- Rathlin Energy push fracking in East Yorkshire
- Returns to West Newton site drilled last year
- 40 HGV’s escorted by 100 police swoop on site
- Planning mini-frac on the Bowland Shale layer
- Aims to test if the shale layer can be fractured
- Cuadrilla’s fracking rig now erected on the site
- Rented to Rathlin to conduct the mini-frac test
- More oil & gas companies getting into fracking
- Community at Crawberry Hill under same threat
- Camps supporting blockades outside both sites
- 150 people march in nearby town of Beverley
- Communities mobilising to resist this threat
With the arrival of Cuadrilla Resources fracking rig on Rathlin Energy’s site at West Newton in East Yorkshire the battle over the region’s future has ratcheted up a gear. Rathlin drilled two wells in the area last summer, ostensibly targeting conventional oil. However, the wells were drilled considerably deeper than was strictly necessary, allowing them to take core samples of the Bowland Shale. More recently when Rathlin submitted an application for environmental permits to do testing on the wells, it was exposed that it intends to carry out so-called “mini-falloff tests” on the Bowland Shale in the two wells.
A mini-falloff test is oil services company Schlumberger’s name for a mini-frac (called a Diagnostic Fracture Injection Test (DFIT) by their competitors Haliburton). It involves injecting fluid at increasing pressure until the rock begins to crack. The well is then sealed and the pressure monitored for a couple of weeks as the fluid leaks into the cracks. As is stated in Rathlin’s permit application (PDF – page 12) the purpose of the mini-frac is to “determine whether the formation is capable of being hydraulically fractured”. Having already measured the gas content of the shale from the core sample last year, the mini-frac results would be a significant step towards shale gas extraction in Yorkshire.
This news kicked local resistance into a much higher gear, with a number of groups forming in the area, and camps setup outside the Rathlin’s two sites (West Newton and Crawberry Hill). After almost two months of waiting, with various false alarms, two convoys totaling 40 HGVs along with an escort of around 100 police descended on the West Newton site on Wednesday (2nd July). Amongst the equipment brought onto the site was a workover rig to facilitate the mini-frac. It soon became clear that this rig was Cuadrilla’s workover rig which it has previously used for its hydraulic fracturing operation at Preese Hall in Lancashire (the one that caused the earthquakes).
Massively slowed by the level of community opposition they have experienced in Lancashire and Sussex, Cuadrilla appear to have got into the business of renting their equipment, and possibly their expertise (such as it is), via their drilling contractor PR Marriott to other companies looking to get into fracking. Last summer it was exposed that Cuadrilla’s main HH220 drilling rig was being used by a company called Third Energy to drill a well in Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire. As with Rathlin’s wells in East Yorkshire, the well at Kirby Misperton was drilled much deeper than its conventional target in order to core sample the Bowland Shale.
As more and more companies, previously focused solely on small scale conventional oil and gas, have been tempted by the lure of fracking, any distinction between conventional and unconventional exploration is being eroded. Rathlin’s foray into fracking is clearly quite speculative, given that the British Geological Survey doesn’t highlight the area in its Bowland shale report. However, the fact that Rathlin have taken core samples and returned to test whether they can fracture the shale, suggests that it does contain gas. For the residents of East Yorkshire this threat is not something they can safely ignore.
On Saturday (5th July) 150 people march through Beverley in East Yorkshire in opposition to Rathlin’s plans. Communities across the region are getting organised to resist this fracking threat, of which these mini-fracs could be just the first step. Commercial scale fracking could see the region coated with hundreds or thousands of wells, along with pipelines, compressor stations and associated infrastructure, which has a resulted in the toxic and radioactive nightmare seen in the US, Canada and Australia.