Oil company says “We’re not to blame for Surrey earthquake” – but local concerns remain

180401 seismic chart BGS

British Geological Survey charts on the Surrey earthquake

The oil exploration company, UKOG, says there’s no connection between its drilling site at Horse Hill near Gatwick Airport and the Easter earthquake in Surrey.

The 2.7 magnitude earthquake on 1 April was centred on the area around Newdigate, west of Horley, and felt by people living near Horse Hill.

It was seven years to the day after an earthquake in Lancashire, which was later linked to fracking by Cuadrilla.

But UKOG, the leading investor in the Horse Hill site, told DrillOrDrop this afternoon that there was no link between oil exploration and the earthquake. In a statement, the company said:

“We strongly refute the far-fetched, unscientific and malicious connection made between Horse Hill and the earthquake in Surrey on April 1st.

“There is no drilling, testing or underground works taking place at Horse Hill or at any of our sites at present. All such work at Horse Hill ceased over two years ago.”


Horse Hill oil exploration site in 2016. Photo: Horse Hill Developments Ltd

Keith Taylor, the Green Party MEP for south east England, called this morning for a suspension of oil exploration in the area pending an official investigation. He said:

“There is an understandable concern. We need the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Environment Agency to hold an urgent investigation to see what they can find.

“This is an area of the Weald that the industry has its sights on turning into an oil field. There are operations at Horse Hill, Brockham and Leith Hill and they’re within a stone’s throw [of the earthquake epicentre].

“Being a member of the European Parliament, we work on something called the precautionary principle where if there’s a demonstrable risk we ought to suspend operations in Surrey until reports from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Environment Agency have clarified the situation.”

Oil exploration across the Weald in southern England has attracted criticism for the use of acid in wellbores. Companies have argued that it is a standard oil industry technique to clean the wellbore and stimulate the flow of oil from surrounding rocks. But opponents have said it is the equivalent of “fracking under the radar”.

The site operator at Horse Hill has planning permission to use acidising in operations to test the flow of the well.

Lisa Scott, a resident living near the Horse Hill site, who felt the earthquake, supported Mr Taylor’s call for a suspension of operations. She said she was worried about possible damage to the wellbore at the site. The series of earthquakes linked to fracking by Cuadrilla near Blackpool deformed the Preese Hall well.

Ms Scott said “based on figures given in the current planning application, during the flow testing in 2016 the acid used would have travelled 12m into the formation”.

She said:

“That sounds questionable to me. I want categoric proof that there’s no risk to our homes. A lot of us have huge mortgages that we’re paying on our homes to allow us to live in this area.”

She told DrillOrDrop:

“I would like to know who would pay for damage caused to our homes if this happens and it is confirmed to be associated with the acidization of wells that is happening in this part of the country.

“I’m really worried that the government is trying to push through changes to planning guidance, which would require councils to plan positively for oil and gas drilling, when we really don’t have the geological knowledge to fully understand the risks.

“I really think there is a huge potential risk to thousands of homes in our area if well drilling and acidisation is done to the extent that the oil companies are telling their investors they intend to do, which is drilling wells back-to-back across our countryside.”

DrillOrDrop asked UKOG whether there would be any check for damage to the Horse Hill wellbore. We’ll update this report with any response from the company.

180401 seismic data BGS

The British Geological Survey (BGS) told us it was well-known that induced earthquakes could be caused by activities including hydrocarbon exploration and production, waste disposal, mining and geothermal power generation.

Brian Baptie, a seismologist with the BGS, said:

“In the case of the magnitude 2.7 ML near Newdigate, Surrey, on 1 April, we are unable to say if this event was caused by hydrocarbon exploration or production mainly because of the uncertainties in our estimates of the earthquake epicentre and depth. We used a process a bit like triangulation to locate earthquakes and our closest monitoring station was over 70 km away, so the errors in our location estimate are several kilometres.

“I believe there is no current drilling or testing at the Horse Hill 1 site. The LR/24- 4 well was drilled in 2014 and well testing was carried out in 2016. Similarly, I believe that all oil production at the Brockham field, just south of Dorking has been conventional and there has been no hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. We have not recorded any seismicity associated with this field in the past.

“Background levels of earthquake activity in this part of England are very low and I believe that this is the first earthquake that we have recorded in Surrey since BGS started instrumental monitoring in the 1970s.”

DrillOrDrop asked the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Environment Agency whether they would investigate the earthquake.

A spokesperson for BEIS said:

“There are no current operations ongoing at the Horse Hill or Leith Hill in Surrey. As noted by British Geological Survey, there is no evidence to show a link between any oil or gas operations in the south of England and the earthquake recorded on 1st April 2018.”

  • Keith Taylor is visiting anti-drilling campaigners outside the Horse Hill wellsite tomorrow.

79 replies »

    • It is always revealing of the anti anti underhanded agenda when Drill Or Drop are remonstrated for simply reporting the facts?

      It speaks of NLP reframing and attempts to control what is and what is not said by decree and unspoken rules of censorship.

      It seems that the fusion doctrine criteria is in full force and primed to rubbish any attempt at free and open reporting.

      Quite transparent and damning of the source of such censorship attempts.

      The truth is that the geological complexity and the effects of earthquakes are of such a complex and variable phenomenon, that no claim of sub surface activities can truly claim innocence of local seismic activity if such activities are a well known cause and effect combination.

      there are so many variables, often unmeasured or expected, recorded or not, that claims of innocence simply reveals that the the claimant is either unaware of the complexities of sub surface seismic effects, or are deliberately trying to distance themselves from blame.

      Either stance is no excuse and cannot be be validated or dismissed without perhaps years of expert independent study.

        • My dear Jeff, it was not me who shouted “fire in a theater” it was you who shouted that

          “the amount of unnecessary worry and concern that Drill or Drop create when posting stories like this out or context.”

          Was unsuitable for an adult rated movie?

          Perhaps you consider your industry are underage for such adult content?

          As for innocent until proven guilty, we have not seen much of that towards protectors or more recently towards the Russians?

          As usual one rule for your industry and another for everyone else?

          • I’m not sure you understand the analogy.

            For sake of clarity, and reference my initial post, it is DoD who are shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

            • Well perhaps analogy is a nice way of putting it? if you have no interest in censoring what is posted on Drill Or Drop, then why did you object to the report being posted here at all? Surely what is posted is simply that? It exists? To object to the fact that it is posted at all and then to present an opinion on the fact that it is posted, is surely illogical? Since one could not have an opinion on something that is not posted because you object to it existing and would hence have never been said in the first place?

              We can go around and around in ever decreasing circles on that little semantic semiotics carousel?

              You misrepresent what i said also, i understood what you said, i rejected it, and returned it to sender…..with annotations.

              Better check the adult advisory rating before entering the theatre next time.

              That puts a whole new spin on the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t it?

              You see what fun words and their meanings and implications are? Are we having fun yet?

            • It’s always fun trying to keep up with your focus, Phil, though not always easy.

              I’ll save you the hassle of having to scroll up:

              “One can only speculate at the amount of unnecessary worry and concern that Drill or Drop create when posting stories like this out or context.”

              I wasn’t objecting to the report being posted but wondering out loud if the consequences of it had been considered.

              Less carousel; more rabbit hole….

      • The recent minor earthquake of 2.7 in the area of Newdigate located on the Wealden bedrock, is where there has been a history of earthquakes according to the British Geological Survey’s Earthquake Timeline Map:

        16/7/15 2.2; 7/6/05 2.1; 19/6/05 1.6; 18/6/05 1.4 all happened on the Wealden bedrock. Outside the Wealden bedrock, but neighbouring 19/7/82 3.0; 2/12/85 2.7 Aldershot; 15/8/96 1.4 Basingstoke; 27/1/15 2.9 Winchester


  1. I guess the request is an investigation into the cause of the earthquake, and an investigation or check that existing wells which are not capped are checked for damage ( be it casing deformation or whatever ) and if there were any deformation, if that was likely to cause a problem? Rather than just an investigation ( without any scope ) ?

    To assist the investigation, no doubt the hundreds of oil wells around Eakring which have enjoyed far greater seismic activity ( both mining induced and natural ) may help inform that investigation.

  2. The BGS are “unable to say” and yet UKOG are definitive in their denial. It is not unknown for earthquakes to occur after oil/gas extraction whether from conventional or unconventional sources; one is removing something from deep underground, and therefore potentially creating voids. And in a heavily faulted area such as The Weald, it might just be that a small change deep down could lead to earthquakes. Just imagine how much oil and associated materials would be extracted at Horley if it went into production. It is too early to dismiss a possible link to UKOG activities, but it surely warrants further investigation, rather than dismissing out of hand. After all, we’re supposed to have world class standards, so we’re repeatedly told.

  3. Malcolm

    Best to see if WYF oil extraction has caused any induced seismic activity first I guess.
    Especially when they were getting 100,000bbl day out, which would be in excess of 3 years extraction from the Weald at present … per day.

    Not that I see there was a lot of seismic activity at that time according to the bgs website.

  4. Given current evidence in this country and other places globally, I cannot understand why UKOG should view this as a ‘malicious connection’. What concerns me more, is has the seismic activity in the area possibly caused damage to the existing well at Horse Hill and if this is a possibilty, this has to be of major concern to local residents and the environment. I hope UKOG are going to check the well for any signs of damage and re assure the community and beyond that no harm has yet been done.

    • Oh the joys of self regulation and crippled regulators failing to monitor and record?

      If there were such evidential records, it does not take much imagination to assess just how long it would take before the shredder had another impromptu meal?

      • Phil C

        Which crippled regulator has failed to monitor and record in this instance and what evidential records do you think are missing?

          • Phil
            Not sure what OFSTED we’re doing to monitor that quake, but they should mark teachers one one to make sure they are teaching properly.

            • Wow another failure; model prisons, happy inmates and a surplus of staff; no drugs or violations there then?

              • Sherwulf
                Yes, but is that due to it being self regulated, or some other reason? Ie if regulated by something other than self regulation, would everything be ok? Not that one is expected to be happy as a prisoner, but maybe prison officers should be happier than the inmates.

            • There is only one thing worse than being self regulated, and that is not being self regulated?

              Self regulation is like a dose of frack……

              It was one of May’s your majesty…..

              It sodding was not!

              Go on May! Get out of that!

              [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

              Oh, Fr………. ck!

    • Katherine
      No one seems worried about the integrity of houses, hospitals, bridges, gas pipes, sewers, water pipes and so on down there. I guess everyone is having a hard look at all the infrastructure to make sure it has not been damaged by the earthquake?

      My guess is that this is not hapenning as the quake was not strong enough to cause concern?

      Or that those activities and concerns would not be reported on this site, being about oil and gas exploration.

  5. Well, if you needed a definition of a pathetic attempt to remove the antis from all credibility, this is it. Perhaps the seismic event was due to the thunder of the 500k voters fleeing the Green Party, Mr. Taylor?

    But, quite a positive result for those interested in science. Meanwhile, we will all be able to walk across to “mainland” Europe now the North Sea has vanished into the void left by the extraction of all that gas and oil. Hope the ferry operators find new employment together with Mr. Taylor.

    Tell me again, what was the cause of the recent Welsh earthquake? And the one before that in Scotland?

    Clue-it’s/they are natural events. Some people need to get closer to the natural world, and further away from the anti-climax.

    Seriously, these are “supposed” to be people concerned about the environment? (By demonstrating ignorance of it?)

    Apt for April 1st.

    • Martin
      In this case I think UKOG have not reacted well. It would have been better to say that they knew about the quake and were considering what action to take to ensure their assets had not been affected.

      But they seem to have taken a leaf out of the Keith Taylor book of rhetoric. Both should provide a measured response.

  6. I don’t think it’s alarmist to expect an oil company to check well integrity after seismic activity. That’s gold standards. I agree any company that may have pipework under and overground should also check. I certainly don’t feel my opinion is malicious just prudent.

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