An Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at Glasgow university recently criticised Cuadrilla’s operations at Balcombe, stating that the company’s knowledge is “inadequate for purpose required”. The company’s drilling plans are also based on “insecure” geological interpretations, ignore relevant underground faults and may risk contaminating ground water.
Professor David Smthye went on: “The interpretation of the geological structure (at Balcombe) is insecure” (since the company is only in possession of 2D seismic data). “Horizontal drilling cannot reasonably be carried out without a 3D seismic survey”.
Furthermore the company “seems to have taken no account of the published maps of the British Geological Survey” and their interpretation “omits faults near the well site, some of which cut through the existing well.”
The lack of fault analysis at the level of it’s Balcombe well is significant. “If fracking carried out at a later date, any faults intersected may act as fast -track conduits to the surface for contaminated frack water,” went on Prof Smthye.
At around 3000 feet deep, Cuadrilla’s Balcombe well is a particularly shallow fracking site. In the US, for example, frack sites are usually three or more times deeper.
A study from Durham university in 2012 noted that fractures can extend up to 1928 feet, or within within two football pitches of the surface at Balcombe.
With inadequate geological knowledge, the company is unable to accurately predict seismic activity around its Balcombe well nor the risk of leaks.
Not that the company – or the authorities – seem to know that. Indeed, these most recent revelations follow a string of company actions for which they have failed to receive sanction, including failing to report earthquakes it caused in Lancashire, losing a piece of equipment down a (now abandoned) well, breaking conditions of its planning permission at Balcombe and several others.
As this week’s Private Eye points out it’s not just the company that is unfit for purpose – so are the regulators allegedly overseeing Cuadrilla’s actions.
Professor Smythe has formerly worked at the British Geological Survey, including on work commissioned by DECC, and is a former advisor to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on North Sea drilling and its geology.