Brockham Oil Update

by Roger Abbott on 18 March, 2017

For some time I have been becoming more and more suspicious of what Angus Energy were up to on the site at Feltons Farm. Around Christmas I decided to find out exactly what they had permission to do and sought copies of their licences. The email response on 4th January 2017 from Samantha Murphy, Principal Planning Officer at Surrey County Council is as follows:

“The site has planning permission for oil production until 2036 granted by the County Planning Authority (CPA) in May 2007 (Ref. MO 06/1294). At present the Operator has a ‘work-over’ rig on the site which has carried out maintenance activities under the benefit of the 2007 permission on an existing well bore drilled by BP in the 1980’s. The operator has confirmed that the ‘work-over rig’ has not been used to extend the existing well either vertically or horizontally. The Environment Agency (EA) visited the site before Christmas and confirmed this position.

“If the Operator wishes to extend the existing well bores or drill a new well on the site then planning permission will be required, as well as a different permit from the EA. There is no planning application with the CPA at present for this site but some limited pre application discussions have taken place and the Operator may wish to progress these in at some stage this year.”

This confirmed my understanding of the existing permissions and SCC clearly state that no new drilling should take place until a new planning application had been received. I find it very difficult to believe that Angus Energy were not told this during their discussions with SCC.

I also saw several incidents filmed by the protest group and shown across the internet. These appeared to show that work at the well was continuing through the night and other infringements of planning permission. Having read through various email messages between SCC, the protest group and others, it would appear that SCC accepted apologies and explanations from Angus Energy, giving them the benefit of doubt. From the evidence, I think SCC should have asked more questions.

Also, it struck me that much more equipment was being taken to the site than I recall from the original 1987 installation, which begs the question of its purpose.

Then, last week, there was the BBC News item on the Brockham oil well [play the video below].

So what is the current situation?

Clearly Angus Energy have drilled the new BR-X4Z bore without first obtaining planning permission. Indeed, as illustrated, they admit having done so in the publicity on their own web site.

Clearly Angus Energy have drilled into new locations within the Kimmeridgian layer when they told the local population that they were only exploring the existing wells and from the exiting sources, primarily in the Portland Sandstone layer.

From the document published by Angus Energy

Putting aside for the moment the issue of the planning permission, there is huge significance between oil extraction from the Portland layer and from the Kimmeridgian layer.

Oil in the Portland is sitting in sandstone. By drilling into that, the pressures will push the oil out in the conventional manner without any other intervention. Maybe, when the levels drop, further oil can be extracted by using a pump. There are risks with this process but it is conventional and well understood.

The Kimmeridgian is very different. This is layer of shale, below the Portland. (Note: shale is essentially clay that contains minerals and possibly other deposits). In this case, the shale is primarily clay infused with high grade oil. There are also a number of limestone deposits, some of which can be quite large and can cover an extensive area. The oil will not naturally flow out of either the clay or the limestone in the way it does from the sandstone. It requires what the oil industry calls “stimulation”. To the rest of us, this means one of two processes:

  • hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) where unidentified chemicals are pumped into the shale to break it up and “stimulate the oil” (i.e. force the oil out of the clay), with all the risks and problems well documented elsewhere
  • acidification, which is a process whereby a very large piece of limestone that has absorbed oil from the surrounding clay is drilled. Concentrated acid and other chemicals are forced into the limestone under pressure. That dissolves the limestone (giving off noxious gasses) and leaving the oil, a gooey acidic mess and a big hole underneath a now unstable bridge of saturated clay.

In both cases the now separated oil is pumped to the surface.

If fracking is bad, then acidification is its ugly little sister.

So how did Angus Energy manage to test extraction of oil from the Kimmeridgian? Fracking or acidification? Do they have permission to do that?

What were, and maybe still are, the risks to us, our environment, our water supplies, and to the local farmers whose livestock and fields are so close?

In my earlier blog entry I said that what Angus Energy are doing is OK because they had assured everybody, including the Parish Council, that they were exploring in the Portland layer ONLY and denied they were going into the Kimmeridgian shale.

Now we have to ask ourselves some serious questions about the future of the Brockham oil well. Both Surrey County Council and The Environment Agency should hold a full inquiry and prosecutions must be brought where Angus Energy have broken the law. This should also look closely at Angus Energy and assess whether they are a suitable organisation to be trusted with the high risk business of extracting oil from within the green belt.

The well should be shut down immediately pending that inquiry.

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