Second review criticises Leith Hill oil drilling plans


Opponents of drilling at Bury Hill Wood near Leith Hill in Surrey. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Another report commissioned by opponents of oil exploration, has criticised plans by Europa to drill near Leith Hill in Surrey.

Last week, DrillOrDrop reported that a review, funded through a 38 Degrees petition, concluded that the plans contained “many significant errors, inconsistencies and omissions”.

Yesterday, a second report, commissioned and crowd-funded by the campaign group, A Voice for Leith Hill, said proposals for oil drilling and testing at Bury Hill Wood posed “a serious and unacceptable risk” of contamination to local drinking water aquifers.

The report, by David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at Glasgow University, was submitted to the Environment Agency (EA) as part of a public consultation.

The EA has said it is minded to grant an environmental permit for the proposed operations, including the use of acid in the well. The draft permit would, the EA said, “ensure that a high level of protection is provided for the environment and human health”.

But Professor Smythe said Europa’s permit application contained “incomplete and misleading information”. He said the company had miscalculated geological depths and used out-of-date maps.

He described the application’s understanding of hydrogeology as “seriously defective”. He added that the company had “a poor understanding of the geology and the technical problems that it is likely to encounter in drilling”.

Risk to groundwater

Europa said in its application that the proposals did “not present an unacceptable risk to the water environment”.

It also said the public water supply boreholes at Dorking, which take water from the Hythe Formation aquifer, were “not considered to be at risk” from the proposals.

Professor Smythe disputed Europa’s claim that there was no direct underground pathway from the wellsite at shallow depths to the Dorking boreholes.

He said the Hythe Formation would be inadequately protected from any contamination. The proposed 50m long conductor casing would not penetrate deeply enough to reach the impermeable Weald Clay Formation, he said.

Professor Smythe added that Europa’s understanding of the shallow groundwater flow through the Hythe Formation was “seriously in error”:

“There will be a major risk of outflow from the base of the Hythe Formation to the east into the [River] Mole catchwater and not to the west into Pipp Brook, as claimed.”

Geological faults

Professor Smythe said Europa’s application had “poorly understood surface-mapped faults around Leith Hill”. He said the company had overlooked field evidence of thrust faulting within 50m of the wellsite.

He added:

“The applicant does not have a robust understanding of the faulting in the target area. The applicant needs to commission a dedicated resurvey by the BGS to examine all the evidence”.

Use of acid

Europa had initially proposed to carry out an acid wash to clear any formation damage caused during drilling. This would be followed by an acid squeeze, in which acid would travel up to 14m into the formation and may result in stimulation of oil flow.

The company has since said it intended to clear debris from only within a 1m radius of the wellbore and that pressure used to pump acid into the well would be below that needed to fracture rocks.

Professor Smythe said the EA should restrict the volume and strength of acid to that needed for an acid wash.

Another consultation response, referenced in his report, highlighted that, while Europa had reduced the distance travelled by the acid, it had increased the volume likely to be used. The response also said there were inconsistencies in the definition of acid squeeze and questioned how the EA would enforce different acid techniques.

Deviated well

Europa plans to drill what is known as a “deviated well”, which begins vertically but then bends diagonally or horizontally.

Professor Symthe said the “highly deviated wellbore” was at the limit of what he described as “permissible technology”.

He said it cut through a major fault:

“This will probably give rise to technical problems such as washouts (over-enlargement of the borehole) during the drilling, as has happened with a similarly inclined borehole in similar geology at Broadford Bridge”.

He also predicted problems in sealing the casing of the deviated portion of the wellbore because of its shallow inclination:

“Inadequate cementing of wellbore casings is recognised as a major problem, giving rise to pollution of groundwater aquifers.”

Conventional or unconventional?

Europa has described the operation at Bury Hill Wood as conventional oil exploration.

But Professor Smythe said:

“The Kimmeridge Clay formation, with its tight thin semi-limestone ‘micrite’ bands, is an unconventional target.”

He said the company’s proposals also included unconventional testing by matrix acidisation.

  • More than 103,000 signed a petition urging the Environment Agency not to grant the permit. At the time of writing, the EA’s website had 145 published responses to the consultation. Link to A Voice for Leith Hill JustGiving page

26 replies »

  1. What a surprise! I would never have suspected that the specialist instructed and paid for by the no brigade was going to come up with such findings.

    • What a surprise! Who’d have suspected that the call centre instructed and paid for brigade was going to come up with another pointless answer.

      • As opposed to the “yes” specialist instructed and paid for by the drilling operator (a laughably outrageous conflict of interests) who have already been comprehensively discredited for their work at Markwell’s Wood?

        • Aren’t Y.E.S (Yes Exclusive Stamp) the new government “independant” department for oil and gas regulation and monitoring?

          Operated out of a basement broom cupboard with a school leaver tied to a broken and over used rubber stamp marked “Yes Whatever”?
          UK industry standard regulators at their finest?

  2. Good that our old friend can drag himself away from his retirement home to produce another “mighty” report regarding the Weald.

    As the last one was ripped to shreds, I suppose it at least goes to show, if you don’t succeed at first, try, try again-or, maybe something else.

    I thought the public consultation period finished some while ago?

    Not sure repeated attempts at undermining the competence of the EA is a good plan.

  3. Ah good old David Smythe the turn to guy for the antis.
    Why not crowdfund something more useful like a day out to the zoo.

  4. Yes, LHP, you should have put your money in Tesla instead and lost your money in an eco friendly sort of way. Or, you could have put your money in AJLucas and been a really miserable, but wealthy, Easter bunny.
    End of the tax year-hope the Prof. declares his supplementary income. Who said no money to made from these “schemes”?

    • Lots of noise but no cigars yet? It seems cigars, like all the other fantasy wish list items, are only rolled on the thighs of fat sweaty off shore tax haven banksters and their money mule molls?
      Two mules for sister Teresa?
      Two mule trains for uncle Boris?
      The Gove, the Boris and the UKOGLY?

  5. You only have to look at the order books for Tesla (stretching years ahead) to see that it’s not going under. They were predicting such doom for Apple in the mid nineties when it’s shares fell. It’s now one of the world’s top companies.

    • When a company threatens the very existence of a fair and ‘for the many’ concept [Tesla], this spider webbed infiltrated into governance ‘company’ [read invader] will use media owned by them to create a ‘picture’ to attempt to ‘convince’ those who have not yet taken the ‘red pill’;

      for those of us who have, we laugh heartily at the pathetic use of the ruse…..

  6. Ahh yes, PhilipP-future gains from todays pain. Bought your UKOG shares yet? Surely not another capitalist speculator?

    Order books stretching years ahead. Maybe therein lies the problem. “This time next year, Rodney”-Fools and Horses.

    • Small problem in your logic Martin. You forgot the definition of ‘the future’:

      ‘a place where we can breathe, grow food, live with tolerance not war over diminishing resources; most important commodity – oxygen’.

      Here lies the gas, gone up in a puff of toxic smoke.

  7. “a fair, for the many”-interesting definition for Mr. Musk’s salary! Oh, how easily they are fooled. Never mind, I expect the next $2 billion top up will not be long in coming.

    Diminishing resources, hmm. Oh I get it, like cobalt where the marine floor will be scraped clean of all life to access it. An “alternative” means of attacking the planet, so that’s okay then. And who will police which bits of ocean floor belong to which country-that should be interesting. Perhaps build a few artificial islands and fortify them to allow extra “rights”?

    • Sad that the ocean floor has already been ‘trashed’ by trawlers and the life left after poisoned by plastic; I don’t think you are really bothered about the oceans MC, just another blind attack using made-up rhetoric spouted from the mouths of media moguls……

  8. What would be the cost of cleaning up a poisoned aquafer, if Smythe is right? Is it even possible to do? What would be the cost of providing alternative water supplies for those whose water supply has been poisoned?

    Do any of these penny share cowboy companies have insurance that would cover such an event? Even if you took the view there was only a 1% chance of Smythe being right, who wants to take the gamble on having to pay out £Bns? I would suggest any insurance company that provided a policy that truly covered the risks would want a premium that cost more than these penny share cowboy companies are worth. They won’t even pay to acquire the modern 3D seismic data that would enable them to properly mitigate the risk.

    BP’s little faux pas in GoM cost £Bns and they still have not finished paying. Fortunately BP has the resources to pay. As a BP shareholder at the time I know how much it hurt though. These cowboy penny share companies would just go bust and leave the costs to all of us.

    Why are none of the oil majors remotely interested in doing this, they used to have interests in the area, but gave them up to the penny share cowboys. Has anyone ever met a major oil company that gave away good projects to small operators?

    I am not a tree hugger. I do not even believe in Climate Change theory. I do understand economics though and what it costs when you screw up the environment. If the drilling provides a commercially viable result (unlikely) how much oil will actually be recovered? Will it even be enough to cover the capital costs of drilling (by then a sunk cost) and then operating costs, plus maintenance CAPEX? Probably not, because this is very tight oil in a very thin band which, if it flows at a commercial rate at all, won’t do for long. Could that be why the oil majors are not interested?

  9. “I don’t think”-no, you don’t Sherwulfe but you can read my many posts concerning the continuing dangers of oil coming up the Solent to Fawley versus the merits of oil from Wytch Farm and (potentially) the Weald. Don’t let the facts get in the way of your fake news, but for those who have read my posts on the subject, another dollop of the anti-truth to try and deflect. Excited?

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