bad we would not let the rig crews stay on location – they were bussed in and out at the end of each shift.

            But elsewhere I’ve worked, where proper HSE procedures were in place and being enforced (which, IMHO, excludes the USA), then none of the problems you list occurred and I’m very comfortable that that will be applicable to the UK. After all, we’ve produced oil onshore the UK since before WW2 and done it so safely and unobtrusively that many people don’t even know that we are there.

            • Injuneer and Phil

              The UK offshore workforce may not be the best cohort to look at.
              As the flare or ( for Souther North Sea ) the vent is located to windward and ( if the wind blows the other way ) high enough to disperse the gas / products of combustion without it affecting the platform. This is a basic look see in the safety case risk assessment.

              As you would imagine, the platforms which vent, not flare, could give most issues for occupational health reasons re raw gas.

              The most exposed cohort for Hydrocarbon exposure would be the production operators. Both for Major Accident Hazards and exposure to fugitives.

              Over time, in the NSea the number of leaks has reduced ( well monitored by the HSE ) and plants are a lot tighter in the drive to reduce those fugitive emissions.

              But even those chaps only work about half of a shift outside ( you needed to know which cohort spent most time where for the QRA ) not always exposed to Hydrocarbons and have half the time at home. They would not be exposed to Hydrocarbons in the accommodation.

              Benzine was a focus area across the 1990s as controls were tightened, especially on oil production platforms as was NORM management.

              So…. I think the best studies would still be those who live close to a plant with known and or monitored emissions.

              That cohort is likely to have a spread of ages and health issues, be there 24/7 and not be as monitored as the offshore workforce.hence more susceptible to any emissions. The offshore workforce, which is, in the main, healthy.

              I looked at some work re a Benzine Exposure, and, no surprise, petrol tanker drivers had high cancer rates, with those living near petrol stations having high exposure, followed by thos who live close to main roads.
              Hence the focus on vapour recovery for tankers and the public, and lower emission engines.

  3. Injured your comments do not reassure me in fact raise more alarm bells, why are we allowing this to happen in our country, now I understand why it’s banned from other countries

    • Hi Paula,

      Whatever happened on Tuesday at KM had nothing at all to do with Frac’ing – that had not started yet (possibly done today or tomorrow?).

    • Thanks for the very helpful and comprehensive responses Injuneer. Way better than anything I’ve heard from the govt, industry or regulators in almost 5 years involvement. I will continue to assume your information is accurate and relevant unless anyone else can provide good evidence to the contrary.

  4. Hasn’t started on that site yet Paula. Tomorrow has been indicated, but may be adjusted from that.

    The pollution charge was always going to be made as we approach some actual fracking. Of course, everyone will require investigation, just like Skinner Gate. Should keep a lot of excitement going for a few months.

    Meanwhile, down my way we have a Biogas plant that has gone into liquidation and requires the site to be returned to previous use. Looks as if the tax payer is likely to pick up the cost of that. Another “stink”, from “alternative gas”.

  5. Ruth please don’t start reporting on every fictitious claim that now starts coming through or this website will become very boring indeed.
    These people should feel the same wrath as people making false holiday sickness claims.

    • How do you know it’s fictitious? How can cleaning a water tank with fresh water cause an odour on site? It all smells a bit gassy to me!!

      • All real world observations and facts which cast doubt on the safety and pollution record of this industry are fictions according to GBH. It’s his only argument.

    • Hi Paula. Health and pollution risks, environmental degradation and methane (and other) emissions are the main factors (for those countries who study take serious note of the science and engineering studies). There are many science and engineering studies and most will highlight the following risks:
      -earthquakes induced by slippage in nearby faults;
      -contamination of ground water, and possibly even drinking water, with natural gas
      and other chemicals;
      -emissions of volatile components, such as CO2 or methane, into the atmosphere;
      -the leakage of contaminated drilling waste fluid from storage ponds.

      Don’t expect anything other than woolly headed evasions from the pro-frackers on this site!

  6. Paula:

    Some countries allow capital punishment, UK does not. It means that each country makes it’s own decisions.

    Sheep follow each other, but they are still pretty stupid animals.

    • So, Martin;
      ‘Sheep follow each other, but they are still pretty stupid animals’ – more out of date research I’m afraid…..

      Never considered particularly intelligent, sheep are actually so smart they make ‘executive decisions’ and have long memories 🙂

  7. Fictions, PhilipP? I recall your past posts around fracking in the USA being economically unsuccessful, trying to “educate” people there would be no economic benefit in the UK! Sounds almost like woolly headed evasion to me.

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