EXCLUSIVE: Cuadrilla to drill exploration well at Balcombe

Oil and gas exploration company Cuadrilla Resources is expected to announce today (Wednesday) that it is to drill an exploratory well at Balcombe to test for underground oil reserves.

Wednesday, 8th May 2013, 3:00 pm
Balcombe village sign

The Lower Stumble site, where drilling will take place, is the target of a vociferous campaign by groups who are opposed to the use of the technique known as fracking, properly called hydraulic fracturing.

The controversial process uses large quantities of water, sand and some chemicals to fracture rock to release gas or oil.

However, Cuadrilla, has given an “unequivocal assurance” to Balcombe Parish Council that it will not be using fracking at this stage.

A general view of the scene in Balcombe, West Sussex, where American energy company Cuadrilla Resources has permission to conduct exploratory drilling using the controversial "fracking" process. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 19, 2012. The technique involves using high-pressure liquid pumped deep underground to fracture rocks and force out gas and oil resources. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Fracking. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The latest development was revealed after a delegation from Balcombe Parish Council met with the chief executive of Cuadrilla Resources Ltd, Francis Egan, and Matt Lambert, its Government and Public Affairs director.

The meeting, at Cuadrilla’s request, was held last Friday (May 3) at Mid Sussex District Council offices in Haywards Heath.

A report by Balcombe Parish Council, which it is making public today (Wednesday) says: “BPC asked for, and was given, an unequivocal assurance that current plans do not involve any Fracking on the site. Cuadrilla advised that the necessary applications had been submitted to the Environment Agency and the Health & Safety Executive, and that on the day of the meeting an application for drilling consent was being submitted to the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC). These applications do not include a proposal to Frack the well.”

BPC says it made it categorically clear to Cuadrilla that it was committed to opposing the use of fracking after a poll of village residents showed them to be overwhelmingly against the process.

Cuadrilla now plans to open a dialogue with Balcombe residents and to write to every household.

It says it wants to hold a drop-in session, possibly as soon as May 23, and to address some of the scare stories about fracking.

Worries have emanated mainly from the USA where fracking for shale gas has released reserves that are now changing the US economy, with gas prices falling by 25 per cent, but where mining practice is less controlled.

Some other countries around the world have brought in moratoria on the use of fracking until the implications of the process are more fully understood.

Anxiety amongst the population in this country concerns potential pollution of the water tables above fracking bores; use of potentially harmful chemicals during drilling; fears of the release of naturally occurring underground compounds including carcinogens such as mercury and arsenic; noise, traffic and air pollution as well as earthquakes from strata disturbance.

Cuadrilla has an Exploration Licence for the Lower Stmble site, one mile from the centre of Balcombe, and was granted planning permission for an exploration well in 2010.

Critical now is the expiry of that planning permission on September 28 this year when Cuadrilla would need to clear the site or reapply.

The company, which is already active at a number of sites in Lancashire, Holland and Poland, hopes to find oil in the micrite layer under Lower Stumble, and not gas in shale as has been said previously by various commentators.

For the exploration it will drill down 3,000ft and then across horizontally for a further 2,000ft.

The horizontal bore will be made at a depth of 2,500ft in a direction between west and northwest under land owned by Balcombe Estate, on whose land Lower Stumble lies.

Samples of rock will be extracted with a 7.5 per cent to 15 per cent solution of hydrochloric acid being used to stimulate the rock. Cuadrilla says the solution is non-hazardous.

How easily the oil flows out of the micrite will then be used to determine whether it is commercially viable for the company to take exploration further and whether oil can be extracted in large enough quantities to make it a commercial proposition.

Cuadrilla has told Balcombe parish councillors that it will then have three options:

(1) If there was negligible oil flow the well will be capped and abandoned;

(2) If there was sufficient natural flow further exploration wells may be drilled at other locations to assess how much oil might be commercially extracted without Fracking;

(3) If there was insufficient natural flow consideration would be given to applying for permission to frack the

well at a separate future date.

Outcomes two and three would require a completely new application process including, for option three, an Environmental Impact Assessment. BPC has been told that this will take “a substantial amount of time”.

Cuadrilla is also proposing to drill down 200ft into the acquifer for what it describes as a small water monitoring well.

This will be done any day now before the main exploratory drilling activities start in June and which will take a further eight weeks.

The exploration process will necessitate about 60 HGV movements for delivery and removal of the rig, each taking one week, and about two a day while drilling is being carried out.

The company G4S is going to operate security at the site on behalf of Cuadrilla.

Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude, who is the constituency MP for Balcombe, has been told of Cuadrilla’s intentions.