On 4th May the British Geological Survey (BGS) received more than 100 reports of an earthquake near Gatwick Airport. Measuring 2.5 on the Richter Scale, the tremor is the latest of 34 earthquakes in the area in the last 12 months.
Oil company Horse Hill Developments (HHD) has been drilling wells close to (and possibly through) a nearby geological fault about 3 miles north of the airport. But because HHD were allegedly not working on their wells at the time of the first earthquake, on April 1st 2018, the BGS (in cahoots with the industry regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority, OGA) maintain that the subsequent 33 earthquake can have no connection to their activities, and that they are ‘natural’.
A resident’s account of the Gatwick Earthquakes’ impact on her home 3 miles from Gatwick Airport, see more here
Leaving common sense aside, this is part of a careful strategy by a government that prides itself on ‘world class’ oversight of the oil and gas industry but which might equally termed ‘don’t look don’t see’.
The regulator’s claim that the earthquakes are not connected to the Horse Hill site because there was no work going on at the time of the first earthquake is frankly fraudulent. In reality, the regulator doesn’t know whether work was going on or not (or if they do they are not saying).
This fact is not missed by people in Surrey. At a meeting in late May near the drilling site, frustrated Conservative district councillors called for “the oil company to release the drilling data,” and to “tell us what’s going on.” Meanwhile Surrey County Council is considering a planning application for HHD to drill a further five wells. The decision was recently deferred after more than a thousand people objected to the plans.
Was there work onsite at the time of the first earthquake?
There has been plenty of work on the well before the events of 1st April 2018, a flow test having taken place in 2016, amongst other operations (see bottom of page 2 of this).
Then, on the 5-6 April 2018, the BGS/OGA say HHD carried out pressure tests (same source). The company reported that it found no pressure. But – crucially – the BGS/OGA are not required to monitor this type of pressure-related activity. So if HHD was working on the well before 5th April, they would not have been required to report it.
Indeed, the fact that there was no pressure in the well – which had previously had to vent to reduce pressure – indicates that something had indeed happened before the 5th April.
But while authorities and various academics pronounce “no connection” between the earthquakes and Horse Hill Developments, the key point is that they are not actually looking.
They exhonerate HHD by examining only part of what they do.
Yet pressure-related work is suspected of causing seismic activity. From within the BGS/ OGA working group that investigated the earthquakes, Professor Stuart Hazeldine, proposes just that (Hazeldine’s opinion was apparently overruled).
Are Regulators simply a front for the Oil and Gas Industry?
This studious obfuscation by regulators is not perhaps surprising. Both the BGS and OGA are stuffed full of oil and gas representatives. BGS Board member Olivier Peyret is an executive of oil services group Schlumberger. The BGS Director of Science and Technology Mike Stephenson has written such bedtime classics as “Unconventional Fossil Fuels: The Next Hydrocarbon Revolution” and “Frack responsibly and risks and quakes are small”. BGS consultant James Verdon actually works for Horse Hill Developments (chairing their “Working Group on Microseismic Monitoring and Hydraulic Fracture Mapping”) and hundreds of reports written by BGS staff are funded by the industry.
A useful peice of research would be to examine links between the oil industry and these supposedly august institutions.
The BGS has released no annual accounts for five years; it’s website shows various ‘sponsorships’ (by the oil and gas industry) of one of its sub projects, the Edinburgh Anistronomy Project.
And what happens when this kind of institutational corruption develops? A persistent pattern of delay, blather – or simply ignoring crucial aspects. We only know most of the above due to the impressive tenacity of a local residents group, Brockham Oil Watch.
The reality is that the scantily -clad ‘regulators’ of the oil and gas industry are only ‘world class’ because they are so utterly shameless.
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