Regulation

Live news updates: Day 8 IGas Ellesmere Port inquiry

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IGas site at Ellesmere Port, 21 January 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

This post has live updates from the eighth day of the public inquiry into IGas plans flow test its gas well at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.

The inquiry resumes today after a four-week break at the end of January. You can catch up here on the background and key points from the inquiry so far.

Today the inspector, Brian Cook, is expected to hear from more witnesses for IGas. They will be questioned by barristers for Cheshire West and Chester Council and the campaign group, Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton.

Reporting from the inquiry has been made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers


Key points

  • IGas is not planning to frack or use matrix acidisation at Ellesmere Port
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are inevitable during flow testing and should not be assumed to be low, IGas witness tells inquiry
  • It is not possible to explore for onshore oil and gas with net zero emissions, IGas tells inquiry
  • IGas witness defines the Ellesmere Port site as a “wildcat well” will little evidence of production potential
  • Connecting the well to the national gas grid during the extended well test is not feasible or safe, IGas witness tells inquiry
  • The Ellesmere Port will not be used for fracking, IGas witness tells inquiry
  • IGas witness concedes the company has no climate change witness at the inquiry

5.45pm Inquiry adjourns

The hearing resumes at 10am on Wednesday 27 February 2019.

5.13pm Review of evidence of Jonathan Foster

Giles Cannock, the barrister for IGas, re-examines Jonathan Foster, the company’s witness on oil and gas operations.

Stress

Mr Cannock asks whether Mr Foster has heard any evidence that the acid wash will lead to stress and anxiety. None, Mr Foster says.

Greenhouse gas potential

Mr Cannock puts it Mr Foster that the increase in global warming potential given corrections to the methane effect is 4.89%. He asks Mr Foster how significant this increase. Compared with Preston New Road it is not significant, Mr Foster says.

Other uses of the site

Mr Foster previously told the inquiry that questions about future uses of the site were not relevant.

Best Available Techniques

Asked if the council had contested the description of flaring during the well test as best available technique, Mr Foster says it did not.

Mr Foster says there should be little weight given to evidence to the inquiry for the council on capturing gas during the flow test.  There is no example here, he says.

The inspector should give great weight to the conclusion of the Environment Agency that flaring is best available technique, Mr Foster says. Green completions [where gas is captured] are not suitable for this operation, Mr Foster adds.

Community information

The inquiry heard earlier today that IGas had told the community the target of the Ellesmere Port well was coalbed methane. But it told the council and Environment Agency that the well would be drilled into the Bowland shale. Mr Foster says IGas statements on the Ellesmere Port well are consistent.

He says issues above ground are for the council to decide and below ground for the Environment Agency.

Environment Agency decision-making on acid

Mr Cannock, for IGas, asks about Environment Agency decisions on the use of acid at the Ellesmere Port site. The EA considers proposed acid operations at Ellesmere Port as a “very low” risk unlikely to result in environmental harm, Mr Cannock says.

Mr Foster says the EA understands the process and what chemicals would be used. They have made a clear decision that the operation is de minimis, he says.

Geology

Mr Foster says the rock formation is, in his opinion Pentre Chert, rather than Bowland shale, as argued by Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton.

He dismisses criticism that an IGas geological diagram of the Ellesmere Port was based on data from Ince Marshes 7-8km away, though he accepts that seismic data for the Ellesmere Port is less than good than that at Ince Marshes.

Site location

The well site is on a cul-de-sac, with businesses further into the road. It had been argued earlier at the inquiry by the campaign group that it would be hard for buildings beyond the wellsite to be evacuated in an emergency.

Mr Foster says there have been no concerns from the highways authority or the HSE about the site location. He says there have been no objections to the site’s location near a railway line, the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey Estuary site of special scientific interest and Ramsar site.

4.55pm Questions from the inspector

Location

The inspector, Brian Cook, asks Jonathan Foster ,the IGas witness, about concerns on the location of the site near homes and businesses. Mr Foster says he has drilled wells between 80m and more than 2km from homes. It is not uncommon for wells on industrial estates. My office is within 200m of the wellsite.

Mr Foster says the majority of sites are in open countryside. The HSE would not agree to it if the site was not suitable, he adds.

Risk assessment

Mr Foster explains that the risk assessment includes fees for the Environment Agency to monitor a permit. He says the fees would be lower for sites that have higher environmental credentials.

Public health

The inspector refers to the statement in the environmental permit which says operations can be carried out without harming public health. He asks whether this statement is based on what on the permit controls.

Mr Foster says the permit is, in effect, saying that if you abide by the limits in the permit then you will not harm the public.

Mr Cook says Public Health England and the Director of Public Health did not respond to the permit consultation. Is this normal, he asks. Mr Foster says they often do not respond.

As part of the permit consultation, Mr Cook says the public contacted the Environment Agency about the effects of stress from the operation. But the Environment Agency said it did not cover this issue. Stress and anxiety is not an issue controlled by the EA, Mr Foster says.

Mr Cook asks whether councillors were told about a correction of the distance of the site from nearby housing. Mr Foster replies that he does not know.

Mr Cook says many public health issues have been put to the inquiry that have not been considered before. Mr Foster says public health issues are dealt with by the relevant regulators. A lot of the issues have been dealt with by the appropriate regulators.

Fracking

The inspector asks whether council officers dealt with the submissions on fracking in the right way. Mr Foster says it is not clear whether the council officers dismissed or ignored submissions that referred to fracking.


4.47pm Break

The inquiry resumes at 4.55pm.


3.38pm Questions to Jonathan Foster continue

Estelle Dehon, barrister for Frack Free Ellesmere Port & Upton, continues to cross-examine IGas witness on gas exploration, Jonathan Foster.

Monitoring

Mr Foster says IGas is monitoring the well at Ellesmere Port. He concedes there is international evidence of well failure.

He accepts there is no specific requirement under the environmental permit to measure the pressure in the well. IGas can use only the volume of acid allowed by the permit, he adds.

Geology of Ellesmere Port

Ms Dehon says the zone of interest in the Ellesmere Port well is 1795m-1849m. The primary interval is 1846m-1849m, she says.

Mr Foster, who concedes he is not a geologist, says the target formation is the Pentre Chert. He defines this as conventional geology.

Ellesmere Port or Ince Marshes?

Ms Dehon says an IGas diagram of the geology of the Ellesmere Port well was actually based on geological data from the Ince Marshes well. Mr Foster rejects this.

Ms Dehon refers to a statement from Mr Foster to the inquiry which confirms the seismic line used in the diagram was taken from Ince Marshes data, 7-8k east of the site. Mr Foster accepts this.

The inquiry hears that of the 2,000 wells drilled in the UK, fewer than five have been for specifically for unconventional hydrocarbons from shale.

Site changes

Ms Dehon refers to Mr Foster’s evidence that nothing would change on the site. Mr Foster says the site would return to its current form after the flow tests.

Ms Dehon says equipment would be delivered, including flares. Material would be brought to the surface and taken off the site, she adds. During the tests, Mr Foster says.

There would be more than 3,000 vehicle movements a week, of which 572 would be heavy goods vehicles, Ms Dehon adds.

Accidents and emergencies

Mr Foster says the last well blow out in the UK was in the 1980s. No activity, even walking across the floor, can be completely safe, he says. The risk of a blow out is never zero, even if impeccably regulated, Ms Dehon says. Mr Foster agrees.

The Ellesmere Port well site is on a cul-de-sac, the inquiry hears. Ms Dehon says the only way neighbours can escape in an accident is by passing a wellsite.

Mr Foster says this is not the case. In the event of a blow out, wind direction and plumes would be taken into consideration. It is not necessarily that they couldn’t evacuate from that position, he says.

Ms Dehon says they would have to pass the wellsite. This is not dissimilar from other well sites and there is no evidence of failure at other sites, Mr Foster replies.

It remains the case that the emergency services have not been consulted at any point on an emergency plan, Ms Dehon says. Mr Foster says the emergency service have been informed and the HSE had been to the site.

An emergency plan is not in place, Ms Dehon says. Mr Foster says major hazardous sites are managed in a different way to oil and gas sites, which are considered relatively low risk and not a major accident hazard.

If there were potential issues, the HSE would have identified them, Mr Foster says.

Location of the Ellesmere Port site

Ms Dehon says the well site is close to a site of special interest and a Ramsar wildlife site. It is within 800m of a children’s play centre and two residential homes for vulnerable adults. Mr Foster accepts he has not measured the distances.

These are relevant land use planning considerations, Ms Dehon asks. Mr Foster says the HSE is the principal regular for the safety of site operations.

Venting gases

Ms Dehon, for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, says the environmental permit allows for venting fugitive emissions from storage tanks. This gas is not burned, Ms Dehon says.

The gas is removed from the well fluid, Mr Foster says. These are very small quantities, he says, not direct venting. He agrees it has not been burnt.

Ms Dehon says IGas has given evidence that cold venting will happen from the well on three occasions, including emergencies and during the initial flow test. Mr Foster says some gas will be vented at low flow rates. The chance of gas being vented to atmosphere in the flare is minimal and the volumes are extremely small, Mr Foster says.

Ms Dehon says Mr Foster has said cold venting will not happen. Mr Foster replies that cold venting means releasing gas without going through the combustion system.

Ms Dehon says there is no reference anywhere to this definition. Mr Foster replies that the Environment Agency is satisfied with the proposed process at Ellesmere Port and has issued a permit.

It is not just the Environment Agency that we are concerned with here, Ms Dehon says.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Ms Dehon refers to Mr Foster’s evidence about greenhouse gas emissions from the Preston New Road site. Ms Dehon says the Preston New Road decision was well before a landmark report on climate change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 which called for action to hold temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

Mr Foster says statements from the government remain consistent with the Committee on Climate Change’s view on shale gas. That is not quite right, Ms Dehon says.

Mr Foster agrees the industry guidelines from UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) are from 2016 and also predate the IPCC. Mr Foster says UKOOG chose a central figure for the carbon footprint of shale gas  based on current regulation and technology. Mr Foster accepts UKOOG did not include a climate change expert in the discussions.

Mr Foster accepts that he does not have specific climate change or public health expertise.

Decommissioning

Mr Foster previously told the inquiry that the well would be abandoned if the flow test would not be successful. There is nothing in the planning application or permits that this will happen, Ms Dehon asks. That is not unusual, Mr Foster says.


3.23pm Break

The inquiry resumes at 3.40pm.


 

2.01pm Campaign group questions Jonathan Foster, IGas witness

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Estelle Dehon (left), barrister for Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, begins her cross-examination of Jonathan Foster, the IGas witness for exploration.

Coalbed methane or shale gas?

Ms Dehon tells the inquiry the initial planning permission for coalbed methane exploration and production was granted in 2010. The environmental permit application for the site in 2014 said there was planning permission for hydrocarbon exploration and production.

Mr Foster says that is the same thing. Ms Dehon replies it is not. IGas stated to the Environment Agency that it had planning permission for broader hydrocarbons than just the coalbed methane named in the consent, she says.

IGas told the council in January 2014 it intended to drill down beyond the coal measures into the Bowland shale, Ms Dehon says. It also told the Environment Agency (EA), she adds.

Ms Dehon turns to a community exhibition in July 2014, held after the IGas communication with the council and the EA. A document distributed at the exhibition says the primary objective is to explore the coalbed methane. At this time, the EA and the council had been told the primary objective was more than coalbed methane.

Mr Foster questions the use of the words “primary objective”. Ms Dehon says the words  were used by IGas.

The only intention was to explore for shale, she says. It is not right to say in July 2014 that the primary objective was to explore for coalbed methane, she asks. Nowhere in the correspondence with the EA is coalbed methane mentioned. Mr Foster says this correspondence mentions hydrocarbons. At the drilling depth planned, Ms Dehon says the hydrocarbons are shales.

Ms Dehon says the references in the exhibition documents to coalbed methane are shown in bold. There is a section on What is coalbed methane”. There is a representation of a coalbed methane targeting the coal measures.

This document explains how coalbed methane is explored, Ms Dehon says. This document does not explain anywhere what is shale gas? Mr Foster agrees that a diagram shows a coalbed methane well. It does not specifically exploring for shale gas but the diagram shows the well is drilled to 10,500ft.

You think that a tiny line going beyond the coal measures, shown in bold, is sufficient to inform the public, Ms Dehon says.

Representatives of IGas would be present at the exhibition to explain exhibition panels, Mr Foster says. Ms Dehon says the inspector has a lot of evidence about what impression that members of the public had of the exhibition.

Mr Foster agrees the impression is given that the well would target coalbed methane. Ms Dehon asks if he saw the exhibition document aimed at the public, would he go away with the impression that the well was for coalbed methane. Mr Foster says he could do.

Asked to review his view in the light of that answer whether the well was drilled responsibly, Mr Foster says he does not change his point of view that it was.

Barton Moss

Ms Dehon asks whether the IGas well at Barton Moss was drilled into the shale, even though this was said to be a coalbed methane well. Mr Foster says he was involved in just constructing the site.

You cannot dispute the evidence that the Barton Moss well was drilled into the shale formation, Ms Dehon asks. I was not involved in drilling, he replies.

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Public gallery at IGas public inquiry, 26 February 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Use of acid

Ms Dehon says the planning application statement does not refer to an acid wash or other acid-using operation. Mr Foster agrees.

She says the planning statement implies that other types of acid than hydrochloric could be used. Mr Foster agrees. The planning statement refers to hydrochloric at 15%.

Ms Dehon says an Environment Agency (EA) document defines acidisation to include acid wash and matrix acidisation. The EA says acid wash usually uses hydrochloric acid at a concentration of 7%. The planning doesn’t spell out acid wash, does it, Ms Dehon asks. No, Mr Foster concedes.

Mr Foster, in his evidence to the inquiry, says an acid wash or acid squeeze may be needed on the Ellesmere Port well. He says an acid squeeze is well treatment and does not target the formation.

Ms Dehon says the risk assessment submitted by IGas for the Environment Agency permit said the acid would travel into the rock formation to aid the flow of petroleum. Mr Foster says the EA asked for clarity on the use of acid. He says the waste management plan, submitted for the permit, clarified that the purpose of the acid was to clean out the natural fractures.

The waste management plan was not submitted with the planning application for the well test, Mr Foster agrees. Ms Dehon says the waste management plan proposed to use hydrochloric acid at 15% concentration. Mr Foster agrees. Ms Dehon says this level of concentration could be considered appropriate for acid squeeze.

Mr Foster tells the inquiry that the proposed total volume of acid solution is 95 cubic metres. He says the company wanted to do a total of three acid washes. It was allowed to have 45 cubic metres of acid solution on site at any time.

Ms Dehon says correspondence between IGas and Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton indicates that the company would use either an acid wash or squeeze. This implies that an acid squeeze may not be needed. Nowhere does it say that both processes would be needed, Ms Dehon says. Mr Foster says if the acid wash did not work, the company would apply some pressure. Ms Dehon says IGas did not concede that both processes would be used until later.

IGas request to the EA for clarity on acid use

Ms Dehon tells the inquiry that Mr Foster, for IGas, wrote to John Barraclough at the Environment Agency on 13 January 2019, two days before the inquiry opened, asking him it to contact the inquiry. Mr Foster agrees he did. You thought it was necessary for the EA to provide a note on the use of acid at Ellesmere Port, Ms Dehon asks. Mr Foster replies:

“I thought it would be helpful to the inquiry, given the evidence from my side and the rule 6 party [Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton]”

What we are looking at here is a very specific request about what has been permitted by the Environment Agency, Ms Dehon says. The permit does not say it prohibits matrix acidisation, she adds.

You are defining an acid squeeze as not exceeding the fracture pressure but going into the natural fractures, Ms Dehon says. Mr Foster replies that the definition is based on the purpose of the acid squeeze.

Ms Dehon says the EA defines acid squeeze as being above geological pressure but below fracture pressure. This does not rule out matrix acidisation. The same pressure is being referred to, Ms Dehon says.

We sought to carry out an acid wash, Mr Foster repeats.

The EA responded to Mr Foster’s correspondence on 15 January, two days later. She asks whether Mr Barraclough is Mr Foster’s main point of contact at the EA. Mr Foster says Mr Barraclough is a business management but he says he is in regular contact with many people at the EA.

Ms Dehon asks whether Mr Foster spoke to Mr Barraclough. Mr Foster says he has met since the inquiry opened on IGas and other business. Have you discussed what has been said in evidence at the inquiry, Ms Dehon asks. The EA is monitoring the inquiry, Mr Foster says. We talked about the inquiry in general, but not specifically, he adds.

Ms Dehon puts it to Mr Foster that it is not surprising that the frack free group should be concerned about the continued references to 15% acid concentration, rather than 7%. Mr Foster says if the EA had approved 15% concentration then it must be was de minimis.


2pm Inquiry resumes


12.56pm Break

The inquiry resumes at 2pm.


11.31am Council questions for Jonathan Foster, IGas witness

robert-griffiths-150x150Robert Griffiths (left) QC for Cheshire West and Chester Council cross-examined Jonathan Foster, witness for IGas on site operations.

Mr Griffiths puts it Mr Foster that there can never be zero net greenhouse gas emissions for oil and gas exploration. Mr Foster agrees. Mr Foster says techniques proposed by the council were not achievable and what was being proposed by IGas were the best available.

Incorrect information on methane emissions

Mr Foster says he oversaw the team that produced the risk assessment for the environmental permit, which was granted.

Mr Griffiths puts it to Mr Foster that part of the information in the risk assessment on greenhouse emissions was incorrect. Mr Foster agrees. Predicted methane emissions have increased, Mr Griffiths says. Mr Foster agrees.

The regulator, the Environment Agency, was not aware of this at the time it granted the permit, Mr Griffiths suggests. Mr Foster agrees. The global warming potential of the IGas well test was underestimated by two-and-a-half times, Mr Griffiths says. Mr Foster agrees.

Mr Griffiths quotes from a document written by Mr Foster which describes likely greenhouse emissions as “generally small”.  Mr Foster accepts that is the case at Ellesmere Port. The company had designed mitigation techniques on this basis, Mr Griffiths says. Mr Foster agrees.

Production potential

Mr Griffiths says IGas likes the Ellesmere Port site because the rock formation is naturally fractured. Exploration is likely to lead to production, he suggests. This is the purpose of the test,Mr Foster replies.

Mr Griffiths asks why it has taken nearly five years for IGas to test the potential of the well.

“This is the nature of the business”, Mr Foster says. These are not irrational decisions. IGas has been evaluating the potential in that time, he says.

Production will be achieved without hydraulic fracturing because of the natural fracturing, Mr Griffiths suggests.

Mr Foster says

“We don’t believe, as we understand now, this well will require hydraulic fracturing.

“If the natural fractures in the Pentre Chert doesn’t carry the gas, this well will be abandoned.”

Wasn’t that clear when the drilling was carried out, Mr Griffiths asks. It will only be clear when the well is test, Mr Foster replies.

“No fracking at Ellesmere Port”

Mr Foster says IGas takes the view that the Ellesmere Port well is not suited to fracking. Why is this, Mr Griffiths. Mr Foster says he can’t see the relevance to this planning inquiry.

Mr Griffiths repeats the question. There may be a better location elsewhere. The investment may be channeled elsewhere.

“It is not suited to fracking?”, Mr Griffiths  asks

“I am not saying that”, Mr Foster replies.

“This well will not be used for fracking”, Mr Griffiths says.

“That is the case”, Mr Foster replies.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Mr Griffiths, for Cheshire West and Chester Council, asks about emissions for flaring.

The carbon dioxide produced from burning methane in the flare remains in the atmosphere and causes global warming, Mr Griffiths says. Mr Foster replies:

“it will contribute, yes.”

Mr Foster confirms that IGas will use different flares for the short term Drill Stem Test (DST) and the extended well test (EWT).

Mr Foster says IGas cannot use what are known as green completions – the use of gas for electricity generation or transmission to the grid – at the extended well test stage. The company did not have the required information by then, he says.

Best available techniques

Mr Griffiths puts it to Mr Foster that IGas consider the scheme acceptable in planning terms because the Environment Agency has granted a permit and the company is using best available techniques. Mr Foster agrees.

Mr Griffiths asks whether IGas looked at the level of emissions after the use of best available techniques. Mr Foster says the company had made the calculation. He adds:

“Those are emissions we are unable to control.”

The shrouded flare has been tested since the environmental permit was granted, Mr Foster says.

Increase global warming potential

Mr Griffiths, for the council, suggests that the error in IGas’s calculation of the global warming potential of the flow test is significant. Mr Foster asks in his reply whether it was as significant as the methane emissions from Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road.

Mr Griffiths asks:

“Is it appropriate for the inspector to look at the well test in the context of growing concerns about the effect of developments on climate change?”.

Mr Foster replies:

“It is a material planning consideration”.

Mr Griffiths suggests:

“This is a major concern to scientists world wide.”

Mr Foster replies:

“It is a hot topic”

Mr Griffiths suggests companies like IGas recognise the sensitivity about this issue. Mr Foster agrees.

Future of the site

Mr Griffiths asks why there is one well at Ellesmere Port. It is affected by the geology, Mr Foster replies.

Mr Foster confirms the site is owned by Peel Holdings. He says if the well is not successful, it will be abandoned. It is not a foregone conclusion that you have to drill a second well. We are not looking for another well in that location, he says.

The inquiry is told that the planning application for the flow test was submitted because there was a change of equipment to be used at the surface over the original submission.

Mr Foster says if the well is successful, another well could be drilled at the site. But this won’t be known until after flow testing, he says.

Council decision and climate change

Mr Griffiths, for the council, puts it to Mr Foster that councillors were “perfectly entitled” to refuse the IGas scheme on climate change grounds. Mr Foster agrees but he says the council meeting did not mention the Committee on Climate Change report on shale gas.

Mr Griffiths asks who is from IGas who is giving the evidence on climate change. Mr Foster says:

“No. There was no indication from the council that there was a requirement on climate change.”

The only reason for refusal was on climate change, Mr Griffiths says. You have no intention of calling any expert witness on climate change. Mr Foster replies:

“That is factually correct.”

Extra mitigation

Mr Foster says during the short-term Drill Stem Test (DST), IGas will video the shrouded flare and test for emissions from the flare stack. During the extended well test, the video is not needed but the stack tests would continue.

Asked what would happen if the emissions exceeded expectations, Mr Foster said the Environment Agency (EA) would intervene and the company may be required to stop operations.

Mr Griffiths says there is no limit in the environmental permit on greenhouse emissions from the flare. Mr Foster agrees.

Mr Foster says capture of gas from the well during the tests is not available to IGas so flaring is the only option. Mr Griffiths puts it to him:

“Inevitably there will be emissions and they will have an impact on climate change”

Mr Foster agrees.

Mr Griffiths puts it to Mr Foster that IGas has not assessed the residual impact of the development on climate change when controls are in place. Mr Foster agrees.


11.06am Break

The inquiry resumes at 11.30am.


9.40am Evidence from Jonathan Foster for IGas

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Jonathan Foster, of Zetland Group, witness for IGas, 26 February 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Giles Cannock, barrister for IGas, introduces Jonathan Foster, of the consultancy, Zetland Group.

Mr Foster says Cheshire West and Chester Council reason for refusal of the IGas well tst plans was that they failed to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. He says the council did not argue that the test plans failed to make best use of alternative energy.

The issue is whether the scheme has adopted appropriate mitigation for the effects of climate change, as far as practical, Mr Foster says.

Members of the planning committee “fundamentally misunderstood” the nature of the well test scheme, he says. They also misunderstood venting of gas (which is not part of the scheme), he says.

Flaring

The proposal is to burn gas in a flare, Mr Foster says, during the well test. A shrouded flare will be used for the initial test, replaced by an enclosed ground flare for the extended well test. This meets guidance from the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas.

IGas considers the flaring of gas in the shrouded flare is the best available technique for the 28-day initial Drill Stem Test (DST), Mr Foster says. He says the Environment Agency supports this approach. The enclosed ground flare for the 90-day extended well test is also considered best available technique, he adds.

Green completions, where gas is piped off the site for use elsewhere or used to generate electricity, is not considered best available techniques, Mr Foster says.

Mr Foster says:

“The appeal proposal does mitigate and adapts to the threat of climate change.

“The contrary cannot credibly be argued.”

Original drilling scheme

Giles Cannock, for IGas, refers to the drilling the original well, which was about 1,000m deeper than diagrams that accompanied the planning permission and exhibitions for the public.

Mr Foster says the original well was drilled responsibly.

Site changes

Mr Foster says the site will see an increase in equipment for a short time.

He says the site will not need to be modified. Cranes will be onsite to install a workover rig and well test equipment. The well will be opened. The site will work with the equipment for the initial 28-day well test. If a degree of flow is established a decision will be taken to carry out the extended well test. After the 60+ extended well test, a decision will be taken on the future of the site, Mr Foster says.

Monitoring

Mr Foster says IGas employees had been inspecting the well test since it was drilled. Pressure gauges allow the company to monitor whether there has been any change in the pressure in the well.  There has been no sign of leakage, he says

He says data from water monitoring boreholes show there has been no change in the groundwater since drilling. IGas is confident there has been no leakage, Mr Foster says.

Hydrogen sulphide was monitored during the drilling operation. This is standard practice, Mr Foster says. He says no hydrogen sulphide was detected.

If you do find hydrogen sulphide it is a reportable incident. An agreed way forward would be decided with the regulator. It is common to find hydrogen sulphide, he says.

Shale or chert?

Mr Foster says the target formation at Ellesmere Port is a chert. He says it is not relevant whether it is a chert or a shale. The chert is not particularly permeable but it is naturally fractured, Mr Foster says.

Fracking?

Whether gas will flow through the Pentre Chert. In the scheme of things this is very simple, Mr Foster, for IGas, says.

It does not involve fracking, acid fracturing or matrix acidisation, he says. There is no evidence that this was ever proposed, Mr Foster says. The Environment Agency does not consider matrix acidisation will be used.

If the gas does not flow, a decision will be made on whether to abandon the well.

Acid wash

Mr Foster says acid wash is used to penetrate skin damage and clean out the natural fracture. It is not matrix acidisation or stimulation, Mr Foster says.

Giles Cannock, for IGas, asks what concerns are there for seismic activity or contamination. Mr Foster says there is no enlarging of the natural fractures. It is a discrete operation so I do not see a risk. It is deminimis and the Environment Agency agree with that situation.

Mr Foster says IGas proposes to use 95 cubic metres for the acid wash. No other substance or technique can be used without the Environment Agency’s approval. Asked if this was a matter for the mineral planning authority, Mr Foster says it is a matter for the Environment Agency.

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Inquiry inspector, Brian Cook, 26 February 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

More on climate change

Jonathan Foster, witness for IGas, says there will be emissions during the flow test phases of the Ellesmere Port operation. He says this is inevitable.

It shouldn’t be taken as a given that emissions will be low, he agrees. In these circumstances, you mitigate, where it is practicable to do so, Mr Foster says.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s supplementary planning document (SPD) requires flaring to be kept as low as technically possible and gas should be used where possible. Mr Foster says this policy is consistent with guidance on shale gas from the Committee on Climate Change.

The SPD states that the Environment Agency is responsible for regulating the disposal of waste gases, Mr Foster says.

Guidance from the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, says flaring is the preferred option for disposal of waste gases. This is consistent with the council’s SPD and the Committee on Climate Change guidance, he says.

Mr Foster says national planning policy makes emissions a matter for the Environment Agency.

Gas capture versus flaring

Giles Cannock, barrister for IGas, asks what evidence the council has provided that gas can be captured during the extended well test (EWT). There is no evidence, Mr Foster says.

Mr Foster says connection of the gas to the grid is not possible during the extended well test. The purpose of the test is to establish the composition of the gas. He adds:

“The notion of putting raw gas into the grid without sufficient testing would not be allowed and is unsafe.

“At the EWT stage we would not have the relevant information. That is the purpose of the EWT. The national grid would not allow it.

Mr Foster says the purpose of the EWT is to establish the characteristics of flow of the gas.

“If we had to compress the gas to put into the grid we would never establish a consistency of flow.”

Mr Foster dismissed the choice of flaring during the EWT was not a matter of cost.

Capturing the gas is not feasible or safe during the EWT, he says. The only solution is flaring.

Mr Foster says there are no examples he is aware of where gas is captured after a 14-day well test. There are no examples of capturing gas during an EWT, he says.

Best available techniques

Jonathan Foster, witness for IGas, says best available technique (BAT) for the short term flow test is a shrouded flare and for the EWT this is an enclosed ground flare.

More on emissions

Asked whether it is possible to explore for onshore oil and gas with net zero emissions, Mr Foster says:

“It is not possible”

It is not possible to reduce emissions elsewhere for exploration, he says.

If this were required, Mr Foster says: “this is a moratorium”.

Giles Cannock, barrister for IGas, says there was an error in calculations for emissions at the Ellesmere Port site. The total global warming potential has risen from 3.99 to 4.131 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, he says. Mr Foster says the multiplier used for methane was 21, while others used a multiplier of 36. Our methane global warming potential would be lower, he says. This has no relevance to best available techniques, he adds.

Mr Cannock says the efficiency of the shrouded ground flare has a combustion efficiency of 65%. Mr Foster says the flow rates expected during the initial well test would be very low, from 0.5-1.5 million cubic standard feet per day. He says the 65% figure is a robust figure to use.


9.37am New guidance and site visit

Giles Cannock, barrister for IGas, refers the inspector to the updated National Planning Policy Framework and Environment Agency guidance.

He says limited numbers of people would be able to attend a site visit. Mr Cook says he will go back to the area of the site on Friday. The council and campaign group say they are asking for an accompanied site visit, they say.


9.30am Inspector opens the resumed inquiry

The inspector, Brian Cook, reviews documents submitted during the adjournment.


Reporting from the inquiry has been made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers

3 replies »

  1. Thank you Ruth for all your hard work and reporting, i hope you get a chance to enjoy some of this sunshine, the warmest February on record it seems? I shall avoid the inevitable Climate Change reference?

    Oops, i just did didnt i?

  2. Given the number of days this enquiry is taking (I’m told due to the tax constraints for the Inspector – he can only work so many days in a certain period) and the required daily travel of all parties it will itself have a decent sized carbon footprint.

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