Call for fracking halt to be extended to acid stimulation in oil and gas industry

181216 Brockham Brockham Protectors

Angus Energy’s oil site at Brockham, Surrey, on 16 December 2018. Photo: Brockham Protectors

Environmental campaigners are calling on the government to extend its moratorium on fracking to less publicised techniques used by the oil and gas industry.

In an open letter to the government, they are seeking to strengthen the law on the use of acid to increase the productivity of oil and gas wells.

While welcoming the suspension of fracking for shale gas, they say acid stimulation is “fracking by stealth”. The letter says that controls on acid operations are ambiguous.

The energy secretary, Andrea Leadsom, announced yesterday (2/11/2019) that the government was withdrawing its support for fracking because of concerns about earth tremors. Cuadrilla’s shale gas site in Lancashire caused more than 100 tremors in August, including the UK’s largest fracking-induced seismic event.

But it is not clear whether the immediate moratorium will apply to other forms of well stimulation, including the use of acid. This is used in wells seeking to extract oil and gas from limestone and sandstone rocks.

190121 acid at Horse Hill Lee McCusker4

The use of acid has been used in the Weald in southern England. It is also proposed by Egdon Resources at its site at Wressle in north Lincolnshire, which is the subject of a public inquiry starting this week.

The letter, addressed to Mrs Leadsom, and the environment and local government secretaries, said:

“Many of the acids and other chemicals used in well stimulation are potentially hazardous for the environment and human health and, while there are few UK studies examining the risks and impacts of their use, studies conducted abroad suggest that many of the risks and concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing are the same as for acid stimulation, namely induced seismicity, air and noise pollution and groundwater contamination.

“Furthermore, the climate change implications are equally as problematic for all forms of well stimulation, and include the release of methane (a highly potent greenhouse gas) and the release of carbon dioxide during the consumption of the oil or gas extracted.”

181220 Brockham acid BOW

Delivery to Angus Energy’s Brockham oil site on 20 December 2018. Photo: Brockham Oil Watch

The letter was initiated by a community group which had been campaigning against operations in the Surrey village of Brockham by Angus Energy and at Horse Hill by UK Oil & Gas plc.

Brockham Oil Watch is calling for a ban on all well stimulation for oil and gas exploration and production.

In the interim, it said the Infrastructure Act definition of fracking, based on fluid volume, should be extended to include all well stimulation techniques that increase the permeability of the rock and enhance production.

Brockham Oil Watch said:

“We are inviting signatures from campaign groups, environmental groups, elected representatives in the affected communities, academics, NGOs and other supportive individuals and groups.”

The letter said the traffic light system, which requires operators to pause fracking after an earth tremor of 0.5ML, should apply to all well stimulation treatments, not just high volume fracturing.

180718 earthquake chart Stephen Hicks

Chart of the 18 July 2018 Newdigate earthquake. Source: Stephen Hicks

Oil and gas operations in Surrey have been linked by some campaigners and academics to a series of earth tremors, which began in April 2018.

The largest tremor, measuring 3.1ML, was larger than the strongest tremor at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site near Blackpool (2.9ML). That Lancashire tremor led to the suspension of fracking at Preston New Road and contributed to the government’s announcement yesterday.

Brockham Oil Watch has also said that restrictions on high volume fracking should also apply to all well stimulation processes.

And it called for changes to the national planning practice guidance on minerals. This should include the replacement in paragraph 129 of the words “hydraulic fracturing” by “well stimulation” and the presumption of an environmental impact assessment should be required for all well stimulation operations.

The open letter is accompanied by a legal briefing paper, commissioned by Brockham Oil Watch, into the regulations around acid stimulation. The paper concluded that legal and regulatory restrictions on fracking do not apply to acid stimulation or are ambiguous.

Examples include:

  • Controls on fracking in the Infrastructure Act apply only where large volumes of fluid are used
  • The Oil & Gas Authority, the industry regulator, does not clearly define when a hydraulic fracturing plan is needed and has given contradictory guidance to MPs
  • Acid stimulation could take place under the guise of well maintenance because another regulator, Environment Agency, has not introduced sufficient restrictions, reporting or monitoring
  • Site inspections that are mandatory for high-volume hydraulic fracturing are not required for other forms of well stimulation


16 replies »

  1. So it is the key time for extra involvement and not to just accept the best interpetations of poliical promises. We do not want defeat to be drawn from the jaws of potential victory.

  2. Some people will not be happy until we are all sat in darkness, keeping warm by chopping down forests to keep the fires burning. Acid stimulation is used in water boreholes to increase output, will that be next? This is purely a stealth tactic in an attempt to damage oil and gas production in the UK. Fracking, I can accept needs a review. The residents in Quadrilla’s Preston Road North operation have every right to be concerned. But there is also a concern as to how much common sense is being exercised in this cause by various organisations to try and halt all forms of gas and oil recovery. Almost everything we use in our day to day lives rely on fossil fuel byproducts and you cannot just call a halt to the production, presently even a slow down is not viable. From heating to transport, communication to lighting, every day thousands of the products we use and expect to use are part of the fossil fuel process. Whilst some people may be happy to sit around a camp fire by candle light, eating beans boiled in half a coconut, I do not think the rest of the nation would go for it. Obviously as the years progress, reducing anything that has a damaging effect on our environment or our children’s future is a fantastic target to follow. But it is not going to happen overnight, it will not be done at the cost of our comfort or our economy.

  3. Well, I expect it is something to do with the fact that UK imports vast quantities of oil and gas from on shore sites in other countries, Jill, and will do so for decades to come.

    So we would not want the hypocrisy of just off shoring our responsibilities, would we?

    (Greta has criticised UK for that and it is the one thing with which I am in agreement. UK can REDUCE impacts upon the man made bit of climate change by cutting the carbon footprint of transportation of fossil fuels, and at the same time de-risk regarding maritime disaster. And for those who don’t like fracking-then stop forcing the importation of oil and gas from fracking in USA!)

    So, BOW write a letter, having spent many years watching for something that was not there to watch! Good at wasting time. Seem to be trying to justify a reason to exist.

    • that’s right there is no such direct policy but there is a Climate Change Act 2008, agreement by the UK to the Paris convention and the declaration of a Climate emergency. Onshore extraction adversely affects the local communities – see 2 govt reports, one by DECC 2014 and one by DEFRA 2015. At least offshore has the related infrastructure in place although the residents of Groningen are being paid compensation after their houses have been falling down. And, yes there should not be another coal mine in view of hte need to reduce emissions further.

      • A declaration of climate emergency means what? Can someone explain what this means legally?

        The new Cumbrian coal mine makes sense unless you want to kill off our remaking industries. Labour support it, Lib Dem’s apparently don’t, it has been approved by the planning process.

        Groningen is an onshore gas field and the seismic activity is subsidence related not fracking – it is a conventional field. Same issue with Ekofisk which is offshore .

        Remove the UK from the planet to make our contribution to climate change zero and what do think will happen in the rest of the world? Get real please and stop trying to pass all the fossil fuel related issues overseas by increasing imports.

        • Those points have been made….many thanks. We can only do what we can do including taking notice of what’s going on elsewhere. Climate scientists feel that they were too “careful” in their prognosis, that everything is going more quickly than they thought it would and they’ve given us 12 years in which to act…..

    • Suggest you change your name then, BOW! How about WOW?

      Shame that the watching of Brockham, where there was nothing to watch, might still be remembered as a costly exercise in futility. And that does not only apply to Angus.

      The watching of something which was not going to happen because it was not commercially viable, does not mean it was not commercially viable because it was watched! Sorry to state the obvious, but someone needs to. And that includes on shore oil production does NOT adversely affect local communities. There are examples in UK where many locals within communities have no idea it is actually taking place, and some who do are quite happy about it. Of course there will be some who are outside both those groups, but it does not make them the only group. Equally, another coal mine, replacing the same coal from another coal mine results in how much extra coal production? NONE is the answer. But it does reduce the carbon emissions from producing the same volume of coal a long way from the user and then TRANSPORTING it. Greta seems to understand the issues for long journeys. Perhaps her book could be added to a few Christmas stockings?

      So, if oil is not produced at Wressle, where will it come from? Because, it will come and increasingly over the sea, rather than under it. My dentist used to have a magazine detailing all recorded maritime accidents for light reading. Quite surprising how many there still are.

      • So both Angus and BOW spent resources to find out that the Kimmeridge at Brockham is not commercially viable, yet only for BOW it’s a costly exercise in futility (when in fact Angus wasted vastly larger sums of money and resources). There is a logical flaw in this argument.

  4. Not if you can read, there isn’t.

    “And that does not only apply to Angus”.

    Good luck with that logic elsewhere-you will need luck if you are unable to read. I believe IOW is already taken.

  5. How do you know that if you can’t read!

    “There is a logical flaw in this argument.”

    A few antis would do better to recognise the beauty of daylight hours in respect of energy usage and the environment.

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