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.
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.”
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.
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.
- 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