Thursday, September 05, 2013

Oil, gas and fracking Lincolnshire, part 6

Biscathorpe, the New Balcombe.

Lincolnshire County Council have now published the Planning Application from Egdon Resources Plc., for an oil well at Biscathorpe. I've put lot's of serious information on this website, with a map and pictures. Here I'll just have a little rant.

Now bear in mind what I wrote in The Elephant in the Landscape, that there are lots of local environmental issues related to fracking in particular and on shore oil and gas exploitation generally, but that none of these will end life on Earth. The really important thing is that any further extraction and burning of fossil fuels will add to global warming and that does risk ending life on the planet. So, having thus thought globally, we must now act locally and make sure that the Biscathorpe well is never drilled.

That said, lets look at the reasons why Egdon's planned well site is just about the worst possible location one can imagine.

Firstly, this whole area is really, really beautiful. It's right in the middle of an Area of Outstanding Beauty so maybe that's to be expected, but this exact spot defies the superlatives. Two streams, headwaters of the River Bain, come together in a wide area of open grassland. The spot must have been valued long ago as it is overlooked by low hills with Bronze and Iron Age remains and covered with the tell-tale bumps and lumps of an LMV, a Lost Medieval Village. The only buildings in view are the little church and the Church Cottage. This was unoccupied for several years but has just been refurbished and is available to rent as luxury holiday accommodation.

And here I shall quote from Egdon's Planning Statement "The closest residential property is Church Cottage which lies approximately 500m to the west of the Site, but is currently abandoned." Wrong. Not in the least bit abandoned and I don't suppose 'view over oil drill site' is included in the luxury holiday accommodation's brochure.

And while on the matter of quoting from Egdon's Planning Statement, it rather seems that they wish to convey to those County Councillors on the Planning Committee who are unfamiliar with the site, the idea that this is a rather forsaken corner, perhaps even part of the 'desolate north-east'. Take this, "Approximately 500m to the north west of the Application Site the more open areas of countryside are contrasted by the site of a disused sand and gravel quarry, known as Top Pit. This quarry comprises a number of industrial units, ponds and significant areas of landscaping including woodland." The 'number of industrial units' is actually the old weighbridge office of the quarry and the outbuildings of the residential dwelling. The 'landscaping' is just what got left after the quarry was abandoned many years ago. It is all overgrown and forms the most marvellous nature reserve with second to none biodiversity, a combination of low-nutrient soils and little or no human interference, what with not being on public access land. All of which is nothing to do with the proposed drill site because it is over the hill and beyond the wood, out of sight and not immediately relevant. 

Egdon helpfully tell us that "The sparsely populated nature of the landscape determines that the number of occupants of residential properties forming highly sensitive visual receptors would be limited." Doh! That's the point - this is a beauty spot because nobody lives here!

And on archaeology Egdon admit that: "A desk based archaeological assessment has been undertaken", i.e. they haven't had anybody who knows anything actually visit the site. At least they noticed that the site is adjacent to a medieval village and therefore, "given the nature of the development the proposals do have the potential to have an impact on archaeological remains, though this is largely confined to top soil and sub soil stripping of the area". Right, so they realise they might destroy the archaeology and yet that won't stop them. After all, they also pointed out that "The remains of the medieval village of Biscathorpe lie approximately 300m to the north west. However, these remains are not designated as a Scheduled Monument." No designation so no bother.

So back to the site. Lorries. To prepare the site Egdon say they will be bringing over 200 lorryloads of material to construct the 'platform' (that's the area of hard surface they work on) and the roadway from the public road to the field. An all these lorries have to come down the tiny road known as Gayton Lane and across two fords. All utterly picturesque and utterly unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles. In fact it would be hard to pick a spot anywhere on Lincolnshire's road network less suitable. These fords were not designed with 32 tonne artics in mind, especially not after it's been raining!

Here's a picture of one of the fords. Imagine an articulated tanker carrying 34 tonnes of crude oil in the middle of that picture.

Egdon point out that the construction traffic will only be temporary and, of course, Egdon will have a restriction in the planning grant that they have to reinstate any damage to the road. Fine, except that will completely alter the character of the road. And what is not temporary is the continuing traffic of oil tankers that will be needed to take oil from the site once production starts. No pipelines will be involved - it will be tankers by road till the oil runs out.

To the site. There's a standard practice for these sort of site to reduce the risk of pollution. The whole site is covered with a thick polythene sheet and the hardcore put on top. Surrounding the site they dig a ditch, again polythene lined. This means that any rain landing on the site can only drain off into the ditch, taking with it any oil or other spilled chemicals, preventing these potential pollutants escaping. The ditch is periodically pumped out into road tankers and taken away to a 'licensed disposal site'. Fine. Unless something goes wrong. Of course accidents in the oil industry are extremely rare but any risk analysis has to take into account not only the likelihood of an accident but also the consequences. If there were to be, heavens forfend, a major incident such as an explosion, then the little ditch and bund walls would be of little use. Pollution could rapidly enter the stream that runs alongside the site, and on into the Bain, causing an ecological catastrophe in almost the whole length of the River Bain and the Lower river Witham within hours. It would be hard to pick a more vulnerable site with respect to potential river pollution. 

Egdon make much of the 'temporary' nature of the proposal, as if they do not actually intend to find any oil and spend the next couple of decades producing it. Nooo, it will be a dry well, they will restore all to its pristine glory and be gone in a few months. Come of it, no oil company is going to do work like this unless they have a case that has convinced their investors that oil will be found and a handsome return on capital will ensue. It would be absurd for Lincolnshire County Council to grant planning permission for this 'temporary' exploration well if the intention would be to refuse a subsequent application for a production well and its ancillary facilities. This is not even the thin end of a wedge.

And then there is fracking. For sure, the current proposal is for conventional oil in reservoir rocks and that's all that Egdon are talking about in their planning application. But what they are telling their investors is that there are 2 to 3 kilometres of gas-rich shale source rock of the Bowland Formation in this, the southern extension of the Gainsborough Trough underlying the site. Egdon's Petroleum Exploration and Development License covers both oil and the gas below. They will naturally take the low hanging fruit of easily obtained conventional oil before moving on to fracking for the gas sometime later.

And what about the water and the earthquakes, I hear you cry. Ah yes, but even though the drill will pass through significant aquifer horizons the drilling fluids will be isolated by the steel and concrete of the well casing. And such things never break. Do they? And the potential earthquakes resulting from fracking really are very small and should not be worried about. Except that this area is close the fault that produced the Market Rasen earthquake and we actually have a very limited understanding of how tiny movements can trigger larger ones.

(There will be more, in the meantime please check out the website and the facebook group.)


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