- Cuadrilla sneaking into Yorkshire
- Drilling rig at site in Kirby Misperton
- Well drilled for other company, Third Energy
- Passes though conventional gas field
- But goes deeper into Bowland Shale
- Unknown agreement between companies
- Threatens thousands of fracking wells
- Dart and Rathlin also in Yorkshire
- Communities getting organised to resist
While attention has been focused on their fracking activities in Lancashire and Sussex, Cuadrilla Resources have been quietly scheming with Third Energy, the owners of Viking UK Gas, to bring fracking to Yorkshire. In October 2012 Viking submitted a planning application (NY/2012/0338/FUL) to drill two new wells adjacent to their existing site at Kirby Misperton, near Pickering. This part of the long standing Ryedale conventional gas field which has been operated by Viking for the last decade. Since the largest onshore conventional gas field in the UK, Saltfleetby in Lincolnshire, had 8 wells, only around 5 of which were ever operating at one time, a couple of extra wells in the Ryedale field did not attract attention. The threat from these developments therefore seemed small and localised. The application was granted without a committee meeting last January.
It is only close examination of the documents (PDF) associated with the application which shows there is more here than than meets the eye. While the first well of the pair (which was drilled earlier in the year) targets a conventional carbonate reservoir at a depth of around 4000 ft, the second well has a considerably more complex intent. Referred to as Kirby Misperton Deep it is to be drilled to a depth of around 9,000 ft, and has multiple targets. One is the deep Skipton Moor Grits (sandstone) but the plan is to drill deeper than that and also target the Bowland Shale. This is the same rock formation that Cuadrilla have been targeting for Shale Gas extraction in Lancashire.
How is Cuadrilla connected to Third Energy’s foray into Shale Gas? One look at the drilling rig which is being used to drill the Kirby Misperton Deep well provides the answer. It is actually Cuadrilla’s Drillmec HH220 drilling rig which they have been using to drill in Lancashire. Drilling contractor Geometric Cofor does have a Drillmec HH220 rig though its ancillary equipment is painted considerably differently, but if any doubt remains it can easily be dispelled by closer inspection. On one side of the rig a temporary sign has been taped, in the position that Cuadrilla’s logo would be on their rig. Poking out from from behind that sign are three yellow stars, part of the arc of stars which are in Caudrilla’s logo (see below).
The exact nature of the deal between Cuadrilla and Third Energy which resulted in the presence of the rig is not known, but it seems unlikely that it is purely a rental agreement. Cuadrilla is an unconventional exploration company which is burning through investment capital in the hope of kick-starting shale extraction in the UK and then selling out to a much larger company for a huge profit. They are not in the business of renting drilling rigs, or even producing oil or gas, but rather gathering the data they need to convince some major corporation to buy them out. One could imagine that Third Energy are getting the use of the rig for nothing in return for Cuadrilla getting the data on the Bowland Shale, and possibly some agreement on a cut of the profit from any Shale Gas extracted from Viking’s blocks in the future.
The scale of the threat of Shale Gas in Yorkshire should not be underestimated. While no specific estimates exist for the amount of Shale Gas in Yorkshire, the recent BGS/DECC Bowland Shale Gas study estimated the total Shale Gas in place under an area of central England, including the Cleveland Basin in Yorkshire, could total 1329 trillon cubic feet (tcf). If 4 percent of this gas was recoverable it would require around 50,000 fracking wells. Some sizeable fraction of those wells would likely be in Yorkshire, since the area around Pickering in North Yorkshire is highlighted as being particularly prospective for Shale Gas in the BGS/DECC study (see below). Shale Gas wells are usually drilled at a density of up to 8 wells per square mile, industrialising huge areas of countryside.
Third Energy, who are financed by Barclays Natural Resource Investments, have previously been focused on conventional gas. However they have already been involved in pushing for deregulation to facilitate increases in resource exploitation. David Robottom Third Energy’s chief financial officer is chairman of the newly revamped UK Onshore Operators Group, which promotes unconventional oil and gas in the UK. Other licence holders in Yorkshire include Dart Energy who have a number of licence blocks targeting coal bed methane (CBM), and are one of the big three unconventional oil and gas companies in the UK, along with IGas and Cuadrilla. Rathlin Energy are another company with a large licence block in Yorkshire. However, Rathiln have so far been concentrating on conventional oil extraction.
The good news is that communities in Yorkshire are beginning to organise to resist this fracking threat. Last week a public meeting was held in Pickering, 3 miles from Kirby Misperton, to hear about the threat to the area (and the rest of the UK). Over 50 local people attended and a new group Frack Free North Yorkshire (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: Frack Free North Yorkshire, Twitter: @FFNYorkshire) has formed as a result. Frack Free North Yorkshire’s first meeting is on Saturday 14th October in Pickering. Other groups are also organising in Yorkshire including Frack Free Cleveland (Facebook), Frack Free Scarborough (Facebook) and Frack Free South Yorkshire.