What Europa & partners are intending to do at Leith Hill doesn’t officially count as fracking, under the definition recently introduced by the Government. However, it does appear that they intend to use unconventional extraction techniques to extract ‘tight oil’ – oil trapped in source rocks which need to be broken down in some way to get at the oil.
In normal conversation, the word ‘fracking’ is used to cover all types of unconventional extraction, so you might hear some people call what’s happening fracking. Others prefer the term ‘acidisation’. Either way it’s bad news.
In their application to the Environment Agency, Europa describe wanting to carry out an acid wash (a standard procedure to clean wells) and also an ‘acid squeeze‘. ‘Acid squeeze’ is described in the application as ‘ applying the acid to the formation under pressure not exceeding the fracture pressure of the formation, resulting in the acid being squeezed through the natural fractures within the formation and increasing the near hole permeability’. In other words, what’s intended is matrix acidising, where rock is dissolved using an acid solution, though not under a pressure that would cause it to count as fracking under the current definition.
Like fracking, acidisation risks water pollution through spills on the ground and leakage from the well if there are flaws in its construction or as the well concrete degrades over time. It also risks air pollution as gases from underground leak out into the atmosphere. A huge increase in heavy traffic and noise pollution are also serious concerns.
More chemicals are used when acidising than when fracking. However, because Europa are not required to apply for a groundwater permit, they are not required to disclose all chemicals that will be used along with the acid solution.
The fact that a groundwater permit is not required is mind boggling considering that the company plan to drill through the water-bearing Greensand rock which feeds into nearby springs and rivers and the water supply for the surrounding area (see ‘Leith Hill drilling poses risk to water supply says water company‘).
There’s more information about fracking and acidising in the Weald Action Group leaflet Fracking under the Radar
There is also a wider threat – like all new oil and gas exploration, this is completely the wrong direction to follow when we are facing runaway climate change which is already taking lives and causing geopolitical instability as livelihoods are ruined due to extreme and unusual weather.
A summary of Europa’s Environment Agency applications can be seen here:
The application documents are here: