Those 200 fracked wells – or not?

Having heard Peter Lilley asserting that we have had 200 wells fracked already in this country without anybody noticing I thought I would go straight to the horse’s mouth to try to get some substantiation for this claim.

In the Daily Telegraph of 10th August 2013 Peter Style, Professor in Applied and Environmental Geophysics at Keele University, stated :

“It is not a new technology, we have had 200 wells fracked in England and no one has even noticed.
You cannot get a nicer place than under Corfe Castle in Poole Bay but no one is phoning up the Government to complain.”

Professor Styles holds a senior academic post, so he is presumably aware that claims that are made without substantiation are open to question.

We wrote to him and asked

Dear Professor Styles

I read with interest your comments about fracking in the recent Telegraph article “The town where ‘fracking’ is already happening” of 10th August

I read that “It is not a new technology, we have had 200 wells fracked in England and no one has even noticed.” and that at Wytch farm they have “regularly pumped water into wells to “fracture” the rock and force out oil and gas.”

This is all very interesting. I had been under the impression that production at Wytch Farm was using electric submersible pumps (ESP) technology – not fracking – to maximise flow rates. I trust it is not being suggested that ESP is analogous to HVHF?

I wonder if I could trouble you to let me know how many wells at Wytch Farm have been stimulated using hydraulic fracturing and when this was?

I am aware of 2 fracked wells at Preese Hall and Elswick in Lancashire, and now of course an unspecified number at Wytch Farm. Could you perhaps clarify for me where the remaining wells are and when they were fracked?

I would also be interested to learn the maximum quantity of fluid injected in any of these wells for a single frack.

Kind regards

His response was hardly a model of academic rigour and openness


I do my own research and perhaps you might too


We have replied again

Dear Professor Styles

When you are a senior academic and you allow yourself to be quoted as such in the national press, I don’t think it is too much to expect that you should reply to questions about the content of your statements, particularly when they are controversial, in a polite and respectful way.

You cannot fail to be aware that there is little if any evidence in the public domain on this subject. Believe me I have looked which is why asked you the question

As an academic you must appreciate that unsubstantiated claims are not really credible and your reply does rather suggest that you are unable to support the statements that you made.

Perhaps you might like to try again?

We’ll let you know if he replies again, and if that reply is a little more polite and useful. In the meantime we can perhaps take it that our original questions are not ones that he really wants to answer. Now why would that be?

Well – it seems he didn’t like the tone of our reply:

I don’t know who you are as you don’t say, [to be fair I did send this from a personal email address and when he did find out he did say “But see if you had explained who you were and why you are concerned you might not have got such a dusty answer. I have NGO’s and Pressure Groups emailing me ad nauseam. I am always ready to try to give objective information to genuine questions but not when they only want to try to misrepresent me (which is very often)” ]

I don’t why you want to know apart from curiosity and I don’t know in what context you are asking. It might behove you to say these things when you send accusative emails and you might get more response. Perhaps you might let me know a little more about yourself before accusing me of being evasive.

My email had you in the SPAM box by the way so you may have been marked as such previously by GMail; you may know why.

It is a Sunday, I am also on holiday (not just as its a sunday ) and I get dozens of emails like yours insisting that I reply to them without any indication of the who,what or why. If someone came up to you in the street and insisted that you answer questions would you ? Your approach is the email equivalent of doorstepping.

However, here is some relevant information

The quote is from the Royal Society Report on Shale Gas (see extract below) so perhaps you might take it up with them, . However, I personally monitored BP’s first hydraulic fracturing in Beckingham in 1988 with PhD students and have knowledge of several more, many of which will have had multiple wells (also see below).

Inadvertent small scale (and sometimes more extensive) fraccing also occasionally occurs during drilling when mud pressures ( to retain formation fluids) exceed the strength of the rock formation as there may be only a small ‘mud window’ where optimal pressure occur.

You should also note (but I doubt that you will) that fraccing during Engineered Geothermal Systems where heat is extracted from Granites (ie Cornwall) has taken place in the UK during the Hot Dry Rock project and in fact cannot take place without fraccing to develop fractures to permit the input of cold and extraction of hot (warm!) water as granites and similar rocks are very impermeable.

Royal Society 200

Royal Society 200 Wells

Beckingham, Lincolnshire: oil field, 1988 (with horizontal drilling)

Wytch Farm oil field, Dorset (with horizontal drilling)

Rosemanowes, Cornwall, 1977-1980: geothermal energy project

Airth, Falkirk, 1997-2003: coal-bed methane

Elswick Formby Nitrogen Frac

hydraulic fracturing in West Sussex, UK in 1991

multi-stage gelled-water fracturing job in Cheshire, UK in 1992.

and of course Preese Hall 2011 where we monitored the seismicity remotely initially from Keele, and then with close seismometers.

We appreciate Professor Styles’ responding on a Sunday so we replied

Dear Professor Styles

Thank you for taking the time on a Sunday to provide some of the information I requested. I didn’t actually ask you to do so in your own time or immediately, but I am appreciative of the fact that you did.

As you suggest I shall now take this up further with the Royal Society who will I am sure be able to substantiate their own figures.

I must say that I find the use of the existence of previous minor fracking operations to infer that concerns about future, vastly different operations, are unfounded to be disingenuous in the extreme. Your comment “You cannot get a nicer place than under Corfe Castle in Poole Bay but no one is phoning up the Government to complain” does appear to be inviting that inference, or have I misunderstood that statement?

To put that into context let’s take Elswick, with which you say you are familiar as an example, and look just at fluid use – the fluid used there in 1993 totalled 160 m3. Comparing this to the 19,000 m3 that the GWPF say is required for a HVHF frack job, It is evident that suggesting that this well is a meaningful comparator with what Cuadrilla would have to do now to extract the volumes they claim is quite unsustainable.

Cuadrilla would need to use at least as much water for 100 x 40 well pads as would have been used in nearly half a million Elswick fracks. That alone shows how unsustainable this “we’ve done it all before” suggestion is.

Am I being unfair to you – if so maybe you can explain why?

I was already aware that geothermal extraction can cause fractures. Thank you.

Kind regards

The correspondence continued but rather deteriorated as Prof Styles became irritated when he realised that I was “much better informed than ‘mere curiosity’ would imply”, and he did make some comments about a government minister which he wouldn’t thank me for repeating here (although I did for once agree with him)

Just for further context, here is what was revealed in an FoI request from the DECC in July 2012

Shale gas exploration drilling is only taking place in a small number of locations within the UK at present. The most active drilling area and the only one where hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas has been carried out is at Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall 1 well near Blackpool…..Cuadrilla are the only company in the UK to so far use fracking in exploring for shale gas – at the Preese Hall site in Lancashire.

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