Challenging government on unconventional hydrocarbon extraction

by David Smythe

Challenging government on unconventional hydrocarbon extraction

by David Smythe
David Smythe
Case Owner
I am David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at Glasgow University. I retired 20 years ago and live in France, but fight against unconventional fossil fuel exploitation ('fracking') in England.
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David Smythe
Case Owner
I am David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at Glasgow University. I retired 20 years ago and live in France, but fight against unconventional fossil fuel exploitation ('fracking') in England.
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Summary

UK government agencies (OGA, EA, and HSE) are denying access to crucial data about unconventional hydrocarbons, even though the public has a right to see them, and they may be failing to take those data into account in their own decision-making. The data relate to the impact of hydrocarbon extraction.

If the data are not released in the public interest, it may prove necessary to bring a legal challenge over the Surrey earthquakes. In addition we may have to challenge the issuing of permits for fracking in Lancashire.

On the wider scale the cases may expose the hidden means by which the government is doing everything possible to help the nascent UK unconventional fossil fuel ('fracking') industry.

We need legal help on two sets of urgent action, which is why we are fundraising:

(1) UKOG at Horse Hill Surrey: possible triggering of earthquakes

UK Oil & Gas plc (UKOG) drilled Horse Hill-1 in Surrey, just north of Gatwick Airport, the so-called 'Gatwick Gusher', in 2014. The well was suspended in 2016, but activities at the site re-started in March 2018, just before the first earthquake was triggered on 1 April.

Professor Stuart Haszeldine and colleagues at Edinburgh University have proposed a physical mechanism which relates activities at Horse Hill-1 to the triggering of the earthquakes.

The Edinburgh hypothesis has not been accorded the consideration it is due; the conventional view remains that the earthquakes are probably naturally triggered.

There is already a very good correlation between what we now know about the wellhead activity in July 2018 and February 2019 and the subsequent earthquakes. We now need the detailed information about what activities UKOG was engaged in during February and March 2018, just prior to the first quake of the sequence.

We are taking action to get the data we need from the regulators. They say there is world class regulation and monitoring. The public is entitled to see the relevant environmental information, and if the regulators persist in refusing to provide it, we will have to go to court to get the data.


(2) Cuadrilla in Lancashire: Environment Agency


The aim of this case is to ensure that the EA's regulation of fracking at Preston New Road is effective in protecting the environment. The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) had kept confidential a crucial dataset, Cuadrilla’s 3D seismic survey of the Fylde, which should have been released on 1 January 2018, and was only finally released ten months late, in October 2018.

In parallel with the OGA, the Environment Agency (EA) is tasked with assessing Cuadrilla's hydraulic fracture plan for its next well at Preston New Road, known as PNR-2. In November 2018, having studied the 3D dataset, I prepared a detailed technical report for the Preston New Road Action Group, which was then submitted to the EA, pointing out fundamental and significant errors in Cuadrilla's interpretation of the geology across the Fylde.

It is evident that Cuadrilla still does not have a sound grasp of the geology in the Fylde,  even after  a decade of study. The EA promised to consider my findings. Some seven months later there is still no news of whether the EA has granted, or will grant, a revised hydraulic fracture plan.

Cuadrilla should not be given authorisation to proceed with its plans to frack PNR-2, since there is a risk that without properly understanding the Fylde’s geology, the fracking at Preston New Road could lead to the pollution of large amounts of drinking water. We will fight to ensure that the EA properly takes the correct information into account and, if they fail to do that, we may need to go to court to challenge any decision they make.

Comments and notes

The initial contribution to the fund is the transfer of the money remaining in my 2016 CJ campaign in which I successfully fought to have my access rights at Glasgow University restored.

The banner photo above of Anne Reid and James Bolam was a publicity shot for Fracked! or: please don't use the F-word,  the highly successful comedy by Alistair Beaton. He has given us his permission to use it.

The F-word is now used in popular parlance as a blanket word for several methods of unconventional exploitation, and not just for that involving hydraulic fracturing of shale.



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