“Gatwick Gusher” breached safety laws over blowout preventer

1810 Horse Hill UKOG2

Horse Hill oil site near Gatwick Airport, October 2018. Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

The oil exploration site in Surrey, nicknamed the “Gatwick Gusher”, breached health and safety laws last year, DrillOrDrop has learned.

The site was issued with a formal notification and ordered to pay a fee by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

An inspector had found problems with the set-up of a critical safety device designed to prevent the uncontrolled escape of well fluids or gases from deep underground to the surface.

Horse Hill Notice of Contravention (pdf)

The inspector recorded material breaches of the law against the site operator, a subsidiary of UK Oil & Gas (UKOG), and ordered the company to make changes.

UKOG told DrillOrDrop “all matters were quickly and satisfactorily closed out with HSE”.

But Brockham Oil Watch, the campaign group which uncovered the breaches, said they showed the importance of active monitoring by regulators.

The HSE reported the breaches after a site visit to Horse Hill in August 2018, during extended well tests.

Five months earlier, the Oil & Gas Authority had asked UKOG for evidence of the technical capability of the site operator, HHDL, to carry out the tests.

UKOG is currently applying for planning permission to drill four more oil wells at Horse Hill and carry out long-term production. The latest public consultation on the application ends on Monday 24 June 2018 and a decision is due in September.

The Horse Hill notification of contravention was included in correspondence between the HSE and UKOG. This was released in response to a freedom of information request by Brockham Oil Watch. The HSE does not routinely publish these notifications.

1810 Horse Hill UKOG1

Horse Hill oil site near Gatwick Airport, October 2018. Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

“Inadequate means to handle well control problems”

One of the breaches concerned the blowout preventer on the single existing well at Horse Hill.

Blowout preventers are pressure control systems that usually comprise a large valve at the top of the well. This can be closed immediately if a drilling crew mis-manages the density of drilling fluids in a borehole, and loses control of formation fluids.

The Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was caused by a wellhead blowout, and took several months to bring back into control. DrillOrDrop understands that the size of a blowout could be small in the Weald. But a so-called “Gusher” is a well where oil and gas come to the surface without being pumped, driven by pressure of gas separating out from the oil.

In a letter dated 6 September, the inspector wrote to HHDL:

“The configuration of the blowout preventers (BOP) does not provide adequate means to handle potential well control events as required by the current API standards 53.

“While it has means for closing and sealing the wellbore on the work string and on open hole, it does not have means for stripping in the work string.

“The arrangements you have in place for kick [well pressure control problems] detection during tripping and circulation operations cannot provide sufficient assurance for an effective detection of anomalies of well parameters.”

Well integrity test concerns

The inspector also raised concerns about a well integrity test, the checks designed to ensure a well is not leaking or that there are no uncontrolled releases.

The notification of contravention said:

“With reference to the well integrity test report …. there is no evidence to suggest that there have been checks on the pressure and the integrity of the wellhead voids.”

The notice also recorded that the well handover form/certificate did not “contain all the necessary information as recommended by the UK Oil and Gas Guidelines”. It continued:

“It does not contain the number of turns required to close and to open the manual gate valve, the status of the annulus gate valves and well head voids.”

181220 Horse Hill site plan HHDL

Site plan for the proposed extension to the Horse Hill oil site in Surrey. Source: Horse Hill Developments Ltd

Instructions and advice

The failures represented a material breach of the Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction etc) Regulations 1996, the inspector wrote.

The site operator, Horse Hill Developments Ltd, was instructed to carry out a risk assessment of the configuration of the BOP and act on the results.

It was also ordered to ensure:

  • Sufficient and effective arrangements to detect kicks
  • Well handover certificate had all necessary information
  • Integrity of wellhead voids were checked regularly as part of well integrity tests

The company was ordered to display the breach notification to staff and to pay a fee to cover the cost of the HSE visit.

It was also advised to revise:

  • well planning design and operations standards to incorporate current industry standards and best practice
  • a safety document to reflect rig-less well testing operations
  • risk assessment and well shut in procedures to make them more specific to reflect arrangements and equipment

The inspector also noted there was a risk of corrosion from topping up the annuli (void spaces between the tubes running up or down the well) with fresh water. During production, injection and suspension the annuli should be filled with inhibited fluids, the inspector recommended.

The FOI response included correspondence from HHDL to the HSE in October 2018. In it, HHDL said it had carried out the risk assessment and was reviewing operations and procedures.

Horse Hill response to Notice of Contravention (pdf)

A separate FOI request revealed that in March 2018 the Oil & Gas Authority asked UKOG to respond to a series of questions about HHDL’s ability to carry out the extended well test. They included HHDL’s in-house technical capability, its corporate and governance structure, arrangements to respond to unexpected events and financial capacity.

Company comment: “all matters quickly and satisfactorily closed”

A spokesperson for UKOG said:

“As requested, Horse Hill Developments Ltd responded to the letter from the Health and Safety Executive on 3rd October 2018. A risk assessment of the Blow Out Preventer was completed, and all matters were quickly and satisfactorily closed out with HSE. The wellhead voids had in fact already been inspected as part of our well integrity checks. There were records to this effect on the Horse Hill well site, which unfortunately were missed by HSE’s inspector on the day. This routine HSE visit to the Horse Hill site in August 2018 was considered by both parties to be successful. It should be noted that there was no comment on the Blow Out Preventer arrangement from HSE during their original regulatory review, prior to the commencement of operations.”

Reaction: “Highlights importance of active monitoring”

The campaign group, Brockham Oil Watch, which uncovered the breach, said:

“This breach demonstrates the importance of site visits and active monitoring by the regulators.

“Yet, according to responses to our FOI requests, which covered the period from 1 March 2018 to 15 April 2019, this was the only HSE visit the Horse Hill site. In February this year, the Environment Agency told us that their last visit to Horse Hill was in August 2018.

“These visits are too few and far between; all too often this inherently dangerous industry is left to self-monitor and self-report. In particular, the so-called “conventional” sites, where operations don’t qualify as “associated hydraulic fracturing”, normally receive less scrutiny and are subject to lower reporting/monitoring standards.

“We were told that the Notice of Contravention would not routinely have been shared with other regulators, or any third parties. The only reason it is now released is because someone asked the question. This lack of transparency on a serious issue doesn’t seem to serve the public interest.”

Application decision

The application for long-term production and additional wells at Horse Hill is expected to be discussed by the Surrey County Council planning committee on 11 September 2019. Link

This is the latest postponement of the decision, which had previously been scheduled for March, April and most recently July 2019. Surrey County Council has reported there have been at least 1,000 objections to the proposal.

DrillOrDrop page on Horse Hill

Updated 21/6/2019 to change “broke” to breached” in the headline

72 replies »

  1. What investments are those Doctor Dave?

    I, like many, am “invested” as I use oil and gas products, the former often from Fawley Refinery and often refined from imported oil. I simply would prefer that oil to be home produced so any tax income is available in the UK. If you prefer to “invest” your money via oil purchase into the Middle East for them to buys arms, or USA for them to build walls, you can try and deflect your self interest as moral superiority but the reality is that it is the opposite, and there is still no sign of less people flying out of Gatwick (scheduled for expansion), and no sign of them intending not to do so in the future-still only 18% of the world’s population have been on a ‘plane and many of the other 82% will do so in the next few years.

    • Interesting that you’re the one who mentioned moral superiority. I’d say you have significant emotional investments, considering the amount of time you spend on here trying to convince other people to support all things UK oil and gas ind., even in the face of it’s negligence and viability. I think you’ll find that the ‘reality’ about the national perception about oil and gas is changing even more, as 70% of the UK population are now very concerned about the CC. It must be very frustrating for you that an industry that was supposed to be in full production across the UK by 2015, is still floundering and has done little other than provide those morally superior to yourself (not to mention intellectually – considering the aforementioned CC) with the successfully seized opportunity to raise awareness But carry on and enjoy your day 🙂

      • The only thing that is frustrating is to see the UK has so many hypocrites that are willing to buy oil and gas from countries without our strict regulatory framework

      • What if 70% are concerned about climate change?

        That is not currently linked to their consumption of oil and gas, as shown for instance by removal of subsidies on domestic solar panels followed by new installations dropping by 94%!!. Interesting that you try to connect the two but the data doesn’t support it and then also try to link HH to fracking. The largest on shore oil field in Europe has been producing in UK for a long time, so can’t see how 2015 has anything to do with it. But, as that one declines another one could replace it instead of increasing imports. Home grown oil to be converted into home produced diesel-both currently imported in large volumes. Who knows-maybe with the tax take from that UK might see fit to re-introduce subsidies for solar panels and encourage the reluctant, but concerned? And, at the same time reducing emissions from transportation and the risk of a maritime disaster.

        Greta is concerned about UKs creative carbon accounting. Seems a lot of antis are quite keen to ignore it. Tut, tut.

        So, when one tack fails just make up some fiction. Heady mix, moral superiority and fiction.

        I think I will stick to the facts and reality. Enjoy.

  2. Good morning ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it is Sunday again, and its the 38th Sunday since fracking and its associated avoidances of the word was resurrected in the UK and was supposed to be the great gas extravaganza of 2019. But we all know what actually happened to that and the efforts to reframe everything to avoid the consequences of their own actions.

    What a sorry tale that was.

    Well well, what an interesting couple of weeks it has been? The Gulf of Hormuz tankers and drone events, reminded me of the Gulf of Tonkin events in 1964, one for the conspiracy theorists i guess.

    As usual with all such events, perhaps the only way to discern truth from fiction is to ask “Cui Bono”, who benefits? Was it to boost the price of oil and make a “killing” on the stock market? Which it did momentarily, or to justify warships in the gulf, or just to boost Donalds failing support, the one holding his trousers up perhaps? Boris seems to have the same problem it seems?

    I had actually decided not to post here for good, because seeing how fracking and its associated avoidances of the word is in the UK will never now happen, and the sheer bitterness and bile that pours out of the anti antis like a toxic torrent, there seemed to be nothing more to say bar the usual shouting and screaming rage by the frackers.

    So i took some time off and went to visit some friends who are working towards a better renewable energy future for us all, not just more useless private tax haven profits for a miserable miserly fossil fuel fool few. So a fascinating two weeks with the added bonus of Fathers Day last Sunday and a chance to see the family for the day.

    On returning on Saturday, i saw the state of the utter tosh and drivel that passes for comment from the anti antis these last two weeks, oh, i knew it was bad, but this latest display was some travesty of anything remotely intelligent or rational.

    These fossil fuel industry PR hot deskers are clearly trying to turn Drill or Drop into an unwilling receptacle for yet more toxic Hot Coprolite detritus.

    Shame on you.

    So, the first thing i must do is to thank Ruth and Paul for all their hard work on the Live news updates daily reports on the inquiry into Ineos shale gas plans for Woodsetts. That was as usual very thorough and professional and demanded more that the deliberate ignorance and diversion from anything relevant from the anti anti protagonists.

    Anyway, it was all very interesting to see and many questions, some i have all ready proposed, arise as to how to reduce the impact and perhaps remove the threat from ineos all together. It would be interesting to see the written statements when they become available.

    Apologies as usual Ruth and Paul for the copy and paste.

    “3pm Inquiry adjourned
    The inspector, Katie Peerless, closes today’s session. The inquiry will have no more hearings. Closing arguments are to be in writing (see below).

    2.29pm Closing arguments
    The inquiry hears that Rotherham Council and Woodsetts Against Fracking will submit closing arguments in writing by 4pm on Friday 28 June. Ineos will submit its closing arguments on Wednesday 3 July.”

    I notice that the anti antis dont want to comment on anything in the reports at all other than to make silly frack hack cracks, and that speaks volumes, because there is so much information there that is highly relevant to the state of the ineos fossil fuel arrogance and inflexibility and the sheer contempt they have shown for the local residents, but are we surprised?

    No, of course not.

    Well have a great Sunday with family and friends enjoy the sunshine before the thunder clouds arrive, from whatever source….

    • Oh yes, i almost forgot our Sunday diversion, these are two songs that seem relevant at present, the first from John Lennon, i have altered a few words, the second from Willie Nelson, stands as it is:

      (Written by John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
      John Lennon – 1988

      With the greatest of thanks and apologies to them for messing around with the lyrics with a few alterations, just for fun

      Everybody is talking about Frackism
      Smashism and Grabism, Trumpism
      Oilism and Warism, Iranism and Tankerism
      Droneism, Onanism, Oneism, Twoism, Threesism, Fourism
      Goveism, Borisism, Fizzism, Seismism, Flareism
      Donaldism, Huntism, Monkism Trumpism, yeah!

      All we are saying
      Is give peace a chance
      All we are saying
      Is give speech a chance

      Everybody’s talking about Ministers
      Sinisters, Barristers, Banksters and Cranksters
      Crackists and Whackists, Bishops and Fishshops
      Imams and Rabbis, Wannabees and Hasbeens, Willbees and Won’tbees,
      Honey Bees and NoBees, FreeBees and BeeBees and BeeGees yeah!
      Jeremy Heywood, Sir Humphrey Appleby and everybody else

      All we are saying
      Is give peace a chance
      All we are saying
      Is give peace a chance

      Everybody’s talking about Revolution
      Evolution, No Solution, Gas Pollution
      Petrol Station, Flagellation, Tax Inflation
      Regulations, Disintegration, Mediation, Moderation….
      United Nations, Conflagrations…

      All we are saying
      Is give peace a chance
      All we are saying
      Is give peace a chance

      Everybody in the The World, unite
      Go down to the streets and talk about John and Yoko
      Siddhartha Gautam, Eckhart Tolle, Dalai Lama, Rupert Sheldrake, Thich Nhat Hanh
      Lao Tzu, Kung-Fu-TZU, Eashoa, Rumi and Jehanne d’Arc,
      Rudolf Steiner, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Mohandas Gandhi,
      And the Hare Krishna Hare Hare Hare Krishna

      All we are saying
      Is give peace a chance
      All we are saying
      Is give peace a chance

      Everybody’s talking about Orgasm, Borgasm
      AI-ism, Boreism, Spoilism, Globeism, New World Orderism
      Fractureism, Futureism, Greta-ism, Schoolism, Strikeism
      Listen to this

      Everybody’s talking about Ministers
      Sinisters, Barristers, Banksters
      Crackists and Frackists, Lawyers and Foolyers
      Why not talk about Eden Gardens
      We’ve got a lovely place in Eden Gardens
      Why spoil it

      Everybody’s talking about Propper Squeezers, Olive’s Oil, My Oil, Your Oil, Every Every Every Body Elses Oil
      Crackoil and Frackoil, Smackoil and Hackoil, Natasha Engel….who is she?
      Twenty Nineteen Eden Gardens, Paradise Ohh
      Because we are the next contestant to “The Xtinct Factor”

      All we are saying
      Is give peace a chance
      All we are saying
      Is give peace a chance



      Willie Nelson – 2003

      There’s so many things going on in the world
      Babies dying, mothers crying
      How much oil is one human life worth
      And what ever happened to peace on earth

      We believe everything that they tell us
      They’re gonna’ kill us
      So we gotta’ kill them first
      But I remember a commandment
      Thou shall not kill
      How much is that soldier’s life worth
      And whatever happened to peace on earth

      And the bewildered herd is still believing
      Everything we’ve been told from our birth
      Hell they won’t lie to me
      Not on my own damn TV
      But how much is a liar’s word worth
      And whatever happened to peace on earth

      So I guess it’s just
      Do unto others before they do it unto you
      Let’s just kill em’ all and let God sort em’ out
      Is this what God wants us to do

      And the bewildered herd is still believing
      Everything we’ve been told from our birth
      Hell they won’t lie to me
      Not on my own damn TV
      But how much is a liars word worth
      And whatever happened to peace on earth

      Now you probably won’t hear this on your radio
      Probably not on your local TV
      But if there’s a time, and if you’re ever so inclined
      You can always hear it from me
      How much is one picker’s word worth
      And whatever happened to peace on earth

      But don’t confuse caring for weakness
      You can’t put that label on me
      The truth is my weapon of mass protection
      And I believe truth sets you free

      And the bewildered herd is still believing
      Everything we’ve been told from our birth
      Hell they won’t lie to me
      Not on my own damn TV
      But how much is a liars word worth
      And whatever happened to peace on earth




      • A song for tou Phil C.
        Everybody is talkin’ by Harry Neilsson.
        “Everybody is talkin’. I caint hear a word they said. Only echo in my mind.”

        But you are right. These frackers are using excuses of protesters to deflect attention from their incompetence and failures. I remembered from some where Cuadrilla were proclaimed shale gas will be heating Lanscashire homes by 2019. Maybe Mr Egan meant US shale gas.

  3. In a communication between myself and the HSE regarding Cuadrilla’s forced shut down of the failed Becconsall site,

    “A site visit would only be conducted if it was felt necessary based on the information in the operations reports or if other information was received that warranted onsite inspection”

    As the HSE have now received information that UKOG cannot operate to current safety standards it would seem warranted that the HSE make regular on site visits to any UKOG sites or their subsidiaries to check for other safety breaches.

    • John Powney

      I am sure they will continue to follow their policies in this matter as well as continuing to implement their specific sector plan for onshore oil and gas drilling.

      This, based on the information they gained following their targeted inspection as noted above, and any follow up inspection relating to those findings.

    • Hi John. It will be interesting to know how many visits the HSE made to Horse Hill since the site was put there, and since the breach. Thanks for your comment – this laissez-faire approach rings alarm bells.

      • BOW – it might seem laissez-faire to you but for those of us who know something about this subject then it’s pretty easy to see that it is extremely low risk. HSE should spend their time concentrating on issues that have a larger chance of causing harm than exploration activities ata Horse Hill

          • BOW – many years ago I got a PhD in chemistry and then gained 30 years experience in a range of subjects including environmental chemistry, petroleum engineering, geomechanics and geophysics. I’ve conducted consultancy projects throughout the world on all of these topics for government, industry and NGOs. I’ve worked on a range of energy-related projects including: reclamation of land contaminated by organic or inorganic chemicals, oil and gas field development, radioactive waste disposal, carbon storage, hydrogen storage and more recently geothermal energy.

  4. Thanks Judith. Now perhaps BOW would like to let us know their level of expertise in this subject-excluding Giggle.

    As Professor McKay stated, “humanity really does need to pay attention to arithmetic and the laws of physics”.

    He missed out the bit, that some will simply rely on Giggle, and claim moral superiority.

    • Martin – I wouldn’t hold your breath. Research in this area suggest that people like BOW base their assessments on their values – they then turn to science and cherry pick evidence to reinforce those values. Hence their opinion has zero value.

      • Judith and Martin, perhaps you could point to some of your published works/papers?
        We’ve never claimed any particular expertise, but then we don’t discuss things we don’t understand. Since you ask: BOW is a collection of local individuals of various backgrounds including environmental policy and regulation. Some of us are self-taught nerds who care enough to spend long hours consuming scientific papers, industry, legal and regulatory documents. We have access to a network of experts including hydrologists, geologists, air consultants, legal advisors and industry people.
        As to myself, I have a degree and experience in business administration. Anyone with experience running P&Ls will understand that the principal concern of any business is its bottom line, because it determines its survival. When it’s in the red, this creates pressure on management to either quickly increase revenue or cut costs. Typically these are not good drivers of sound operational decisions.
        This is why strong regulations are needed, especially in dangerous industries. But regulations are only as good as their enforcement, and whatever your opinion is, it is common sense that this should not be left to the very firms that are supposed to be regulated (a good recent example of why this is an issue is the self-certification by Boeing of its 737 MAX planes). And by the way, the financial health of the Weald drillers doesn’t exactly inspire confidence..

        • BOW – thank you for confirming that you know zero about this subject. Are there not other little pass times that you can take up – my parents quite like Sudoku and you might be able to find an episode of countdown that you’ve missed. Trainspotting is also coming back – you’ll meet some very like minded people down by the track

  5. Any comment on the fire on site this morning? You still thing this site is entirely safe? There is till an acrid smell being reported by residents 7 hours later.

    • Lisa

      The report above says

      1. A fire occurred
      2. It was put out by fire extinguishers
      3. The fire brigade were informed at 10.03
      4. The fire brigade arrived at 10.15 and left at 11.20
      5. The fire was ‘out when they got there
      6. There is a reported acrid smell Lingering after the event

      Outwith the reasons for the fire, it seems that appropriate action was taken to contain the event ( use of local fire suppression equipment ) and the local ER plan invoked.

      It remains to be seen if the event is RIDDOR reportable.

      We are none the wiser as to the cause of the fire and it’s affect on the drilling programme

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