Cuadrilla documents: Balcombe water vulnerable to fracking

A Cuadrilla report into the Lancashire earthquakes of summer 2011 show fracking fluid disrupted a previously unknown fault. This fault then caused the earthquakes. A similar inability to find faults under Balcombe would lead to a pollution of Sussex’s groundwater.

The report summarises that the cause of the earthquakes was frack fluid injection into this unidentified fault plane: “it can be concluded that direct injection into the fault induced the seismicity”. (p50).

An objective of the report was “Evaluation of potential for upward fluid migration” (p52). Here the report concludes “in the worst case, the fluid could migrate upwards along a potential fault plane by 2,000 ft”.

In its own report, therefore, the company admits both that it is unable to identify fault planes, and that these faults may extend 2000 ft upwards.

In terms of Balcombe, Cuadrilla’s estimates that the water table sit at a max depth of 1000 ft (see 6.3.11 of the company’s submission to parliament). The company intends to frack at 2667 ft.  An upward migration of 2000 ft, therefore, runs through the aquifer and within 667 feet of the surface.

A similarly unidentified fault in Balcombe, therefore, would clearly pollute Balcombe’s water supply.

The company rightly claims that the geology is different in Sussex. The point remains, however, that the earthquake-causing fault was unidentified. As Tony Ingraffea  (Professor of Rock Fracture Mechanics at Cornell University) notes, ‘Fracking has always been unpredicatable, always will be’.

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38 Responses to Cuadrilla documents: Balcombe water vulnerable to fracking

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  6. Penny Stocks says:

    Thanks for finally talking about >Cuadrilla documents:
    Balcombe water vulnerable to fracking | gasdrillinginbalcombe <Liked it!

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  12. Tommie says:

    The Uk people seem to have contempt for their professional and experts who are supposed to represent them and responsible for their health safety and national interests. Wasn’t it your British Geology Survey did in their study say that it is ‘highly unlikely’ water contamination and earth quake will happen if the current proper regulation are followed. And i read it somewhere there was a Parlimentary Inquiry that also found the same thing. And yet there are still public debate on the issue with claims and counter-claims. If you can’t trust your own representive and professional’s opinion on an issue as important as environment and energy security as this debate then who should we trust. It is getting a bit rediculous.

    • Admin says:

      Concerned is a better word. When the HSE do not turn up to public meetings when invited citing lack of resources and when they are on record saying that it is not economically viable to check every well and when you find out they havent even made a site visit – how can you trust the ‘system’ that is ‘supposed to repreestn them’ ???

  13. admin says:

    Noise: A resident in our group lives very close to Cuadrilla’s site at Banks Marsh (in Lancashire). Drilling ops at night can be heard as clunks and buzzing and can keep a light sleeper awake [as was the case] Im guessing the clunks are when swapping out bits and the drilling causes the buzzing noise.

    Having been onsite myself I was surprised how quiet the generators where.

    As for pipelines / onsite generators etc – we never seem to get a straight answer from Mr Miller – most are based on ‘right now’ [i.e. during exploration] but any company seeking investment must surely have a long term projected plans. We feel that if those where transparent there would be a lot more opposition in the area!

  14. Kathryn McWhirter says:

    Mark Millar informed us at the village meeting that if commercial production were to begin at Balcombe some time in the future, if if extractable oil were discovered – and we now know that oil, not gas, is what Cuadrilla are hoping/expecting to find – extra facilities would have to be build on the site. He also suggested that pipe-lines would be laid – to take out oil and gas, and bring in water. Michael, do you agree that pipe-lines would be a commercial necessity? After all, the roads around the site are small and countrified. Beautifully so. Not intended to bear hundreds of tankers.

    I suspect that fire risk and other factors would mean that woodland either side of the pipeline would have to be felled – am I right? Maybe over a distance of 25 meters? Too bad for our ancient woodland. Sussex is England ‘s most heavily wooded county. Maybe that doesn’t matter to someone in Pennsylvania, or Norfolk. Remember, this is our village site.

    • Morning Ms McWhirter, you sure do rise bright & bushy after your late nights.

      Pipe-lines become commercially preferable once the fluid production rate makes them a desirable alternative to trucking the stuff out.

      Yes, if there were a pipe-line, then there would probably be clear felling. Please go to ‘Loch of Skene, Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom’ on Google maps, go into Satellite view & track East North East to look at Scattie Wood. You will see a clear-felled strip bisecting them. Now look North West – inside the L-shaped farm road across the A944 the pipeline route shows as a lack of green. Note that this is a seriously major pipeline route, laid over 30 years ago to carry North Sea production – somewhat more than could ever be dreamt of at Balcombe. You might wish to track the view to see how much of it can be seen between landfall in the north, to the Firth of Forth.

  15. Kathryn McWhirter says:

    I would welcome comments from an expert concerning the difference in volume between liquid in and liquid out during a commercial frack of the scale mooted in Balcombe.

    How does one account for the ‘missing’ liquid?

    And what other substances could we anticipate emerging in the frack waste extracted from below our ground?

    • That would depend on the ionic surface of the rock, any water already in place {connate water} and the presence of any absorbent materials, such as clays.

      Ionic: a diamond is ‘oil-wet’, not water wet – thats why they are recovered with vaseline [& cleaned with ammonia}. Limestone is water wet. To see this ionic effect, place drops of water & oil {in Balcombe would that by organic extra virgin?} on a surface & see whether the contact point curves inwards or outwards. Water curving out {flattening} is water wet & such a surface would retain more of the water placed in contact down-hole.

      So ‘missing’ liquid would be being absorbed or just sticking to the newly cracked rock face. The sooner the treatment fluid is flowed back, the more flows back. But, consider the ‘drive’ mechanism: the water is being lifted out of the well by the gas, so gas might bubble through & not lift all the water up to the surface. However, eventually, the water-out could be expected to exceed the water-in.

      Treatment fluid will only bring back extras that dissolve it it during its time in the well, so relatively insoluble materials will not be brought back by fluids swiftly flowed out.

      However, the gas or oil might be resting on a bed of water & this would be produced {more & more} as time goes by. This water would have had a long time to dissolve out soluble materials with which it was in contact. Water production can eventually kill oil-wells – I know of some producing 95% water, 5% oil this late in their production lives. This water is then re-injected to drive out more oil

  16. Kathryn McWhirter says:

    I would also welcome expert comments, Michael, on the following extract from Planning Application WSCC/027/10/BA, Document 5 (Supporting Statement to the Application), pages 6 and 7: a document that appears to have slipped under our Parish Council radar in February 2010:

    ‘After receiving planning consent for the exploratory well, the minor site construction and preparation would take one or two weeks to complete.

    ‘The drilling rig would then be mobilised to the site over an approximate 2 to 3 day period. Once rigged up, the 24-hour drilling would take place over an approximate 4-6 week period.’

    Michael, it may be nimbyish to be concerned about the impact on the village of 24-hour drilling for 4-6 weeks. This is after all an issue of worldwide ecological import. But then this is a village website.

    Please could you estimate the amount of noise and vibration this drilling would cause? Do you think we would hear or perhaps feel it from the village? The site is only half a mile from Balcombe station and a large number of houses on the south side of the village. There are also farms much closer to the site.

    • A short answer would be “not a lot”. It would depend on how sensitive the listener was. After that successful AgitProp exercise on Wednesday, sensitivity is probably raised. I can hear the M-25 traffic in a Chipstead garden on a calm night, but not in a Sevenoaks one.

      I have not been anywhere near Cuadrilla’s sites in Lancashire, but the pictures look to me as it they have surrounded themselves with sound deflecting shuttering, which would reduce the noise. Additionally generators & pumping equipment could well be sound-proofed – they are in Germany.

      As to farms – the local potato washer here is quite noisy.

  17. Kathryn McWhirter says:

    But perhaps you can help us by answering some questions.

    1) Please could you estimate how many tankers-full of water (and chemical) would need to be transported to the Balcombe site for a single commercial frack?

    2) And how many would be required to take the waste flow-back liquid away?

    Mark from Cuadrilla failed to answer these questions at the meeting. I asked him afterwards about the number of tankers required to take away the waste water of a single commercial frack of Balcombe scale. He thought and calculated and said probably about 100. That is waste water OUT. ‘All that through Balcombe village,’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said, ‘we might go the other way.’ Cuckfield village take note.

    What would be your expert estimate of numbers of tankers, Michael?

    • I’ve left this to last as its an impossible question to answer, but I’ll try. How long is a piece of string? We have no access to particular geologic information: overburden pressure, in situ stresses, pore pressure, frac gradient, Young’s modulus. I doubt the information from 1986 would all be available or trusted by cuadrilla. They probably wish to cut their own cores.

      Then I no longer have access to any of the computer programs that plot all this out. Normally one inputs the knowns & then runs multiple simulations seeking the best cost/ benefit result.

      Also, at 2,600 ft depth, I doubt I’d do anything approaching a “single commercial frack” – a very gentle test frac is all I’d attempt at this stage. But – you {Balcombe} do deserve some sort of estimate.

      So, let’s say there was 8,000′ of overburden. Next question: are we doing a frac from a vertical or horizontal bore? From a vertical boree would get a single double wing frac & the half-length {furthest distance from the well-bore} is related to the total amount pumped, with the proviso that the volume is really the product of length, width & height. Of the latter 2, the height is driven by the rate {& the width}, while the width is down to the viscosity. These all inter-relate {& fluid lost into the rock has a major effect}, hence the computer programs. The desired half-length would be as much as commercially possible, for a producing well, whereas it would only need to be as long as could give valuable information, for a test frac.

      If, as seems likely, the test frac is done in an horizontal bore, then the ‘length’ is set by the amount of pipe perforated for the particular treatment. So, if Cuadrilla want a 300′ length, they would perforate groups of half inch diameter holes, separated by unperforated pipe, over the desired 300′ {unless they wished to do it in stages of smaller lengths}. From each group of perforations the treatment would generate a penny shaped fracture perpendicular to the least principal downhole in-situ stress. The radius of these would be determined by the same factors that determine the geometry of a vertical bore frac.

      Once all that is planned, the engineer writes a program & Logistics take care of delivery to location – no wonder you stumped Mark Miller. Let’s say we decide to use a couple or three 500 bbl frac tanks of water. 500 bbl is 21,000 US gallons. In your shock horror film posted on this site, that big white semi trailer in the opening scenes is a 6,000 usg carrier – so 10 of those for our frac tanks on location. Of course, UK regs & West Sussex roads mean you would use smaller trucks – say 30, of 2,000 usg/ 1,650 Imperial gallons. Add 10 more for displacement.

      Cuadrilla are committed to minimal chemical usage & the most would be the Polyacrylamide. I don’t even know if this is a liquid or a solid. Let’s say 40 gals per thousand – so for 60,000 gals, you’re looking at 2,400: one or two trucks. Slick water doesn’t carry sand well, so say 2 lbs max per gal, for 25,000 gals, so 40 to 50,000# – a single 25 ton truck, maybe two.

      So 45 truck loads in, plus the frac tanks, the blender, 3 or 4 frac pump trucks. 40 to 50 trucks to carry the returned fluid out.

      As an engineer, that should have a plus/ minus 75% tolerance, & is based on total guesswork.

      Ms McWhirter, you owe me one of those £3.50 pints of Broadland ale.

      • Alastair Logie says:

        Thanks for you valuable, reasoned, informed but most importantly calm contributions. Its nice to have some facts to go along with the simplistic assumption that everything oil companies do is bad, its like a christmas pantomime. (see the end of my comments)

        Serious questions
        Given that you dont have access to your old programmes any more, can you still improve your estimate given what Mr Miller said (Yep I tried to listen), and whats clearly stated in the very informative documents on the West Sussex Planning page.
        They want to core two thinnish micrite layers (thicknesses of 110ft and 94 feet). Then pull back up and side track into the deeper one (2573 feet to 2667 feet), drilling horizontally for 2000 ft. He said very clearly it would then be a small test frac, and they are expecting oil not gas. So although we dont know bulk modulus, pore pressure and all the other things you would need ……….we do know the overburden is 2600′ and not 8000 feet. Would that make a difference? to your calculations. By the way in the planning docs they say that they expect the natural fratures to be well developed in this layer and thus stimulation may not be required anyway , and if was it would be very minor (but Mr Miller didnt use that at the meeting)

        Also do you have any thoughts on the now widely quoted 2000 feet. The report from Lancashire says basically the groundwater was safe beacause of the Permian anhydite is acting as a final seal. So if the worse came to the worse and the fluid had got into longer fault planes than the one it actually did there was no danger. To me the 2000 feet seems to be based on the tickness of the Millstone grit at that location and thus has no meaning anyway else. Anyway should we be worried that they are doing a minor frac at only 2570 feet (1720 ft below the Ashdown sands aquifer) or is the 2000 ft not significant away from their Lancashire well. Or should we be more worried that there are faults in the area and the seismic isnt clear as to what level they reach upwards.

        The docs on West Sussex includea 2D seismic line and Kathryn McWhirter would find the detailed documents on truck movements and noise footprint very useful. Its all there published in the public domain, thats how our planning laws work. (Although just like the geological stuff you need to understand what the technical stuff really means e.g acoustics use dB which is yet another logarithmic scale)

        On a light hearted note (cue Kathryn telling me not to be flippant) Having written the word pantomime at the top , it strikes me as a great description of the meeting. The evil step mother Miller was booed and hissed at (quite literally)throughout. Buttons Will was loved by all and could say no wrong (even when he did say things patently untrue, by the way I suggest he works on the geography of the islands in the Irish sea or finds out how many oil fields there are nearby). I was tempted to shout behind you at one point and was dissapointed when buttons didnt thorw sweets into the crowd. If the anti-frackers think they have kicked Cuadrillas butt I think they underestimate them and the law of the land and if the people of Balcombe feel that is the way to behave, then I’ll stay living in my nearby large town.

        • Micrite? Portland sandstone? No one ever mentions shale. Have Buttons Will & his Greenie imps stirred a hornet’s nest in sleepy Balcombe over a completely non-existent threat?

          Micrite is acid soluble – it may even be sufficiently non-homogeneous to etch without gel, making a lot of additive unnecessary. Just increase pressure to wash {15%?} hydrochloric acid into the expected fissures, or into pressure created fissures, & flow back out.

          The well operator {Cuadrilla in this case} has complete discretion as to the size of any treatment, which could vary by factor of 10 or much more for any given set of initial parameters.

          My “let’s say there was 8,000′ of overburden” was to relieve me of restricting the design. For a depth of 2,500′ I think one would be more circumspect as to size of treatment & rate of pumping {i.e. far fewer trucks}. By a ‘small test frac’, maybe they mean over only a 300′ length of the horizontal bore – cores etc could be used to choose the most indicative 300′. The height of the frac should be held within the stratum of interest & there would still be good isolation from aquifers above by the intervening strata.

          As to the 2,000′ quoted for Preese Hall #1, the report executive summary clearly states “This combination of geological factors was rare and would be unlikely to occur together again at future well sites.” I’ve noted elsewhere that because there was 2,000′ of communication while the rock was held apart by frac pressure, this in no way infers that there could be flow through the crack under conditions of closure pressure, never mind drawn down bottom hole pressure while flowing hydrocarbon to surface.

          • Alastair Logie says:

            Micrite? Portland sandstone? No one ever mentions shale. Have Buttons Will & his Greenie imps stirred a hornet’s nest in sleepy Balcombe over a completely non-existent threat?

            FI FI FO FUM…………..yes

        • andrewolib says:

          Dear Alastair,

          I am writing an assignment for a course I am taking in Public Affairs with the CIPR.

          I am hoping to have a few confidential interviews with people who attended the Balcombe meeting.

          I have no money to offer, but am willing to buy you a pint if we can find a pub to meet in.

          Would you be willing to take part?

          Best Wishes

          Andrew Oliver
          Tel +44 1273 690045 (Until Feb 28th 2012)
          Tel +44 1273 602687 (From March 1st 2012)
          Mobile +44 7968236711

    • Further to my post of 8:14 pm yesterday, I neglected any form of treesaver/ wellhead isolation, discharge manifolding & a means of getting the sand to the blender. So better add another 3 to 4 trucks.

      We’re getting close to Mr Miller’s fast estimate 100.

      I do not know how much specialist equipment is actually available in the UK – if its not available, no truck would be needed for it. For instance, I think they’re really premature in getting their knickers in a twist in South Africa, as I’d say SA is a low priority for specialist frac kit, at a time of world shortage.

    • andrewolib says:

      Dear Kathryn,

      I am currently completing work on a Public Affairs Diploma with the CIPR.

      For my final assignment I have chosen to write about public meetings, persuasion and public acceptance in the context of shale gas exploration in the UK and Ireland.

      I live in Brighton, so have partly chosen to look at this because Balcombe is not too far away and I need to have a realistic target group of people to interview.

      The paper I am preparing will not be for public consumption, and is purely for the purposes of my course. Would you be prepared to answer a few questions. I am thinking of setting up in a pub in Balcombe for a day at some point in March and trying to conduct short interviews for my study with up to 10 people who attended the meeting.

      I look forward to hearing from you and I hope you don’t mind helping. If you have any friends who attended the meeting and are willing to be interviewed too this would be great.

      I will be of course be willing to buy everyone a drink.

      Best Wishes

      Andrew Oliver
      Tel +44 1273 690045 (Until Feb 28th 2012)
      Tel +44 1273 602687 (From March 1st 2012)
      Mobile +44 7968236711

  18. Kathryn McWhirter says:

    I do wonder, Michael, are you being paid by someone to write these posts?

    • I wish! Ale is £3.50 a pint in Winterton. No, I’m related by marriage to some Cornells {descendants} & “fracking” {I hate that “k”} is a hot topic in upstate New York, so with Dr Ingraffea being such a telegenic ‘anti’ I thought I would check what his speciality was. Basically, if he were a Professor of downhole rock mechanics, he’d be at A&M, University of Texas, Tulane or U of Oklahoma, etc, not Cornell. Same thoughts apply to Cornell’s other researchers.

      Another simile: if the Hammersmith Flyover were bounded by 7,000 psi pressure on all sides, do you think it would still be cracking {not that one could drive on it if it were buried 10,000 ft deep}

    • No he’s not. As webmaster you have access to my e-mail address & my initials certainly are not MCW. I don’t have a web presence. Careful, gdib – your prejudices are beginning to show …

      What payroll are you on? Apparently not Balcombe’s.

    • On this subject about as lay as me. In his speciality – streets ahead of & above me.

    • On the Syracuse link, I see he rates himself as no more than an Advocate, it is others who inflate his opinions. I also agree with a lot of what he answers in the post – he is spot on on Cementing & the fact that contamination is the result of bad process, not fracturing itself.

      Just think – if BP had followed the Halliburton recommendation to leave the cement undisturbed until it had set, there would have been no Deepwater Horizon blow-out {that’s a very broad-brush comment, so please anyone, don’t sue me}

  19. Tony Ingraffea is a Professor at Cornell, & all credit to him. But he is not a Professor of Rock Fracture Mechanics, nor of any underground speciality. His speciality is Structures, as in the fractures of concrete buildings (think Hammersmith Flyover}. Above ground & underground are very different, due to confining stresses. So, when talking about hydraulic fracturing he is just another knowledgeable layman.

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