The number of onshore oil and gas wells drilled in the UK in 2019 was up slightly on 2018, which was a 68-year low for the industry.
This year, operators spudded (began drilling) four, or possibly five wells, depending on how you count your wells.
Data from the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) lists five wells for 2019. But the company behind two of them has said they count as one well.
This is the fifth consecutive year of single-figure oil and gas drilling onshore in the UK.
The 2019 wells were drilled by: Egdon Resources; Horse Hill Developments Ltd, a subsidiary of UK Oil & Gas (UKOG); IGas; and Rathlin Energy. The sites were in East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Surrey.
All but one of the wells was described by the OGA as conventional. The unconventional well was for shale gas, drilled by IGas at Springs Road, Misson, in Nottinghamshire.
The Misson well was one of two spudded in January 2019. The other was at Biscathorpe in Lincolnshire by Egdon Resources.
Egdon said the Biscathorpe well had failed to encounter the target oil formation. It would be sealed and suspended but could be a possible future site for a sidetrack.
IGas announced “highly encouraging” results from Misson Springs in June. But there have been no statements since then about the site and no news about whether a second permitted well would be drilled.
In April, Rathlin Energy drilled a second well at its site at West Newton in East Yorkshire. A well test was suspended after a week in August when oil was encountered, as well as the expected gas. There has been no news about when the well test will resume.
The next well was spudded in September at UKOG’s site at Horse Hill in Surrey. The OGA described this as a vertical well, called HH-2. The final well on the OGA list was HH-2z, described by the regulator as horizontal, and spudded in October.
UKOG told DrillOrDrop in a statement:
“HH-2 is a single well, being drilled as a vertical pilot (HH-2) and a sidetrack from HH-2 called HH-2z. This is oil industry and Oil & Gas Authority terminology.
“All horizontal wells require a pilot hole to determine where to position the sidetrack off it. The HH-2 well is a single well at surface, a single drilling activity and it respects the “zone of deviation” in the planning approval. This has been agreed with Surrey County Council.”
The Horse Hill site was granted planning permission in November 2017 for a sidetrack well (HH-1z) off the original well drilled at the site (HH-1) and a deviated appraisal well (HH-2).
But in June, UKOG indicated that the plans had changed. A company statement referred to “simultaneous HH-2/2z Portland horizontal drilling”. This was the first reference to a sidetrack off HH-2.
A second statement in June mentioned the “new Portland horizontal development well, HH-2/2z”.
Residents said they were concerned that UKOG was seeking to drill three wells – HH-2, HH-2z and HH-1z when there was planning permission only for two (HH-2 and HH-1z).
A freedom of information disclosure indicated that Surrey County Council appeared to be treating the HH-2z sidetrack as an alternative to HH-1z, rather than an additional well.
The senior planning officer, Duncan Evans, said in an email to the OGA on 4 September 2019:
“As the drilling of a sidetrack well is a below ground activity and, as it appears, is being now being suggest to be drilled off the HH-2 well which sits adjacent to HH-1 on the same well pad, the changes to the sidetrack may make little difference in landuse planning terms.”
A day later, the council’s planning development manager, Stephen Jenkins, told the OGA:
“from a planning land-use perspective the drilling of this deviated well [hh-2/2z] has been assessed and considered acceptable under the appraisal permission, albeit now referred to as HH-2 and HH-2z. Therefore, the CPA will not be seeking any variation or change to the above planning permission in this regard, as planning permission is already in place for such operations.”
However, UKOG’s statement to DrillOrDrop indicated that the company still expected to drill the HH-1z sidetrack. The company cited a half-year report to the stock market from 28 June 2019:
“In order to confirm the best HH-1z horizontal well orientation able to intersect the maximum number of open oil-filled Kimmeridge natural fractures, the HH-2 vertical pilot hole will be deepened into the Kimmeridge to obtain key fracture imaging and rock data.”