Campaigners calls for ban on acid stimulation of onshore oil and gas wells


Markwells Wood oil site in the South Downs National Park where the use of acid was proposed. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Friends of the Earth has called for a ban on the use of acid to stimulate the flow of oil and gas in onshore wells.

In a report called The Acid Test, published this week, it said many of the risks linked to acid stimulation were similar to those for fracking, including contamination of groundwater, soil and air, industrialisation of rural areas, noise, increased traffic and earth tremors.

It said current regulations were not strong enough to deal with these risks and there were gaps in knowledge about the chemicals used. Acid stimulation would also contribute to climate change, it said.

As well as ban, Friends of the Earth called for:

  • An assessment of the health and environmental impacts of acid well stimulations in England
  • Identification of chemicals of concern used in all onshore well stimulation operations
  • Government publication of data on the number and type of acid stimulations in England
  • A requirement for exploration companies to state explicitly in planning applications whether they want to use acid and for what purpose.

Oil and gas companies say they have routinely used acid for decades. But it is not always clear whether this was to clean scale or other deposits from the well, known as acid wash, or to stimulate the flow of hydrocarbons in rock formations.

Acid stimulation is likely at several new oil exploration sites in the Weald basin in southern England, some in protected areas.

Brenda Pollack, south east campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said:

“Residents are right to be worried about the increasing use of acid well stimulation to produce oil and gas in this area. There are a lot of unknowns about the quantities and type of chemicals being used and where they end up.

“It’s clear that we should be reducing fossil fuel use, yet the government is encouraging the industry. Plans to fast track shale gas operations could have implications in the Weald basin which is a known shale oil area.”

What is acid stimulation?

In acid stimulation, companies inject a fluid containing acid and other chemicals into the rock formation. The chemical concentrations are usually 6-18%, higher than the 0.5% concentration used in hydraulic fracturing.

In acid fracturing, one form of acid stimulation, the fluid is injected at pressures high enough to fracture the rocks, as with hydraulic fracturing.

Hydrochloric acid is usually used where the rocks are limestone and hydrofluoric acid in sandstone formations. But sometimes combinations of acids are used.

Key issues

Climate change

Friends of the Earth said:

“[Acid stimulation] is being proposed and is potentially already being used in England to increase fossil fuel production. But, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to reduce fossil fuel use fast. Increasing fossil fuel production is not compatible with the climate change goals the UK has signed-up to.”


The regulations covering fracking are unlikely to deal with acid stimulation, Friends of the Earth said.

Legislation on hydraulic fracturing applies only where individual fracture treatments use 1,000m3 of water or 10,000m3 in total.

Acid fracking tends to use smaller volumes of fluid, though at higher chemical concentrations. This means there is no automatic requirement to carry out baseline monitoring of methane in groundwater nor monitor methane levels in the air, Friends of the Earth said. There is also no legislation banning surface development of sites using acid stimulation in protected areas like National Parks.

Friends of the Earth said:

“Regulations are not strong enough to cover the risks associated with acid stimulation. No proper environmental risk assessment study appears to have been performed.”

Gaps in knowledge

Friends of the Earth said:

“There are a lot of unknowns about acid stimulation. Whilst we know that many of the chemicals used in the processes can be hazardous, there have been very few studies on the risks and impacts.

“There are significant gaps in knowledge about the chemicals used in the treatments, including overall volumes used, and their toxicity and persistence in the environment, meaning that there are clear risks that residents are right to be concerned about.”

The first toxicological study purely dedicated to acidising was published in the U.S. in 2017. But Friends of the Earth said in England the Environment Agency had not carried out any studies of its own.

“It appears that the Environment Agency has not historically given permits for acid well stimulation operations and is unable to provide data on where acidising has taken place.”

Friends of the Earth added:

“As far as we are aware, there have been no studies to look at the quantities and profiles of chemicals used in acidising operations in England. This means there is a lack of analysis of how much has been used in the past to determine levels of current and future risk.

“Given the number of applications coming forward this must be addressed. The government needs to ensure that adequate reporting is carried out by the industry and that relevant cumulative data on chemical use is publicly available.”

Environmental impacts

Friends of the Earth said:

“acid stimulation could involve hundreds of new oil wells, some in our most precious areas of countryside.

“It is important that there is more clarity when [planning] applications are made so that the public and local decision makers know exactly what type of treatment a developer wants to carry out.”

Industry reaction

Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry organisation, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said in response to the Friends of the Earth report:

“The use of acid is a standard water services and oilfield practice for many developments and is clearly outlined in the Environment Agency’s Q&A documentation. Indeed, as Friends of the Earth themselves note, this is a technique that has been widely used since the 1950s.

“Acidisation, both in the water industry and our own, is a regulated practice that allows us to effectively ‘clean’ or improve recovery from a well. It dissolves fine particles and scale, allowing a better flow of what we’re trying to extract. As with household kettles, which need to be treated for limescale build-up, the use of this process merely increases the efficiency of our practices.

“An environmental permit is only issued for this technique if the Environment Agency are satisfied that the proposed activities meet the requirements of all the relevant legislation. Friends of Earth would have you believe that ‘acid’ automatically means a hazard to human health, but according to this report, they would ban us from using formic acid – something commonly found in both bees and nettles.

“According to the OGA, the UK’s oil import dependency is forecast to increase from 30% today to almost 70% by 2035, and the prediction for gas is equally bleak. Under the Committee on Climate Change limits on oil consumption, the use of 46 million tonnes equivalent in 2040 satisfies the Climate Change Act. With oil the biggest sole source of UK energy, instead of proposing ill-informed bans Friends of the Earth should ask themselves why they want us to become a country beholden on others for our basic needs.”

Friends of the Earth summary briefing

Friends of the Earth full briefing

52 replies »

  1. FoE is a political party or lobbyist not a scientific charity.
    HCl is released in our stomach during and atter meal to digest food at pH 2.8 coz many digestive enzyme work optimally at strong acidic range. I hope in they are not gonna call for a ban on eating food to suit their ban of HCl release.

    • Re stomach acid – an absurd analogy. Do you really think that, because we use acid to assist in digestion, this can automatically be applied to soil health? Given the psychopathically greedy nature of the fossil fuel industry it’s essential to question everything they tell us.

    • Well well,good morning ladles and jellyspoons, its a bright and sunny morning here, a bit overcast over there i see, and that is not just the weather either? Deeper clouds and fog are obscuring the daylight.

      Dear me, i see the Enemies of the Earth are peddling their usual propaganda against the Friends of the Earth? Isn’t it interesting that a publicly funded organization is so vilified by these private corporation hacks who only seek to gain from plundering the Earth and only have hateful words for those who are trying to protect the Earth from their promoted industrialisation of UK and the entire planet?

      What does that tell us? Privateer greed hates to see their victim protected and the usual attempt to divide and conquer isnt it.

      Quite sad really.

      But we know better don’t we folks? We know that the real situation is a concerted attack on the planets diminishing resources and anyone who stands between this hateful industry and their profits must be attacked and vilified. Quite transparent.

      “The great lie is that it is civilization. It’s not civilized. It has been literally the most blood thirsty brutalizing system ever imposed upon this planet. That is not civilization. That’s the great lie—is that it represents civilization.”—John Trudell

      Remember They Are Doing It For You….

      The Corporations and their government lackeys sell you their energy
      They tell you that it’s your need you pay for necessity
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      So you use it on their gross and sociopathic entertainment
      So you use it on their gross and sociopathic lies and disinformation
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      So you watch their bread and circuses
      You watch in horror their psychotically dumbed down services
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      You watch them use it for their greed
      You watch them as they use it for their feed
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      But it’s their greed you feed
      And they tell you that you need it more and more and more indeed
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      To get all that wasted energy that without it you’re on your own
      They need to invade your quiet village your quiet streets and your peaceful town
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      It’s your earth they must drill and bore and quake and score
      That is their hacking fracking cracking law
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      For them you must sacrifice your land
      Your peace your rights your houses and your mind
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      You must sacrifice your water
      You must sacrifice your air
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      You must sacrifice your health
      You must sacrifice your climate and your children’s futures wealth
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      Never mind that it your countries ecology, its life and bounty and that you are sheeple that they come to fleece
      Never mind that it costs your communities your rights to freedom and your local police
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      They sell you their austerity policies to run your government for you
      They sell you their austerity policies to fulfil your need
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      But they sell you their austerity policies to fulfil their greed
      Their need for greed has overturned your need to be freed
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      You think you buy them with the taxes they demand
      And what they take you give what you have in your hand
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      With what you have they will take and you will pay and pay and pay
      They fill their personal coffers and obey their master plotters and say and say and say
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      They sell you more laws to tell you to keep you in line
      But with every new law there is a new crime
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      You think those new laws are for your protection
      And yet the new criminal is now you they action
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      They tell you how to live
      They say do what we say not do you what we do
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      Then you realise it’s your freedoms that you give
      That they took what you have and you have no more rights to live
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      So you object
      And you your protest show
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      Then it’s you they demonise
      And it’s you they claim and it’s you they victimise
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      So they spread the hate and lies against you they now show
      You speak up and state your case but the answers always “No”
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      Endangered by poisons and fracking and industrial invasions
      And abused by greed’s outrageous fascist persuasions
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      The law will protect them
      But the law will not protect you
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      So when protest fails to move
      And democracy falls abused
      But you remember they are doing it for you….
      When public consultation wins the argument
      But are then ignored and overturned by parliament
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      What are the lessons to be learned?
      To what other options can you be turned?
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      When truth and justice disappear
      In a fracture of a second you’re laws and democracy rights shatter entire
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      When your voice is shouted down and drowned by rabid hate
      When you realise that slavery and subjugation is your intended fate
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      And when they sail to their tax haven bails
      And take their billions and flee with tucked and cowered tails
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      And it is your selves and your children that will pay their fails
      That will be forced to suffer their hateful Big Oil and Gas Big Brother Airstrip One jails
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      When you are left with no other choice
      When even your censored peaceful protest has no voice
      But remember they are doing it for you….
      So then when our people’s anger soars and overturns this hateful fascist rise
      Their freedom, laws and democratic rights to restore and crimes against humanity exorcise….

      They Are Doing It For You….

      • these are a couple of songs by Buffy Saint-Marie, an indigenous native of America and a speaker of truth to those who would listen.

        With apologies to Buffy Sainte-Marie:Working For The Government for some appropriate changes.
        Some of us hear you Buffy.

        “Working For The Government”

        This song is by Buffy Sainte-Marie and appears on the album “Running For The Drum” (2008).

        The neighbours like him
        Think he’s a great guy
        He wears a neck tie
        Workin’ for the government

        He get you elected
        He take the heat y’all
        He know the plan yeah he’s
        Workin’ for the government

        Ci-vil servant y’all
        Mufti uniform
        He keep a place in town he
        Workin’ for the government

        He keep his mouth shut
        Nobody know him
        He P.R. guy yeah
        Workin’ for the government

        Love come around
        He never feel a thing
        He see right through it all he
        Workin’ for the government

        High places Low places
        Man of influence
        Mis-ter Invisible he
        country My country
        Gun for hire y’all
        Mercenary 101 he
        Workin’ for the government

        He’s a pro-fessional
        He James Bond y’all
        He come from nowhere he
        Workin’ for the government

        Up town down town
        Anywhere the chips come down he
        Your town my town he
        Workin’ for the government

        Also from Buffy Sainte-Marie –
        “He’s a Keeper of the Fire” slightly altered

        He’s as heavy as a lead weight, baby
        He’s as spinny as a wire
        He’s a prophet of a new day, baby
        He’s a keeper of the fire

        He’s got a funny kinda voodoo, baby
        You oughta see him at the zoo
        He’s got a heavy kinda hoodoo, baby
        And he can lay it on you

        He can say it like an angel, baby
        He can say it like a blowhorn
        He can see a-seven devils, baby
        And never even give a whole turn

        Been haunted like a razor, baby
        He’s been tested in the blood
        He’s a walker on the hot shale, baby
        And he’s a gaslighter to the crowd

        I saw him drilliin’ in the valley, baby
        I could see him through the dying trees
        I saw him frackin” to the money there, baby
        He was crawlin’ on his knees

        He can play it like a rainbow, baby
        He can play it like a clown
        He can play it like a river, baby
        And he can follow you down

        He can make you a clown

        Well have a great Sunday with family and friends and remember, they are only doing it for you…….Ha! Ha! Yeah, right…….

        [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

    • FOE is in fact and NGO. TW, you are correct it is not a scientific charity but it is not a political party or lobbyist – do some more homework before you attack that which you clearly no little about; kettle and pot.

  2. TW, FoE are running a campaigning business, they need to keep pushing out press releases in order to gain publicity & therefore more funds. I hope none of them have frosted or etched glass in their homes or offices, if they want to maintain any semblence of integrity about the industrial use of hydrofluoric acid. They really are pushing the boat out on this latest foray of stirring up chemophobia. Will they ban deoxyribonucleic acid? Do they know their onions? I think not.

  3. If FoE push to call for a total absolute ban on methane release into the environment and any incumbent government invoke such ban then I would take protest and go on strike or risk going to jail to protect my human right to fart in privately and freely without having to report my emission to FoE.

  4. I see that Sherwulfe now has a downer on education! So did Pol Pot.

    With two thirds of the one third not being well informed on the subject of fracking it didn’t take long for an attempt to prevent them becoming better informed.

    Transparent, and probably too late.

  5. Independent base line monitoring report for Cuadrilla’s PNR site has been published. Probably the most monitored well(s) on the planet. This should be welcomed by all parties and will establish what the local impacts from these two wells really are. No speculation, no US linked scaremongering, just real data. Although I expect there will still be one or two on this BB who do not approve……

    Click to access OR18020.pdf

    A lot of information to digest.

    • Yes, a superficial glance shows it is ‘PRELIMINARY’. A bit sad if it can’t be in an ‘ISSUED’ state prior to fracking. Of course it will have been open to comments to people like David Smythe?

      But even to a layman it is now an obviously guarded opinion as to the nature of the Sherwood to the west of the Woodsford. No categoric statement it is saline. Only that it is saline at the one sample borehole. Also a mysterious flow is now implied? Where does this come from? Also it now state’s it is too deep for use as if to say , it might be pure in parts? And since when Is that too deep? We might need it soon based on this summer’s rainfall…

    • Waffle without meaning; totally not about the article; have no idea what you are on about; different strokes for different folks it seems?

  6. The old insomnia playing tricks on your short term memory again Sherwulfe?

    Read back through your own posts and it may refresh the parts that need refreshing. Or, is someone else posting for you?

    Since when were your posts anything to do with “the article”? You might like to check that out at the same time.

    Even the fog is patchy now.

    • Perhaps you would like to enlighten me oh ‘aged sage’? Perhaps you read on a higher plane? Maybe we should all bow down to your green bottle driven philosophy? Or not 😉

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