Residents visit Cameron to make a stand against fracking

Residents from regions under threat from ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing) will today deliver a letter to David Cameron calling for a ban on shale gas and coal bed methane exploitation in the UK. In an effort to step up the focus of attention on this harmful technique and its effect on people, landscape and ecosystems in Britain, residents of Sussex, Falkirk, Belfast, the Fylde, the Ribble Estuary and the Vale of Glamorgan have come together as a UK-wide deputation to ask for action, not words, on this crucial subject.

The credentials of the ‘Greenest Government Ever’ are already in tatters and to allow fracking in the UK would be the final nail in the coffin for Cameron’s green agenda.

Fracking is a technique used for extracting natural gas from shale rock or coal seams. Shale gas is released by causing underground detonations and injecting millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals into the earth at high pressure to create fissures. Test fracks in Lancashire in April and May 2011 caused earthquakes of magnitude 2.3 and 1.4, one of which caused structural damage to a house 10 miles away. Unconventional methane extraction poses many actual and potential environmental concerns, including impact on climate change, groundwater pollution, air pollution, water depletion and earth tremors.

The current narrative about energy has heavily featured a new ‘dash for gas’ in the UK as a major strand in energy policy. This week the government launched their long awaited Energy Bill and today’s action shines light on a problem that is not featured in the thinking around energy policy: that there will be massive local opposition to the destructive practice of fracking. This local opposition will make the dash for gas even more of a pipe dream.

Today’s action takes place amid a weekend of anti-fracking and climate change protest which is occurring across the country, while a recent YouGov poll showed overwhelming
support for renewable energy development in the UK.

Vanessa Vine from BIFF! (Britain & Ireland Frack Free) said “Fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane is an uneconomical and ecocidal attempt to address Britain’s critical energy needs. It might “keep the lights on” for another fifteen to twenty years – but we would then find ourselves in a worse energy predicament than we are now. Landscapes would be despoiled, water courses irreparably contaminated and we would have poured countless tons of methane and CO2 into the atmosphere. When will our Prime Minister stand by his claim of leading the “greenest government ever”, order an immediate ban on
this unintelligent and short-sighted dash for gas and invest instead in safe and truly renewable energy generation?”

Fracking technology has enabled the USA to overtake Russia as the world’s largest natural gas producer and has covered large areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wyoming, Colorado, West Virginia and other states with thousands of concrete aprons the size of football pitches. Chemicals used in fracking have been linked to diseases in humans and livestock, soil toxicity, algal blooms and ‘dead river’ syndrome in the USA and Australia.

According to the anti-fracking website Frack Off, recent claims of declining US carbon emissions being due to shale gas exploitation are in fact due to a drop in US economic output. Once fugitive emissions of methane and heavy tanker traffic are taken into account, fracking for shale gas has a higher carbon footprint than coal.

Letter to David Cameron: David Cameron Re Fracking Ban 1.12.12

Press Contacts:
Vanessa Vine – BIFF! (Britain & Ireland Frack Free) / Frack Free Sussex 01342 810238 07597 970360
Gayzer Tarjanyi Frack Free Fylde 07761 544179
For technical information and news on fracking in the UK and around the world see and Facebook Page: BIFF! (Britain & Ireland Frack Free)

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Sixteen thousand gallons of Hydrochloric Acid scheduled for Balcombe

Cuadrilla plan to inject the equivalent of nearly 80,000 bottles of Bonnymans Patio Cleaner underneath Balcombe village

A recent presentation by the owner of UK fracker Cuadrilla reveals the company plans to inject tens of thousands of gallons of Hydrochloric Acid (HCl) into its frack sites in the UK.

The presentation – by AJ Lucas, 42% owner of Cuadrilla – reveal that Balcombe can expect sixteen thousand gallons of HCl to be pumped 800m under the village. Hydrochloric acid is typically used neat – its main function is to clean the tiny spaces between subsurface rocks at the start of the fracking process.

The presentation shows that of the fluids Cuadrilla intend to inject underground, 0.125% will be HCl (see p 21 of the presentation). A typical well uses 12.8 million gallons of fluids (based on 1.6 million gallons per frack and 8 fracks per site). For Balcombe this would mean a total of 16,000 gallons of pure hydrochloric acid forced into the ground.

The company likes to maintain that the fracking fluids it uses are found in everyday products.

What this obscures is the sheer quantity of chemicals used, usually without dilution.

Hydrochloric acid is indeed used in some household cleaning products. Yet a small city would be required to consume the same amount used by one frack site. The amount of HCl planned for release under Balcombe, for example, would top 80,000 bottles of Bonnyman’s Patio Cleaner  (based on 5 litres per bottle, composed of 28% HCl, total 16,000 gallons).

Similarly the company plans to use a second chemical: polyacrylamide. Polyacrylamide is found in – amongst other things – shampoo. Yet even if polyacrylamide were the only constituent in shampoo, this would also equate to 80,000  bottles of shampoo under the village (8000 gallons of polyacrylamide, ten bottles of shampoo per gallon).

While this cornucopia of subsurface consumer goods provides an almost comical example of the process of hydraulic fracturing, the reality is more stark. The water usage planned for Balcombe equates to more than 12m gallons – or more than 24 Olympic swimming pools.  At  a time of water shortage both the pollution of underground sources and the asset stripping of surface water is highly irresponsible.

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New study shows fractures within 720 feet of Balcombe village

A new report from Durham University shows fractures from fracking operations could extend to within 720 feet of the surface at Balcombe. The report concludes maximum fracture lengths at US frack sites is 588m, or 1928 feet.

Cuadrilla plans to drill at 2667 feet in Balcombe – a maximum fracture, therefore, would bring frack fluid to within two football pitches of the surface – and right through the water supply.

In November Cuadrilla admitted that faults such as the one that caused earthquakes in Lancashire may extend 2000 ft upwards (see p50 of linked pdf). Were the company to hit a similar structure in Balcombe this would bring fluids and gas even closer to the surface than man-made fractures. The fault that caused the earthquakes in Lancashire remains unidentified, despite two studies.

The report provides yet more evidence that fractures can extend close to the surface. In a ‘shallow frack’ such as Balcombe, the risks of fluid and gas migration are high. In their submission to parliament last year, Cuadrilla claimed fracking takes place at 5000 feet below the surface (see 6.3.11). No mention was made of Balcombe, which is scheduled to be be fracked at nearly half that depth.

Durham’s study undermines those who claim that Balcombe’s unique geology makes it exempt from comparisons with other frack sites. In fact every frack site is unique: this new study is important because it shows fracture lengths averaged across many different types of terrain.

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Cuadrilla’s secret meeting with Balcombe Parish Council

Fracking company Cuadrilla has held a secret meeting with members of Balcombe Parish Council (BPC).

The meeting undermines the company’s claim that ‘no firms plans have been made for Balcombe’ and was facilitated by Nick Sutcliffe, Guildford District Councillor and lobbyist for PPS Group, who represent Cuadrilla. Members of BPC and its working group on hydraulic fracturing have also been in close correspondence with the company.

Writers from this website have sent Freedom of Information requests to BPC obliging it to reveal the content of this secret meeting and correspondences. As of April 16th BPC has 19 further days to respond – documents released will be published here.

BPC and its working group are under increasing scrutiny after research showed three members have vested interests in the fracking industry:

Alison Stevenson
BPC co-chairman & working group member
Stevenson until recently worked as ‘Principal Engineer’ at Capita Symonds a large engineering firm. Capita Symonds are enthusiastic supporters of the fracking industry, recently sponsoring a shale gas conference in Durham. Speakers included a Cuadrilla geologist and several other industry luminaries. It is unknown what Stevenson’s role as Principal Engineer entailed; she has not to our knowledge declared this interest to BPC.

Norman Sayer
Working group member
Sayer works for the fracking industry in Oman. He works at a Omani ‘tight gas’ field owned by BP which has been fracking there since 2008. Sayer divides his time between the Middle East and the United Kingdom and has worked in the oil and gas industry for 30 years.

Mostyn Field
Working group member
Field’s employer also provides services to the fracking industry. His Linkedin profile describes him as working for WesternGeco, which provides seismic surveying to the oil and gas sector, including fracking. WesternGeco is part of Schlumberger, which is heavily involved in fracking in the US. In his comments on this website, Field described himself as ‘having a degree in Geology’.

Rodney Saunders
BPC co-chairman & working group member
At a stormy public meeting in January, Saunders apologised for waving Cuadrilla’s planning application through with no scrutiny. Since then Saunders has overseen the secret meeting with the company, and appointed three people to the working group who have conflict of interest, in direct contradiction to his own stated requirements that working group members have “no vested interest in the proposed exploration”. Questions, therefore, must be raised as to Saunders’ competence to investigate hydraulic fracturing.

The population of Balcombe, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly skeptical as to the contents of the BPC report on hydraulic fracturing, due out next month.

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New Zealand city joins Frack Free movement

Christchurch, New Zealand recently joined a growing list of municipalities declaring their regions ‘frack free’.

The city council unanimously voted that Christchurch would be a fracking-free zone.

The city joins a growing list of councils worldwide that have banned fracking in the teeth of government opposition. 61 municipalities in the US have banned fracking, as have five counties in Ireland (including bans in Donegal, Sligo, Roscommon and Clare) and one in Northern Ireland (Fermanagh). France has declared a moratorium, along with Quebec, Bulgaria, the German state of Westphalia.

East Sussex recently expressed its concerns over the practice, and called for Councillors to be fully aware of the risks before any planning permissions were granted in the county.

Christchurch Council member Paul McMahon said: “Stick up for your local people, because central government isn’t listening,” The council needed to take a stance against fracking, he said, because the Government had declined to intervene.

Fracking has been in the news recently in New Zealand after a sponsor of Womad – the international Music Festival – spilled fracking chemicals at its site near Taranaki.

Fracking – hydraulic fracturing – involves injecting chemicals into rocks to fracture them in an attempt to release oil and natural gas.

Chistchurch councillor Barry Corbett expressed concerned over possible water contamination, as well as the possibility that fracking was related to seismic activity. “I think it’s very silly for us for one, to possibly affect our water with chemicals, and two, to possibly cause seismic issues,” he said.

Councillors also voted 13 to one to call on other councils to declare their areas fracking-free.

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BBC Newsnight: fracking regulators inadequate

By Will Cottrell

BBC Newsnight last night revealed that UK fracking regulators failed to visit sites they were supposed to be regulating.

The Health and Safety Executive – in charge of the integrity of fracked wells – neglected to perform independent analysis of US frackers Cuadrilla, who have designs on Lancashire, Sussex, Kent and Surrey.  Instead they relied on the company’s own reports. (see 8.04 of video below).

This lack of oversight is in line with government policy. In July the government said “It is the operator’s responsibility to ensure the integrity of the well, not the regulator.” (See point 15).

According to the same document, the HSE “proactively regulates activities” of the drillers.
Indeed: proactively reading company reports would surely raise a sweat on the brow.  Not that we are able to find out – the HSE have denied Freedom of Information requests for the Cuadrilla drilling reports that they are allegedly overseeing.

In July 2011 the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee took issue with this lackadaisical approach, advising that the HSE ‘test the integrity of wells before allowing the licensing of drilling activity.‘ (point 15 again).

The government slapped them down, with Minister of State Charles Hendry MP insisting ‘we have a strong safety and environmental regime in place, administered by the HSE,the relevant environmental agencies and my Department (DECC)’.

MPs – spurred to action by concerned residents – have taken to repeating Hendry’s platitudes, with Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames recently assuring that fracking will be ‘adequately regulated’.

Reticence to increase industry oversight is revealed by the government’s real objective.  In his submission to the CCC, Charles Hendry notes: “the government is committed to ensuring that we maximise economic recovery of hydrocarbon resources, both offshore and onshore“.

Not all agree. 48 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing while the impacts and regulatory framework of this high-tech and fast developing industry are assessed.

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44% of wells leaking at Australian gas field

By Will Cottrell

A study of a gas field in Queensland, Australia has found 44% of gas wells leaking (see p4 of this pdf). The report adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that gas drilling inevitably leads to water contamination as gas escapes from boreholes.

The study, conducted in the Tara, Queensland field examined 56 of the field’s wells. 26 were found to have leaks. See below for aerial footage of the Tara field –

Tara is a Coal Bed Methane (CBM) gas field (it’s called Coal Seam Gas in Australia). CBM uses techniques similar to hydraulic fracturing but in layers of coal, rather than shale rock which lie deeper underground. Australian CBM operator Dart Energy has just applied to drill a third well at its site near Airth, Scotland.

Australia is not the only country to suffer leaking wells. A Canadian study found more than 17600 oil and gas wells leaking nationwide. Watson and Bachu (Society of Petroleum Engineers SPE 106817 – 2009) surveyed 352,000 oil and gas wells and found 5% of wells had gas or oil outside the central borehole.

In 2003 Gas Service Company Slumberger found 60% of offshore gas wells leaking within 30 years of being drilled.

In 1992 the US EPA estimated that of 1.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the US,  200,000 were leaking, a 16.7% failure rate.

Little surprise that both Duke University and the US Environmental Protection Agency have correlated gas in water with proximity to fracking sites.

The industry and its apologists like to claim that careful regulation will ensure wells don’t leak. Yet with hundreds of thousands of wells currently leaking worldwide these claims are unlikely to inspire confidence.

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Authorities duplicitous, ill-informed and one-sided on fracking

Evidence increasingly undermines MP Soames' assertions that fracking will be 'adequately regulated'.

In a letter to the Mid Sussex Times, MP for Mid Sussex Nicholas Soames assures readers that fracking will be ‘adequately regulated’.

This conceit – used by varied bodies from Balcombe Parish Council (BPC) to West Sussex County Council (WSCC) to Ministers – misses a key point.

The authorities deciding on regulation have repeatedly been proved duplicitous,  ill-informed and one-sided on fracking. In light of the following evidence it’s no surprise that local people feel uneasy about the threat of hydraulic fracturing:


1/ Balcombe MP Francis Maude listened to his constituents’ concerns about fracking in late 2011- but omitted to reveal he had appointed a Cuadrilla director to his department in government .

2/ The British Geological Survey (BGS) is a key advisor to the government on fracking – yet the BGS receives a portion of its funding from the fracking industry, leading to concerns over conflicts of interest.

3/ The gas industry has hired lobbyists to promote their cause and gain access to decision makers – one of these lobbyists has been revealed to be a local district councillor.


1/ The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was unaware that fracking was to take place at Balcombe – until informed so by Balcombe residents.

2/ WSCC and BPC repeatedly told constituents (and each other) that fracking had been suspended – until residents forced an admission from DECC that the ‘suspension’ was nothing of the sort.

3/ The British Geological Survey (BGS) has begun a baseline survey of water quality around proposed fracking sites – a full three years after oil and gas licences were issued, and only after significant public pressure. Incredibly, this survey does not include Lancashire.

Repeated statements by varied authorities state there is no evidence to link water pollution to fracking. Widely-read studies conclude precisely the opposite –

1/ Duke University in the US correlated methane levels in water with proximity to gas wells. The closer they got, the more methane they found. This finding was repeated by the US EPA in late 2011.

2/ Gas company Cuadrilla’s own report demonstrates that hydraulic fracturing in Balcombe could bring gas outside the well head to within 667 feet of the surface.

3/ The gas industry itself concludes that 60% of its wells leak.

By attempting assurances of the ‘it will be fine’ variety, authorities like Soames just make themselves look patronising.

This appearance of benevolent paternalism in the face of mounting evidence to the opposite only leads to cynicism and revulsion.

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County Councillor: West Sussex must ban fracking

In a strongly worded letter to the Mid Sussex Times, West Sussex County Councillor Anne Hall argues that county authorities must be proactive and ban fracking.

Hall argues that West Sussex County Council has been “complacent” on fracking. She states that earthquakes risks have been ignored and the council has effectively outsourced decision making to central government.

She also criticises council leaders for avoiding responsibility. “Lionel Barnard (WSCC deputy leader) states that forthcoming applications would not be supported if there were any uncertainty. He does not give any indication as to what can be done,” she writes. “Will WSCC leave the decision to proceed with fracking on this site to other regulators?”

“I believe that the council has a duty to its residents to be more proactive in this decision and not just to sit back and see what others decide.”

Meanwhile Balcombe Parish Council continues to show exactly the failures of leadership that Councillor Hall points out. BPC seems determined to avoid taking a stance on the issue, perhaps because one of its own number is millionaire Simon Greenwood, which owns the land on which fracking is scheduled to take place.

The Parish Council has convened a working group to examine the benefits and risks of fracking. Copies of this report will be made available to the residents of Balcombe (who are obviously, in BPC’s eyes, unable to perform research themselves). The council will then decide how best to represent their constituents, based on these views.

Exactly what democratic process will be used to assess local opinion is unclear. Currently BPC risks being lost in a procedural miasma which will result simply in the continuation of its current policy: do nothing.

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DECC: “no fracking suspension”

Despite causing earthquakes and threatening scarce water supplies, companies are free to perform hydraulic fracturing in the UK, said the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Contrary to official and industry announcements, DECC, in an email to Sussex campaigner Vanessa Vine, has revealed that ‘Cuadrilla agreed voluntarily to suspend operations.’

Authorities regularly use the notion of a ‘suspension’ to justify inaction on fracking.  Balcombe Parish Council maintained the fiction for several weeks, and more recently West Sussex County Council, despite being clearly informed otherwise, have justified inaction on the spurious basis of a non-existent national suspension.

DECC also detailed the official definition of fracking, and the issuance of licenses nationally.  You can read the full text of the email below –

(Vanessa Vine): What is the definition of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, that is used for the purposes of Government licensing, permission, consent and legislation?

(DECC): The term “hydraulic fracturing” does not occur in DECC licences or in any relevant legislation. It is not possible to give a single exclusive definition of the term as it might be used in consenting activities under the licences, because it covers a range of techniques which are applied in a wide variety of contexts. But in general terms, hydraulic fracturing is a process in which fluid under pressure is pumped into an oil or gas borehole to stimulate production of the hydrocarbon by creating fractures or channels into the petroliferous rock.

In fracking for shale gas, the fluid normally contains small particles of inert material to hold open the fractures and allow the released gas to flow at commercial rates. Although shale exploration is new to the UK, fracking is not a new technique and it has been used both onshore and offshore in the UK in pursuit of low permeability gas and coalbed methane during the last decade or so.

(VV): Does this definition include the exploratory stage – of lesser volume and intensity – which nevertheless involves pressure injection of water, sand and foreign toxins into the subterranean geology?

(DECC): The kind of fracking performed in exploring for shale gas is broadly similar to that expected to be used in production, but is likely to involve fewer stages, and so a smaller total volume of frack fluid. In US practice, a production well is most commonly drilled horizontally, and fracked in a number of stages – the number of stages is normally more than in an exploration well. It is expected that production wells in the UK will likewise have more stages than exploration wells, but the only wells so far drilled in the UK are for exploration.

Any substance that is proposed to be released to groundwater has to be assessed to determine if it is hazardous. The Environment Agency will not authorise the use of hazardous substances for fracking operations.

(VV): How does this legislatory definition differ (if at all) from the process – also involving hydraulic fracturing – currently being used in the UK to extract oil from shale rock and to extract gas (Coal Bed Methane) from coal seams ?

(DECC): The pressures used in fracking for shale gas would be expected to be greater, and the volumes of fluid injected substantially greater, than for coal bed methane.
Has the Department of Energy and Climate Change imposed a suspension on Cuadrilla’s hydraulic fracturing activities at Preese Hall in Lancashire, or has Cuadrilla desisted voluntarily and temporarily?

The Department has powers to suspend activities under the licence where necessary. In this case, Cuadrilla agreed voluntarily to suspend operations.

(VV): Please would you either provide the documentation confirming any such Government suspension, or confirm, explicitly, that no such documentation exists.

(DECC): There is no specific documentation. The company has orally confirmed on numerous occasions its recognition of the effect of the suspension.

(VV): Do Cuadrilla still have permission and all the necessary licenses in order to continue drilling, in preparation for potential subsequent fracking? If so, where are they currently granted such permissions.Preese Hall?Balcombe? Cowden? Lingfield?

(DECC): The petroleum licences convey no permission to conduct operations, which require separate consents from DECC, in addition to planning permission, etc. (see further below). Cuadrilla currently has DECC consent to drilling operations at only three sites, Preese Hall, Hesketh Bank and Grange Hill, all in Lancashire.

(VV): Please answer the same question with regard to all other prospective UK fracking companies, such as Magellan and Coastal Oil & Gas.

(DECC): No other company currently has DECC consent to drill for shale gas.

(VV): You mentioned a commercial fracking license (you thought it was in Lincolnshire) that was granted but subsequently declined by the applying company. Was this License then revoked? Which is the company in question?

(DECC): Europa Oil and Gas was granted consent in Aug 2011 to re-enter a producing well in the Crosby Warren field in Humberside to frac, as the production flow rate in previous wells in the field had been improved by fracking, but their operational plans changed and they no longer wish to frack, so this consent was withdrawn.

(VV): How many sites in the UK currently have all the requisite permissions, licenses and consents in order to go ahead with exploratory fracking?

How many sites in the UK currently have all the requisite permissions,licenses and consents in order to go ahead with commercial scale fracking?

Where, specifically, are these sites? Please would you list them all.

(DECC): There are currently no sites in the UK which have all necessary permissions for fracking, either for exploration or production.

(VV): Or has the DECC suspended all existing licenses to frack (including flow tests/ leak-off tests/ acid washes etc.) for shale gas/oil and coal bed methane in the UK, for example at Cowden in Kent, where Cuadrilla claim to have carried out such a “test frack” in July 2010?

(DECC): No licences have been suspended for any reason connected to shale gas, and no consents have been suspended other than Cuadrilla’s consents for fracking at Preese Hall and Grange Hill.

(VV): What permits, specifically, are required in order for a company to carry out both drilling and fracking?

(DECC):A Petroleum Exploration & Development Licence, planning permission, and a drilling consent from DECC. The drilling consent will where appropriate specify which fracking operations are permitted. The company must also notify the Environment Agency, which may require it to take out one or more permits for certain aspects of the operations; and must notify the HSE, which has powers to stop operations if they are not satisfied with the drilling plans.

(VV): Please would you provide example documentation.

(DECC): There is a document on the DECC site which describes the regulatory steps required to drill a well (which would include any plans to frack)

and a diagram which depicts the steps required to move to production]

The Environment Agency holds all the permits and consents it issues on public registers. It is possible on-line to examine data, with a facility to request further details and copy documents from their customer contact centre.

They also have interactive maps that include details of emissions from larger permitted sites.

Copies of recent licences can be viewed on the DECC website at and as an example, a copy of the licence for the Balcombe area is attached.

(VV): Will the DECC respond to the Early Day Motion tabled by Caroline Lucas, sponsored by Jim Dobbin, Mark Durkan, Jonathan Edwards, Glenda Jackson and Michael Meacher – to date signed by 44 MPs and supported by tens of thousands of UK citizens – by declaring a Moratorium on all hydraulic fracturing in the UK (including that used in coal bed methane extraction).

If not, why not?

[DECC officials declined to answer this one]


8 February 2012

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