FRACK FREE SUSSEX Let's keep it that way!
The government plans to allow various extreme energy extraction techniques including fracking and acidisation for gas and oil across the Sussex Weald. To be economically viable this would require hundreds of wells to be drilled across our county. Our downland, meadowland, farmland and woodland would be subject to wide-scale industrialisation.
In the USA, towns near fracking sites have seen cancer rates rising, water supplies running out and the poisoning of land, livestock, pets and people by hazardous air pollutants. Water that was once pristine is now so contaminated with methane that it can be set alight. Industry studies show 5-7% of all new oil and gas wells leak and ALL wells will leak eventually.
Our water supply, which comes predominantly from the chalk aquifer, would be threatened.
Property values are falling in areas near drilling sites.
Even the energy secretary says fracking WON’T REDUCE ENERGY BILLS.
What is Fracking?
Over the past decade, the USA has led a rush for new natural gas using a controversial drilling method. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into dense shale rock formations to crack the rock and release natural gas. Conventional fracking has been around for decades, but the techniques, technologies and chemicals used to reach new, remote gas reserves are far more intensive and risky than conventional gas drilling. The type of fracking being proposed in the UK is HIGH VOLUME SLICK WATER HORIZONTAL HYDRAULIC FRACTURING. It was developed by Halliburton in the late 1990's.
Fracking has brought rampant environmental and economic problems to rural communities. Accidents and leaks have polluted rivers, streams and drinking water supplies. Regions littered with drilling rigs have high levels of smog as well as other airborne pollutants, including potential carcinogens. Rural communities face an onslaught of heavy truck traffic, often laden with dangerous chemicals used in drilling, and declining property values.
Acidising involves injecting solutions of acids along with other chemicals. The objective is either to clean the well, or to create passageways through the rock along which oil or gas can flow. The industry divides acidising (or acidisation) broadly into three ‘tiers’. In increasing order of intensity:
- an acid wash is a weak acid solution that cleans the well bore at low pressure
- matrix acidising, injected at a pressure insufficient to fracture the rock, cleans and dissolves short pathways through the rock lying close to the wellbore
- acid fracking is done at pressure high enough to fracture the rock, creating longer pathways
What’s the problem?
- Wells have been acidised in the Weald in decades gone by, barely regulated or monitored. What is proposed now is on a different scale. One company - UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) - has promised ‘' back-to-back drilling of production wells'’ across the Weald. These are not ‘just’ vertical wells. They will have long horizontal bores that will be acidised section after section, again and again. And it’s not just about the current sites. This could be coming your way.
- Acidising uses much higher concentrations of chemicals than hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fracking fluids for shale typically consist of water with 0.5% chemicals. Matrix acidising and acid fracking fluids could contain up to 17 or 18% chemicals.
- Given the repetitive nature of the process, acidising may use a lot of water.
- With no precise definitions, scrutiny or monitoring, the industry can get away with minimising their acidising operations, calling everything an acid wash, or just a ‘stimulation technique’. At well testing stage they may propose an acid wash when in truth they want to matrix acidise, in the knowledge that at production stage they will want to acidise more vigorously, at pressure.
- Acidising brings most of the negatives of hydraulic fracturing: traffic, road tankers, air pollution, flares, potential water pollution via spills, leaking wells and faults, processing plants, large volumes of toxic liquid waste, stress on communities.
“This type of oil deposit very much depends on being able to drill your wells almost back to back so it becomes very much like an industrialised process”
Stephen Sanderson, CEO, UK Oil & Gas (UKOG)
What acids and other chemicals do they use?
It depends on the geology. In limestone-rich strata, the main acid is hydrochloric acid, in sandstone-based formations it’s hydrofluoric acid, one of the world’s most toxic chemicals. Formations are rarely homogenous, and bespoke treatment formulae are used to achieve desired results. Hydrochloric acid could be used in concentrations of up to 28% but typically up to 15%, hydrofluoric acid at much lower concentrations, 0.5 to 3%. There will also be biocides, polymers to make the liquid gloopy, corrosion inhibitors, detergents, solvents and other chemicals to make it all run smoothly. There has been little research on the toxicity of these chemicals.
Are limestone and sandstone sources ‘conventional’?
This has become a very complicated question.
The government’s definition of ‘conventional’ is quite simply wrong! The national guidelines for mineral planning say that: ‘Conventional hydrocarbons are oil and gas where the reservoir is sandstone or limestone.’ Yet many limestone and sandstone sources are unconventional according to the definitions used by geologists - and indeed by the oil and gas industry when they are not dealing persuasively in ‘alternative facts’.
For geologists, a ‘conventional’ formation is one permeable enough to flow without ‘stimulation’, while an ‘unconventional’ formation is ‘tight’, insufficiently permeable to flow at commercial rate unless stimulated – by techniques such as fracking or acidising.
Oil and gas prospectors are happy to tell shareholders and potential investors that their target strata in the Weald are unconventional, while telling the public, planners and government that they are conventional. The incorrect government definition explains why, when the newly allocated Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) were announced in 2016, all the licence areas across the Weald were listed as conventional. Yet the Kimmeridge limestone (micrite) is ‘tight’ thus unconventional, and the deeper-lying oolite limestone is sometimes tight and sometimes not.
This is important – ‘conventional’ sounds safe and cosy. It soothes the public, planners and the media. What is planned for the Weald is unconventional, intrusive, polluting and unacceptable.
The industry is playing a game of words, wrongly defining the Kimmeridge limestone
as ‘conventional’, and defining fracking by the amount of water used, when what
matters is that enough pressure is used to fracture the rock
Is acidising ‘conventional’
The industry likes to call acidising ‘conventional’, sneakily meaning that they’ve been doing it for ages. But in industry manuals and literature, ‘conventional’ is used to indicate a free-flowing formation, and has come to be used for the methods used in these formations, as well as the oil and gas that emerges from them. Acidising is indeed used in free-flowing, conventional wells for cleaning purposes. But when used to stimulate flow in formations of very low permeability, acidising is unconventional.
And will they frack?
This is another wild card in the industry’s game of words. Guided by industry advisors, the fossil fuel-hungry government inserted a new definition of fracking into the complex Infrastructure Act of 2015. Once upon a time the industry considered a formation to have been fracked when the rock fractured. Pressure was the deciding factor, different within each formation. Under the new legislation, fracking means fracking only if a certain volume of water is used (over 10,000 cubic metres per well, over 1,000 cubic metres for each section of the well). That allows much old-style fracking to slip under the radar.
And it could mean that an acid frack will no longer be called an acid frack, especially if new gel and ‘squeeze’ technologies are employed to reduce the amount of water used. Recent planning applications have chosen vocabulary such as ‘low volume’ and ‘non-massive’, presumably eager to fit outside the government’s new definition of fracking.
We do have oil-bearing shale in the Weald. The Kimmeridge limestone lies in shallow bands within it. A few years ago, when Cuadrilla arrived in Balcombe, fracking the shale was their objective. One day it may be their objective again. But for the time being here in the South East we need to turn our attention to fighting acidisation of the Kimmeridge limestone and the oolite.
How is acidising regulated?
Until now, acidising has hardly been regulated at all in the UK. Companies have not been obliged to provide meaningful details about the nature or extent of proposed acidisation, nor about the chemicals. The industry has been allowed to self-monitor. The Environment Agency (EA) can provide no historic data about acidising. Wells were out of sight and underground… Finally, during 2017, new regulations on acidisation are to be introduced for England. So far, draft regulations look weak:
- They consider only the acid, not the other chemical additives
- They mention only acid washing, never escalating the issue to matrix acidising or acid fracking.
- They suggest that hydrochloric acid is always totally neutralised underground when it meets the limestone. This is not true. Flowback can sometimes be highly acidic.
- They should properly address the issues of waste water (flowback and produced water), which may be acidic, toxic, super-saline and radioactive. Detailed plans should specify how and where the waste would be treated.
Companies play a game of ‘grandmother’s footsteps’, getting permission first to drill, then to test, then to produce. Planners and regulators focus only on the current application. Seemingly only we in the communities grasp the bigger picture.
In the USA, acidising has likewise been little scrutinised and barely regulated, but some states have now proposed regulation of both matrix acidising and acid fracking.
A Threat To Sussex Drinking Water
Millions of gallons of toxic wastewater will be produced from every new well, with about half remaining in the ground. This wastewater contains the chemicals used in fracking fluid, which have been shown to cause cancer, death, birth defects and other severe health problems. It also contains harmful contaminants from deep underground, including numerous carcinogens. Disposal of this wastewater has caused major problems. Conventional treatment facilities can’t treat it, meaning the contaminants just flow right through these facilities, into rivers and streams. The other option is “deep underground injection” disposal, which is causing earthquakes.
Underground Contamination. Much of this toxic wastewater stays underground indefinitely, subject to forces beyond our control. Drilling and hydraulic fracturing creates new pathways for fluids or gases to migrate and potentially contaminate vital underground water resources.
Surface Contamination. Fracturing fluid chemicals, contaminated wastewater, dredged up heavy metals and radioactive material can leak or spill from wellbores, wellheads, flowlines, trucks, tanks and pits. Those leaks and spills can contaminate our air, soil and water.
Depletion and degradation of surface freshwater and shallow drinking water aquifers. Massive amounts of clean water are taken from lakes, ponds, streams and shallow aquifers for fracturing operations. The scale of this industrial drawdown, and subsequent contamination with fracking chemicals, will degrade water quality and could lead to water scarcity.
Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) is found in shale rock at high concentrations and is likely to be discharged into drinking water supplies due to leaks, spills, or inadequate waste treatment. dangerous quantities from the wells.
Why should we be concerned about fracking?
Here are 20 KEY IMPACTS of drilling for SHALE OIL & GAS identified by Frack Off.
Which ones worry you the most?
A single frack uses 5-10 Olympic size swimming pools of water. The fracking industry removes water from the water cycle and turns clean water into polluted water that must be treated and disposed of. In the US, water auctions see farmers bidding against the oil and gas industry for water. Picture shows a tanker filling up from a standpipe in a residential area that already suffers from low water pressure at Banks, Lancashire.
Large volumes of water are returned to the surface. Known as produced water it is contaminated with chemicals used in the fracking process and materials leached from the shale rock including heavy metals and radioactive elements. Additional pollution of aquifers and surface water is caused by methane migration, leaking wells, spills and accidents. Picture shows tanks of radioactive produced water at Preese Hall, Lancashire.
Shale Gas extraction inevitably leads to methane being emitted (leaked) directly into the atmosphere. Methane is 100x worse (on 20yr time frame) than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Research shows that this makes Shale Gas more polluting than coal.
A wide variety of dangerous pollutants, including ozone, aromatic hydrocarbons and silica dust are produced by the drilling and fracking process. The ozone levels in previously pristine areas are now higher than central Los Angeles. Additional air pollution is created by construction work, drill rigs and machinery. There is a growing catalog of human and animal health impacts associated with this industrial activity. Picture shows emissions from a condensate tank taken with an infrared camera.
Methane Migration into Aquifers
Hydraulic Fracturing is designed to extract methane from shale rock and inevitably disrupts the geology of an area. The gas wells themselves are the most common pathway for methane migration (leakage). This can lead to high levels of methane in streams, aquifers and eventually drinking water. Methane build up in enclosed spaces (such as buildings) results in the threat of explosions.
Industry reports show that 6% of gas wells leak immediately and 50% of all gas wells leak within 15 years. Shale gas exploration requires many wells to be drilled (800 planned for Lancashire alone). These wells can never be removed or recycled, the steel and concrete structures plunged deep into the geology decay slowly over time. All gas wells will leak eventually.
Sites & Enclosures
Many wells require many sites which in turn require access roads, foundations, floodlights and enclosures. This pattern of development divides countryside, threatens rights of way and damages and slowly destroys the natural beauty and diversity of an area. Picture shows site at Preese Hall, Lancashire.
Pipelines will inevitably be used by the industry to transport gas. They create the additional danger of leaks and explosions. Pipelines may also be used to transport waste water to processing plants and there is already evidence of these leaking. Pipeline construction cuts scars across the countryside and blights surrounding areas with planning restrictions.
Compressor Stations & Flaring
A sprawling temporary gas infrastructure is needed to connect thousands of sites across the landscape. Flare stacks burn off unwanted gasses on every site and cause noise/light pollution and toxic emissions. Noise pollution and further emissions of methane and airborne pollutants occur as the gas is processed and pressurised.
The result of this type of industrial development on the countryside is catastrophic. Wildlife corridors are disrupted. Edge effects created by the cutting up of habitats into smaller and smaller pieces threaten biodiversity and the release and distribution of toxic compounds adds to the cumulative impact.
Human & Animal Health Impacts
Wherever fracking is happening, including Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Queensland, people are getting sick as a result of the toxic, carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting chemicals they are exposed to via both air and water, with symptoms from headaches and breathing difficulties to neurological impairment and cancer. Animals and crops have been killed in Alberta, North Dakota, New Mexico, California and Pennsylvania as a result of exposure to chemicals from fracking and drilling operations.
Corporate Profit vs Community Cost
The more the oil and gas industry invest in drilling and fracking equipment the more drilling and fracking will happen. The impacts and dangers are acute and borne by local communities who find themselves living in gasfields. The rewards go to an elite of shareholders, directors and investors. Stopping this industry in the UK will send a clear message to other countries that the impacts and dangers are unaceptable.
Dangerous Work Environments
The jobs created by the fracking industry are small in number for the size of the investment. Local job creation is short term, unskilled and in high risk areas/occupations. These workers are at increased risk of industrial disease and accidents. Exposure to chemicals and produced water creates acute health risks for workers. The large volumes of sand (silica) used in the fracking process is causing a dramatic rise in cases of silicosis (lung disease) in the US.
Toxic Support Industries (Chemicals, Sand and Waste)
Fracking requires large volumes of sand and chemicals and produces large volumes of drilling waste and effluent that must be treated. Areas that have no drilling are still threatened by accidents, emissions and spills from these toxic support industries. Picture shows a fire at Magnablend (fracturing & drilling fluid manufacturer), Waxahachie, Texas.
Damage to existing industries
Farming and food production, recreation and tourism suffer at all stages of shale gas exploration, production and legacy. An areas reputation, population and landbase are exposed to long term damage that exists long after the shale industry has gone.
Boom & Bust
Many areas of the country bear the scars of previous industrial development. Extractive industries destroy long term sustainable jobs and create unsustainable booms and busts. Any short term gains are far outweighed by the long term losses and resulting regional instability.
Heavy Vehicle Traffic
Just bringing water to site requires 1,000 – 4,000 tanker movements per frack. With 10 wells per site and 80 sites planned in Lancashire alone this would require millions of tanker movements. Because the lifetime of each shale well is short (2-5 years) this armada of heavy vehicles will roll across the countryside.
Road Damage, Subsidence & Earthquakes
Road damage is an inevitable consequence of shale exploration due to intensive transportation of materials and machinery. Subsidence may occur and the earthquakes caused by the first use of hydraulic fracturing in Lancashire were sufficiently powerful to distorted the companies own steel and concrete well which is now unusable.
Home owners in fracking zones can find themselves trapped in a house they can not sell, re-mortgage, insure or develop. An area already suffering from a decline in existing industries is further impacted by industrialisation (sites, pipelines, flare stacks), air and water pollution and the resultant health impacts.
Direct Threat to Renewable Energy Investment
Further investment in fossil fuel extraction and a new wave of extreme energy undermines investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. It perpetuates our dependence on finite resources and sabotages the life chances of future generations.
Shale Gas and Oil will not replace other fossil fuels, it will be burned in addition to the oil, coal and gas that has already been discovered. By developing these new energy extraction techniques we are expanding global reserves of hydrocarbons and increasing emissions. The chemistry of the atmosphere is changing and due to drought, flood and starvation the death toll already stands at 450,000 annually.
About Frack Free Sussex
Frack Free Sussex is a collective of extremely concerned local people, from all walks of life, defending our right to clean air and fresh water. As residents of Sussex we all share a great love of our county's downland, meadowland, woodland, farmland and beaches. Since the protests at Balcombe in 2013 the community resistance to fracking and all forms of extreme energy extraction has continuously grown. We are determined to stop this polluting industry.
Fracking in the US, South Africa and Australia has caused serious water and air pollution, resulting in widespread sickness amongst people, livesotck and pets. There is ample evidence of this, countering unequivocally the reprehensibly erroneous safety claims of many of our Ministers. It is essential that we learn from the evidence and do everything we can to prevent this happening in Sussex.
Sussex Frack Free Food Alliance
This group is being set up for farmers, producers, caterers and foodies across Sussex who oppose the contamination of our water and soil and agree that oil & gas production in Sussex would seriously threaten other local industries. Please go to our Food Not Fracking page to see howyou can be involved.