Frack off: oil company has licence to explore in Croydon

Someone needs to nudge Gideon Osborne’s father-in-law: it is not only in the “desolate” north where fracking is about to take place. Exploratory drilling using the controversial method to unleash underground gas and oil reserves could be about to come to … Croydon, CHARLOTTE JOHNSON writes

Fracking, the process of extracting oil and gas from the ground, has made the national television news in the past fortnight through a protest camp at a site in Balcombe, Sussex. The controversy is about to come a lot closer to home – London Mayor Boris Johnson has given his seal of approval for fracking to take place in the capital, and a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence, or PEDL, has been granted to drill in Croydon.

fracking oil pump

Are southern parts of Croydon about to undergo a Dallas-style oil boom?

Hydraulic fracturing, to give the process its full title, involves drilling a hole and forcing a mixture of chemicals and water into the ground at high pressures, causing the surrounding rock to break and release the oil or gas trapped in strata. Fracking for oil differs from fracking for gas in that hydrochloric acid is also used.

In 2008, PEDL licence 245 was issued. The area encompasses Croydon as well as Bromley, Sutton, Mitcham and Epsom. The licence is majority owned by Northdown Energy Limited. The Wimbledon-based company was incorporated in September 2011 and employs fewer than five people. It is not a major player in the oil and gas industry.

Alexander MacDonald, the company director, previously worked in the North Sea for both Conoco and Chevron. The company has formed partnership with Alamo Energy – a United States-based company that has several large-scale fracking projects across the America.

At present, Northdown Energy is focusing on the villages of Otford, Dunton Green, Shoreham, Eynsford and Knockholt for exploration. Knockholt, located within the M25, is the closest site to Croydon. Northdown’s exploration licence expires in July 2014, so they may need to take a look at sites closer to Croydon very soon.

The company is currently using more conventional techniques to find oil under the North Downs, particularly in Kent – where there was a significant coal field until 30 years ago. But there is no regulation to stop them from deciding to frack for oil if they so choose.

Seismic tests were carried out by the company in the spring and will provide an estimation as to the amount of oil present in the area. It will also determine whether or not there is an abundance of “unconventional” oil, which could lead them to use fracking.

While fracking is typically used in more rural areas, it is not unheard of for the process to take place in more suburban areas. In the United States, fracking is taking place within the city limits of Dallas in Texas.

This led to a myriad of problems. Since 2010, 3.0 level earthquakes have become commonplace. Experts argue that this coincides with the disposal of fracking waste, which has been re-injected in the area. It is unclear if such practices will be replicated in the United Kingdom.

Air pollution is a little cited consequence of unconventional fossil fuel extraction. Specifically with unconventional oil extraction, many companies have said that they will use gas flaring on site.

Gas flaring involves the burning off the excess methane that is found when drilling for oil. As the volume of methane found is rarely large enough to justify the price of producing it, companies opt to burn the gas. This has led to increased levels in the atmosphere of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

An increase of greenhouse gases is only one of the air pollution concerns associated with fracking. Dangerously high levels of cancer-causing benzene has been found in the air of towns in Dallas near drilling wells, which has led the US Environmental Protection Agency to call for new air quality controls near oil and gas wells.

Along with environmental risks, fracking leads to an increase in industrial activity. During the production phase, millions of gallons of water are needed to frack just a single well. It is estimated that this requires nearly 1,000 lorries. Not only does this lead to increase in traffic delays but also causes a lot of damage to local roads.

In the United States, house prices in fracking areas have fallen significantly, in some cases by as much as 24 per cent. In West Sussex, where Celtique Energie has a licence to drill for oil and shale gas, several residents have reported that their house sale has fallen through due to the drilling scheduled to take place there.

There are steps that local communities can take to resist the fracking industry. In Australia, local communities adopted the “Lock the Gate” strategy. This involves local communities getting together and deciding to declare that their area is “frack free”.

They then set up a neighbourhood watch. But instead of looking out for criminals, they watched for oil and gas companies that are trying to move in the area. They then worked together to fight planning permission and if necessary form a community blockade as has been done in Balcombe to keep the drillers out.

The purpose of the Lock the Gate strategy is to show that there is no social licence for the industry in the community. And once one community declares themselves frack free, neighbouring communities soon follow suit. In Australia, Metgasco and Dart Energy – who have now moved in to Scotland – were forced to move their operations elsewhere.

Along with the Lock the Gate strategy, an important first step for everyone to do is to write to the council with your concerns, and to look out for any potential planning applications that are being submitted for approval. Of course, planning law has been changed recently so that not all affected residents in an area need to be directly advised of an application, and to speed the planning process generally.

With a suggestion that Happy Valley might offer Northdown Energy the sort of fracking site it is seeking, the residents of Coulsdon might soon have something else to concern them in addition to the consequences of the Cane Hill development or the traffic on Lion Green Road.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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7 Responses to Frack off: oil company has licence to explore in Croydon

  1. This is unbelievable! What did we all do in our collective past lives to deserve this?

    First the incinerator, now fracking.

    I’ve done a good amount of reading about fracking on this US site: http://ecowatch.com/p/energy/fracking-2/

    One of the biggest problems with fracking is the residual wastewater created in the process. Here is a taste from the website of Catskill Mountainkeeper, an organisation in New York State, http://www.catskillmountainkeeper.org/our-programs/fracking/whats-wrong-with-fracking-2/wastewater/

    “Somewhere between 20% – 40% of the water used for hydrofracking a well returns to the surface as wastewater, also known as produced water. This wastewater not only contains the toxic and hazardous chemicals used in fracking fluid but also contains contaminants that it picks up from deep within the earth, most notably heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, salty brine and radioactive materials. Theoretically, this toxic cocktail could be treated at treatment facilities assuming these plants were properly equipped to remove these chemicals and radioactivity, however, there are few if any plants in New York State that currently have the technology to do this. Insufficient or incomplete treatment of wastewater will result in water being released into our streams, rivers and lakes that contain contaminants that are in higher levels that are considered safe. This is in fact what is happening in neighboring Pennsylvania, presenting significant health risks.”

    It goes on to describe the inadequacies of wastewater treatment plants and how New York laws are not adequate to deal with pesky issues such as containment before transported to treatment plants.

    It also cites poor record-keeping on wastewater: a study done by the Environment Advocates of New York states that “there is no clear record of how waste was handled from 6628 active gas wells that were fracked in New York State as of 2009.”

    It seems all too easy to dismiss the issue of wastewater when profits are at stake.

    Here in the UK, it seems like fracking is being rushed at us like a runaway train. I think we need to slow it down pretty damn quick.

    • mraemiller says:

      “What did we all do in our collective past lives to deserve this?”

      You expected a no cost solution to Britain’s energy crisis and there isn’t one.

      No one has even drilled an exploratory hole and you’re already waving your little arms in the air and jumping up and down as if you’re going to be contaminated with nuclear waste with a half life of 100,000 years. That’s not to say there isn’t any risk but all fuel extraction and energy production involves levels of calculated risk and damage to the environment. Even wind and solar are not completely cost free.

      The dangers of fracking re earthquakes and damage to the water table are dependent on how DEEP the reservoir which is being fracked is (the nearer the surface the more dangerous) and earth quakes / tremors are dependent on the geological stablitiy of the region – which is quite good … but again the primary factor is how deep the reservoir is.

      I would suggest you find out a bit more information before protesting just for the sake of it… and locking down the entire town and waving your pitchforks at any passing truck.

      It may be that after shooting the seismic and drilling the exploratory holes that the region isn’t actually as suitable as first thought anyway. But at £10-20 million for a seismic survey and £3-5million for single borehole who cares if the investment of Northdown Energy Limited turns out to be wasted money. The problem is, after that level of investment, it’s very hard for the government to turn round and say “actually we’ve looked at the data and dont think it’s safe to frack”.

      Actually drilling for oil in the home counties isnt actually anything new – there are actually loads of onshore wells …you’ve only just started to notice them since someone invented fracking. Singleton field springs to mind…
      http://www.energy-pedia.com/news/united-kingdom/larchford-commences-drilling-new-well-for-providence-at-singleton-oil-field
      … if you want to start making educated guesses about what other fields may be in your back yard
      http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/Oil-South-Bibliography.htm

  2. What the frack is going on? Can some one explain this fracking nonsense?

    • Arfur Towcrate says:

      Apparently Mr A E Miller can explain it all – when he’s not busy being a comedian he’s a consultant to the energy industry. Is there no end to the man’s talents? Let’s hope so.

      • mraemiller says:

        I’ve always been in oil extraction/energy. But it’s not exactly a very stable industry. Notoriously cyclical. In the 1999-2000 OPEC price war half the industry at that time was simply destroyed overnight – this caused a massive skills shortage in the industry which it’s still trying to sort out as many jumped ship to other sectors. It’s actually a very uncertain way to earn a living and so I decided I needed something more solid to fall back on.

        Whether you dig up coal, drill for oil, work downstream in refineries, stick up windmills or are Homer Simpson there’s one eternal truth of the energy industry – someone somewhere always hates you.

  3. mraemiller says:

    Okay I’m not going to argue with the whole of Charlotte Johnson’s article but since you’ve asked I’ll pick some small holes because I think someone should
    “This has led to increased levels in the atmosphere of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide”
    Gas flaring is common on many wells and this is more a global than a local problem. There are pollution risks but I would say this is not really a big problem. Well, you also get benzene pollution from car exhausts – it’s really a question of quantity and concentration. Diesel contains benzene, formaldehyde, and 1,3-butadiene—all three are poisonous to humans. I wont go into what goes on at oil refineries – you would probably hang me. There are some well known parts of Croydon where the land is still poisoned from the manufacture of Town Gas. One of the advantages of natural sources of gas is that it doesn’t cause this kind of land pollution. Swings and roundabouts?
    “Along with environmental risks, fracking leads to an increase in industrial activity” Honestly we could do with some primary industry
    “The purpose of the Lock the Gate strategy is to show that there is no social licence for the industry in the community. And once one community declares themselves frack free, neighbouring communities soon follow suit. In Australia, Metgasco and Dart Energy – who have now moved in to Scotland – were forced to move their operations elsewhere.”
    Blocking the well sites sounds like a good idea but what’s to stop them slant drilling into the field from elsewhere? You don’t need to actually be located in your own oil field to drill it any more. Haven’t any of you seen “There Will Be Blood”?
    “This wastewater not only contains the toxic and hazardous chemicals used in fracking fluid but also contains contaminants that it picks up from deep within the earth, most notably heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, salty brine and radioactive materials”
    Burning coal and many other fuels also releases radioactive waste.http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste Note this article may be slightly misleading as it doesn’t quantify the half lives of the isotopes involved. All fossil fuel extraction and exploitation creates these problems in different places along the production chain.
    Really the technology of fracking is very simple goes back to the 40s but it’s only become a big thing in the last 40 years because of the improvements in horizontal drilling and seismic visualisation. Concatenating every disaster that has happened due to fracking into one continuum may be a bit misleading. That doesn’t mean the criticisms aren’t true.
    Fracking in or close to urban areas may not be a good idea but my Refinery model says that if there was no fracking at all the oil price would be much higher. It is only the increase in gas production that is keeping the oil price low. Fracking offshore has its own environmental risks and is potentially much more dangerous – not least for the drillers themselves … but who cares about them.
    Really we wouldn’t be facing dilemmas like this at all if we’d had a coordinated energy policy over the last 15-20 years. This must be Gavin Barwell’s fault. It cant be anything to do with Malcolm Wicks who worked as Minister for Energy at the Department of Trade and Industry and Minister of State for Science and Innovation under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown or the fact that Labour administrations seem to cave in to every self interested pressure group…?
    Conservative Energy Secretary Edward Davey’s plan to allow fracking but not on a licence by licence basis leaves every group of onshore drillers drilling an exploratory hole anywhere to be set on by angry mobs of green protesters perhaps to actually no purpose for either the protesters or the drillers …which does all seem a bit stupid if you ask me. It should be monitored on a licence block by licence block basis – but that might be common sense.

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