Residents uncover regulatory loophole at Surrey oil site

180221 Brockham Weald Oil Watch

Angus Energy’s Brockham oil site, 21 February 2018. Photo: Weald Oil Watch

A resident’s group in Surrey has discovered a loophole in oil and gas regulations that allow some wells to be stimulated or used for reinjection without specific controls.

Brockham Oil Watch uncovered the regulatory gap when it put a series of questions about its local drilling site to the Environment Agency.

During the correspondence, it emerged that the site at Brockham near Dorking, operated by Angus Energy, was still using an old-style environmental permit.

Despite frequent government claims that the UK has a world class regulatory system, the EA said that under the old environmental permits, operators were not required to collect or maintain details on well stimulation or fluid reinjection.

The old permit also has no restrictions on how much acid could be used in a well and at what concentration. Nor does it require air or groundwater monitoring.

The Environment Agency (EA) began updating permits for existing oil and gas sites in 2013 and the process is still underway. The EA told DrillOrDrop there were still 38 old style permits in place. They are part of the review, which is due to be completed by the end of summer 2018, the EA said.

At Brockham, there was a public consultation in July 2017 on the company’s application for a new style permit. Since then, the EA has asked Angus Energy for more information, with a deadline of last week. The requested information included answers to whether stimulation was proposed at the site and what fluids would be reinjected.

Any final decision on the new permit would be made only after all the outstanding information had been submitted and assessed and after a further public consultation.

A spokesperson for Brockham Oil Watch said:

“We have worked closely with the EA over the past year. We appreciate their openness and taking our concerns seriously. They are working hard, regulating and monitoring multiple sites, and working on areas other than oil & gas as well. They can only operate within the remits of the regulatory framework and that’s why we feel the loopholes in the framework need to be highlighted and hopefully closed.”

The group said:

“Until the new permit is in place, the site operates under the old-style permit.

“This means that Angus can carry out stimulation (with acid or hydraulic fracturing) so long as the volumes of fluids injected are below the levels specified as associated hydraulic fracturing in the Infrastructure Act 2015, and they will not even need to notify the EA of what they are doing.

“This is all the more worrying because there is no groundwater monitoring in place at the moment, even though it will be required going forward because of the risk of pollution from re-injection.

“There is no air quality monitoring in place either, but this will also be required as part of the new permit.

“Until then, monitoring of site activities can only be carried out via site inspections and verbal interaction with Angus staff.”

The group added:

“Given the track record of Angus Energy, we are very concerned about this.”

The group was referring to a planning dispute over a sidetrack well, known formally as BRX4Z, drilled by Angus Energy at Brockham in January 2017. Surrey County Council said the company did not have planning permission to drill the well but Angus Energy said it did. A retrospective planning application for the well is expected to be considered by councillors in July.

The EA said it was reviewing all aspects of the environmental permitting for the Brockham site:

“This will include assessing any stimulation that is proposed, if it is proposed. When we have thoroughly reviewed the proposed activities, we will decide whether we can permit them or not, or whether they meet an exclusion from the permitting regime.”

On reinjection, the EA said:

“As part of their re-permitting application we have requested a hydrogeological risk assessment which will provide us with details of current and proposed reinjection activities.

“The new permit will define the geological formations and locations of where the reinjection activities will take place and specify any limits on volumes reinjected. We will also require Angus to keep records of produced water reinjected and report this to us on a regular basis.

Brockham night working Brockham Protection Camp

Overnight working at Brockham in winter 2016/2017. Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

What residents discovered?

No EA information on past fracking in south east England

Brockham Oil Watch asked the EA:

“Where would be the information stored on how many ‘conventional’ frack jobs were carried out in the past, for example, in the South East or in England?”

The EA replied:

“The Environment Agency has not recorded this information under the current permit at Brockham. I have referred the wider question for the South East and England to our National Oil and Gas Programme although I expect the answers will be similar based upon the old onshore oil and gas permitting regime.”

A Freedom of Information request, made to the Oil and Gas Authority, was unable to verify a claim that 10% of wells drilled in the UK had been hydraulically fracked. The OGA reply included:

“Until the recent increased public interest in hydraulic fracturing, well stimulation was regarded as a routine aspect of well operations, and was not subject to specific consent, and its use may not have been systematically recorded.”

It suggested that the figure had been compiled by the then Department of Energy and Climate Change using historical records, company information and personal recollections.

No information on well stimulation at Brockham

The EA told Brockham Oil Watch it could not verify whether acid stimulation had taken place at Brockham in the past:

[The old-style permit] “did not require the operator to collect or maintain details that could be used to verify whether stimulation has taken place”.

Brockham well Brockham Protection Site

Brockham oil site in winter 2016/7. Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

No information on reinjection

The EA could also not confirm whether there had been any recent re-injection at Brockham. It told residents:

“We do not hold this information and it is not required under the current Environmental Permit.”

Asked whether Angus Energy was obliged to report when it was re-injecting and what the volume was, the EA replied:

“Currently this information is not required under their existing Environmental Permit.”

No current EA controls over acid use at Brockham

Brockham Oil Watch asked whether Angus Energy could continue to use acid stimulation under the old permit.

The EA replied:

“There are no restrictions in the old permit.”

Asked whether this could include matrix acidising, acid fracking and hydraulic fracturing, the EA said:

“Our Regulatory Position Statement for Onshore Oil and Gas allows operators to continue with their existing practices in line with their existing environmental permits. This will apply until they have been through our re-permitting process.”

The Regulatory Position Statement said the EA would not normally take enforcement action against operators of these sites before the new-style permits were put in place, providing “the activities on the site are operated in such a way that they pose no risk of pollution of the environment or harm to health”.

The EA added:

“During the re-permitting process, we will decide whether current and any new practices can continue or start, provided the environment and people are suitably protected. If the re-permitting process does not give suitable protection no permit will be granted and all will need to cease.”

Asked whether this meant that the status quo could continue until the new permit was issued, the EA said:

 “Yes, unless the new permit does not proceed.”

The EA added that a site inspection on 10 April 2018 had confirmed that the company was not then using acid.

No current groundwater monitoring at Brockham

Asked about groundwater monitoring to date at Brockham, the EA said:

“There is currently no groundwater monitoring permit requirement at Brockham. The re-permitting process that is currently underway will include relevant groundwater monitoring requirements due to reinjection.”

No current restrictions on target formations

Brockham Oil Watch asked the EA:

“Does the old permit cover operations on BRX4Z (which is a new well and so it was not part of the development when the old permit was issued)?”

The EA replied:

“There are no restrictions in the old permit on target destinations.”

The EA did say that Angus Energy had not submitted proposals to carry out operations on the BRX4Z. Any operations on this well were being considered as part of the re-permitting application, it said.

No information on acid volume proposed for Brockham

Brockham Oil Watch asked the EA:

“What is the volume of acid proposed to be used at Brockham? What are the stages (perforations intervals)? Is it only going to be one perforation of 200m as per the BRX4Z completion document filed with Oil and Gas Authority. Will you be requiring this information from Angus if not already supplied?”

The EA replied

“We require clarification from the operator on their proposals. We have requested this through the re-permitting process.”

Clarification needed on pressure proposed at Brockham

On the proposed formation and fracture pressures to be used in future on the BRX4Z well at Brockham, the EA said:

“We require clarification from the operator on their proposals.

“We have requested this through the re-permitting process. When they have confirmed what they intend doing, we will be able to ask relevant questions. In the event that they propose to carry out further work to appraise or produce from BRX4Z (which we understand from the recent planning application that they do) then they will need to provide us with appropriate details. This is likely to include formation and fracture pressure information, depending on what activities and methods they are proposing.”

The EA was also asked how it would know if an operator breached its permit on well stimulation. Brockham Oil Watch said the proposed monitoring of ground and surface water and air quality would not establish whether well stimulation had taken place.

The EA replied:

“These issues will be addressed by inclusion in all modern style environmental permits. We are aware that we will need to include volumes and pressures of fluid(s).”

Brockham lorry 2 Brockham Protection Camp

Delivery to Brockham oil site, winter 2016/7. Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

Clarification needed on monitoring information at Brockham

Asked about what information Angus is required to share for monitoring, the EA said:

“We require clarification from the operator on their proposals.

“We have requested this through the re-permitting process. The monitoring requirements will be outlined in any new permit issued. This will include monitoring of the groundwater (if re-injection is still proposed), surface water (relative to the existing discharge), air quality and odour monitoring as well as on-site checks. Monitoring regimes are site specific, including the frequency, so will be agreed following the risk assessments (such as the Hydrogeological Risk Assessment) and during the re-permitting process. The requirement will be clearly laid out in any future permit.”

More details needed on type of oil extraction

Brockham Oil Watch asked the EA whether the Angus site was considered to be a conventional or unconventional operation.

The EA replied:

“Brockham has always being considered as a conventional well. We have requested details of the future proposals through the re-permitting process.  We require clarification from the operator on their proposals. We have requested this through the re-permitting process. We are aware of some of the details through the recent planning application and so will consider that further when the operator provides us with full details for their re-permit application.”

The EA added:

“Angus would need to submit their proposals in full and our assessment is made on what they are proposing and how they will mitigate any potential risks to the environment and people. Whether the terminology is unconventional or conventional is inconsequential.”

Other information needed

The EA also confirmed that if had sought extra information on:

  • Whether Angus Energy’s proposed operations at Brockham constituted appraisal or production from the Kimmeridge Clay Formation.
  • How much gas would be produced from the Kimmeridge formation, and whether the flare was to be used for emergency-only category or for gas disposal.

15 replies »

  1. What a load of nonsense!

    So, Angus (like most of the industry) are currently taking part in an up-date from the EA, for what is defined as a conventional well.

    Sometimes, vehicles have an MOT, occasionally the procedure is up-dated for that MOT. Shock, horror.

  2. Martin Collyer.Your obsession with defending and promoting fracking is matched only by our obsession to eliminate it.

  3. The difference being that the MOT Tester decides if your vehicle is safe and legal to use, NOT vehicle owner telling the tester that it is all okay.

    Too much relies on Angus (and others) to be totally honest and if necessary to confess when they have strayed from the regulations – quite simply it ain’t going to happen. The EA is just part of a regulatory puppet show. Keep it real. Have a nice evening.

  4. Keith Atkin-your inability to understand that Angus are not involved in fracking at Brockham, or any other site, is only matched by your willingness to exhibit that you have not even bothered to do the basics of research. In other situations, I do not promote fracking for gas in the UK. I state that it should be tested, carefully, within the UK to determine the pros and cons. That is what will determine what happens.

    Can’t see your difficulty Waffle. If you have problems with EA regulation, then the fact they are up-dating their system should be an improvement. As many sites have been there for years, some under different management for that time, it seems to me a great idea that they do so. But, the antis always have to make a negative out of a positive.

    Thanks for your good wishes. I do usually have a nice evening, as I am a positive sort of guy, and my glass is still more than half full!

  5. Incredible! Yet somehow not surprising. Is this the normalisation of self-regulation? Anyone who thinks that this is okay is deluded. It wouldn’t be allowed in any other industry so how is it permissible for ONSOGO ?

  6. I think Brockham Oil watch are also guilty of not carrying out some basic research in order to get their facts right, either that or they are deliberately trying to make mountains out of molehills.

    Since 1 October 2013, all new onshore oil and gas facilities require environment permits for:

    * Mining waste
    * Flaring of waste gas (with a capacity for 10+tonnes/day)
    * Water discharge
    * Groundwater activity, including fracking and reinjection.
    * Radioactive waste

    At the same time, existing oil and gas facilities only needed permits for crude oil unloading, handling, storage or treatment.

    The EA recognised the difference and the requirement to standardise regulations across the industry.

    In April 2016 the EA announced that all existing oil and gas facilities would also need permits for the five additional operations.

    The EA invited applications for new permits from operators of existing onshore oil and gas facilities for the operations previously carried out at these sites that did not require to be permitted.
    They also announced that they would not take enforcement action against operators for not having the new permits until the end of 2018.

    The changeover of the old style to new style of permit does not cover any new practice at or any change in use of the facilities.

    Those kind of changes require a separate application and planning permission.

    It only covers practices that have been carried out at these facilities over the years alongside the local community.

    Things that the local community have lived next door to without observing any problems or impact.

    What loophole or gap in regulations are there to comment on, surely the improvements should be welcomed?

    • The problem is martin and John, is that if we were to believe all the shouting about world standard and gold standard regulations, all these we supposed, wrongly it seems, to be in place for the last eight years, but now we see that the old licenses have no such regulations and wont be implemented on many sites until July this year?

      So all that famous talk about testing and permissions and regulations hasnt been happening at all on many sites, and there are not any records, because no one thought to make any records mandatory or even a requirement or even a voluntary obligation, because there were no regulations in place to make them do so?

      When were we going to be told all this? Who has stood up and said it in parliament? It took one of those grossly abused public protest groups to find this out? Well done the Brockham Oil Watch!

      Did anyone of the many representatives of the industry on these pages tell us that? Did any of the so called “supporters” inform us of this? Did the EA suddenly say, err, many sites operate on “the old licence” system and their licence allows them to do what they want and we cant make them do anything they dont want to?

      That, is the point of all this? we have been lied to by the operators, the government and the EA. There are no regulations in place or requirement for testing of air and water or even make records in these sites, so what the hell has been going on?

      And why were we not told that many sites could do, and probably have done, what they damn well wish and are neither required to test or monitor their actions and are not even required to record or inform anybody about it? Nothing! Nada! Zilch!

      And it takes a freedom of information act request to discover this? Well done the Brockham Oil Watch group for discovering this so late in the game, you must be as horrified as we are.

      This whole sorry fracking mess, is imply a farce from the start to the finish isn’t it?

      Gold standard regulations my aunt May.

      • Freedom of information request for correspondence between HSE and Cuadrilla regarding Preese Hall well includes,

        “Cuadrilla were looking for some guidance on when a cement bond log was required and who was responsible for the interpretation of the logs. We advised that in a goal setting regime that it was the operator to establish the criteria for when they would run a CBL for surface, intermediate, and production casing. The criteria should be documented and then we could then inspect your operations against this standard”

        Gold standard. No.

        World class regulators.No

        Total farce. Yes.

      • John, the point that you’re missing is that under the old permit many activities were unregulated (such as stimulation and water re-injection) and these remain unregulated until the new permit is in place (the EA would not know if this is an old or new practice because they were not requiring information that could verify it took place).

      • Phil C if you were listening Third Energy highlighted and made public the loophole last year at their KM8 well.

        They could have fracked without permission due to the well being drilled before 2013, but they waited for the government to act so that they could then follow the new regulations.

          • I refer of course to the report on the subject at the time on the Drill Or Drop topic on the announcement of course.
            However I do find the word “listening” somewhat of an interesting concept on a largely visual site however?
            Is there an audio version I was not aware of?

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