IGas should not be allowed to dispose of radioactive wastewater in a well at its Singleton oil site in the South Downs, campaigners have argued.
The company has applied for an environmental permit to continue reinjecting fluid from sites across southern England. The waste contains naturally-occurring radioactive material, known as NORM.
The Weald Action Group has objected to IGas’s application, accusing the company of not providing enough information and underestimating risks.
In its response to the Environment Agency, the group said:
“Our National Parks should not be allowed to become a toxic dumping ground for radioactive waste.”
A member of the group, Emily Mott, said:
“The onshore oil and gas industry has been allowed to carry on its dirty business for far too long.
“IGas should not be permitted to continue to dump tonnes of toxic fracking wastewater down its wells in this vulnerable chalk aquifer. Our water is the best in England and is a precious commodity that should be protected.”
The application is part of an exercise to bring older oil and gas sites under environmental regulations first introduced in 2013.
IGas has been reinjecting wastewater at Singleton in West Sussex from the site itself and from other oil and gas operations across the region, including the Holybourne oil storage facility in Hampshire.
The company is seeking permission to reinject up to 17,000m3 of produced water a year, with a monthly limit of 2,500m3.
Weald Action Group said the proposal would:
- Threaten the already vulnerable groundwater aquifer
- Risk inducing earthquakes in a faulted and seismic-sensitive area
‘Underestimated risk to groundwater’
Weald Action Group described the local chalk aquifer as one of the most important groundwater reservoirs in the UK
The Singleton site is in a groundwater Source Protection Zone 3 for the Lavant public water supply – an area which the Environment Agency has said could be affected by deep drilling.
The site is also above the chalk formation, which is designated as a Principal Aquifer. These are rocks that store large amounts of water and support water supply and the base flow of larger rivers.
The group said:
“The risks to our aquifer are underestimated by IGas and that any risk, however small, should be avoided, given the significance of the aquifer under Singleton Forest.
“Our groundwater catchment is vulnerable and it is our duty to support, conserve and protect this fragile groundwater ecosystem and to promote catchment management approaches that will ensure its purity and longevity.”
The waste could include brine, salts of heavy metals and radioactive materials, the group said.
It called for a reassessment of the vulnerability and status of the aquifer.
It also urged the Environment Agency to apply guidance for hydraulic fracturing to Singleton. This would mean flowback fluid could not be disposed by reinjection into any geological formation.
The South Downs National Park Authority [SDNPA] has also commented on the site’s sensitivity for local groundwater:
“The SDNPA would like to draw to your [the Environment Agency’s] attention that this is a sensitive site.
“It is located within a National Park and within the groundwater Source Protection Zone 3 (SPZ3) for the Lavant public water supply and above the Chalk Formation which is designated as a Principal Aquifer.”
The group said the Singleton site north of Chichester is in a seismic zone and is heavily faulted:
“The fractured carbonate geology at Singleton is particularly ill suited to subsurface disposal of waste.”
Underground wastewater injection can raise pressure on fault lines, reducing the faults’ natural friction and triggering earthquakes, the group said. Seismic activity risks affecting well integrity and could result in groundwater pollution, it added.
IGas had not provided a detailed up-to-date seismic study mapping the faulting in the area of the area, the group said. It called for “a proper assessment of the local stress fields”.
Weald Action Group criticised the regulation of oil and gas sites in the region:
“There is a lack of a joined up approach to monitoring and regulation, permitting and guidance regarding contaminated flowback and produced fluids generated in conventional/unconventional oil sites in the Southeast of England.”
It blamed this on “erroneous and inconsistent definition of the terms used for conventional and unconventional operations. It also said there was “a lack of clarity in regulatory guidance” on advanced well stimulation technologies.
Regulators have “broad discretion” to determine when restrictions and additional requirements are imposed “without reference to clear parameters”, the group said.
“This in turn, creates loopholes, leaving our environment and communities at risk”.
A public consultation on the application ends tomorrow (6 February 2020)
Updated with quote from South Downs National Park Authority