Campaigners’ claim of fracking ‘Trojan horse’ scheme denied

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A CANADIAN-owned company is applying for permission to test whether two wells in East Yorkshire can be “fracked”.

Rathlin Energy (UK) wants to further explore wells it drilled last year at Crawberry Hill, near Walkington, and West Newton, near Aldbrough.

The company denied yesterday it is “fracking or testing” for shale gas.

However, documents sent by the oil and gas explorer as part of an application to the Environment Agency reveal it is applying for permits to carry out a so-called “mini fall-off test” as part of investigations at the two conventional wells, one near Beverley, and the other, tucked away in a remote location on the East Coast.

The document states that the test, also known as a “mini-frac”, will be done at 2,677m down at Walkington, and 3,055m at West Newton, in layers of rock with “extremely low permeability” which “require mechanical intervention to enhance its permeability”.

It adds: “The information gathered during the mini fall-off test will help determine whether the formation is capable of being hydraulically fractured.”

The process, which involves pumping a mixture of water and potassium chloride into the well at increasing pressure until the rock begins to crack, is expected to create up to five million cubic feet a day of gas from each well, which will be flared off, as well as fluid containing naturally occurring radioactivity, which has been trapped underground.

There has been scant publicity about the applications, which are being consulted on, and in the case of West Newton ends tomorrow.

Rathlin was granted a licence in 2008 to explore for oil and gas in a 241,000-acre area from Beverley to the North Sea – which campaign group Frack Off says would equate to 3,000 shale gas wells.

Greenpeace campaigner Lawrence Carter said: “Rathlin Energy gave their word they were not planning to frack in East Yorkshire – now it looks like they’ve been planning it all along.

“Local people will rightly be furious to have the wool pulled over their eyes by a company that appears to be using its conventional wells as a Trojan horse to creep into this area, without stirring up local opposition.”

However Rathlin insists its primary targets are “conventional” oil and natural gas “in conventional carbonate and sandstone reservoir formations”.

In a statement it said: “We are not fracking or testing for shale gas. Our Environment Agency permit applications are clear on this. They provide for a well testing programme focused on evaluating the commercial oil and natural gas potential of two conventional reservoirs, not shale gas and no fracking is involved.”

Asked about the “mini frac”, Rathlin said it was looking to acquire “important engineering data” “to help determine gas in place within the formation.”

Asked why Rathlin would not state that it would “never” frack, a spokesman said: “Rathlin is not fracking and has no intention of fracking.

“The whole process is about trying to identify the potential of the well overall.”

The UK’s nascent shale gas industry is still at the exploration stage.

But energy companies and Ministers hope large reserves could revolutionise the energy industry as it did in the US.

There shale gas has been credited with helping keep the oil price flat for the past few years.

Opponents, however, warn that as well as causing earthquakes, fracking – the hydraulic fracturing of rock with high-pressure liquid to allow more oil and gas to flow out – can pollute water supplies and blight the countryside.

Industry figures say problems have occurred where wells have not been properly constructed and have challenged suggestions fracking causes earthquakes, comparing tremors recorded during test drilling on the Fylde coast to “a bus passing at the end of the road”.

The British Geological Survey has suggested there could be as much as 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the Bowland shale, stretching from northern Wales to the North York Moors.