Category Archives: Drilling

Zero till – less cost, more yield

Zero till with a Moore Unidrill; note the independent discs and seed coulters (right) and press wheels on the rear (left) giving even depth of placement and good seed-soil contact. (Photo courtesy Agri-Linc.)

Direct drilling comes in two guises; drilling after a little cultivation (“min till” really), and what in the USA would be called “zero till”.  Each has its own consequence in terms of weed control. Maybe I learned, years ago, most from a farms manager called Richard Noyce, he always had clean bottoms to his crops simply because, after harvest, he cultivated the surface several times to get weeds seeds to germinate, before putting the next crop in. The alternative of one pass to put the crop in does imply more work to do with selective herbicide – but that is probably going to happen anyway, so it is not an extra cost. Generally, in the hands of a sensitive husbandry man, zero till costs less and gives higher yields.

Good husbandry and using the right machinery is aiming at even depth of placement, good seed-soil contact, giving even emergence.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 20 August ‘18

When not to direct drill

Conventional, plough-based cultivations certainly have a place but with a high time and energy cost.

When not to direct drill?  Some years, it is wet but the harvest still has to be got in and the result is ruts.  They may have to be cultivated out but it is as well to remember that direct drilled soils are less likely to rut because of the resilience of organic matter and a “blocky” structure which distorts less under load, even when wet. Also, some soils naturally form pans which may need to be cultivated out. Last reason is to bury weed seeds – but try not to plough them up next year. Rotational cultivations may be the answer with a progression to long term direct drilling.

Persist with direct drilling next year wherever possible to help build up organic matter. (Actually it is more a question of  avoiding the oxidation of organic matter from conventional cultivations which could be 35% pa while direct drilling will be as little as 10% or less.)

Bill Butterworth,  Land Research Ltd.  August 18

Re-structure Regulation Please

Cuttings from HDD (through chalk can be used mas agricultural lime, saving many tonne-truck miles.

An “environmental commission-like-body” is needed to replace the role of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice in enforcing environmental law post-Brexit, says Environment Secretary Michael Gove.   I have recently sent a few hundred tonnes of excavated chalk to landfill because the circumstances did not fit the current interpretation of the regulations.  We really do not need any more regulators.  Maybe Brexit is a real opportunity to re-structure the regulation we have got to raise productivity within a framework of environmental care.  We could use CL:AIRE.  Look it up.  Credit to DEFRA.


Bill Butterworth, Land research Ltd, 29 November 17


Je suis le Roi de la mairde


A normal pond? Not quire – note the white colouration of the water, This is spent drilling fluid from drilling through chalk to bring cables off the North Sea wind farms.



The attached below link is to the Dutch drilling company, VSH website. The pictures (scroll down a bit) are of the drilling operation bringing cables off the North Sea wind farms to the site at Holt in North Norfolk.  This brings renewable energy to the UK consumers.  What Land Research does is to take the cuttings and spent fluids from such operations and re-use them, usually on agricultural land to replace the 2.5 million tonnes of top soil which the UK loses by wind and rain erosion, down into the sea, every year. Renewable energy with zero waste from such construction operations.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 22 June 17


Farming, the utilities and UK economic life

Dom Arnold’s JCB Fastrack and 360 excavator on its way to assist in laying cables from the North Sea wind farms under farmland in Norfolk to the National Grid to supply the economicm life of the UK.

Farming is not just food production, it is the back-bone of the economic life of the UK. It is not just the food chain which is integrated with so much of UK industry, it is the land itself.

The land is what the whole lot stands on, even the City of London and all its financial activity. It is the land across which we travel and which carries the life blood of economic activity.  It is the land across which the water, electricity and gas are channelled to carry energy to the people and their businesses.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ld. 7th June 17













Better than the alternatives

Bentonite dispensing

Adding “Bentonite” to a drilling fluid. Bentonite is a natural clay which, if you ate much, would make you constipated but it is not toxic.

The ASA, the Advertising Standards Authority, ruled in Sept 16 that the Friends of the Earth (FOE) misled the public in a leaflet which claimed fracking can cause cancer. Despite this judgement, it is certainly true that there needs to be a watchdog on everything the shale gas industry does.  Fortunately we have one – it is called the Environment Agency (EA).  Now, it is clear that in this instance, and I have no doubt in many other of their campaigns, the FOE acted to promote their own interests in a way which was not based on evidence, in short, they actively fell short of honesty. It is also true that while there are some failings in the EA as a watchdog, it is one of the most precautionary regulators in the world.

There is another point to this and that is that the UK is not the USA and the British do have the best and safest technology in the world. Just to demonstrate, one of the British-designed drilling fluids is not toxic and you or I (I have offered) could drink it.  I would not advise drinking too much because the clay in it would cause constipation – but it would not poison the drinker.

For those who are concerned about shale, look at the facts and try to make an honest, evidence-based view. Will you conclude that shale gas is without fault or difficulties?  You would be foolish.  However, you might conclude that UK-produced shale gas is a lot better for the environment and ourselves than any and all of the alternatives currently available.  And we really do need more energy and we need it now.  Quite often in life, the choice is as with the politicians we vote for – maybe one might not wish to vote for shale gas but actually vote against the alternatives.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 14 January 2017

Safe Shale ?


The lights WILL go out if we do not hurry up and do something.

Safe Shale 1; Integrity of the drill way.

I frequently get asked about the safety of shale gas exploration and its effect on land, groundwater and pollution. Well, here is a short discussion on drilling the top hole.

The vertical shaft of a drill down to shale gas is quite likely to be a kilometer, maybe two, or (in old money) a mile or so.  Maybe more. That, in itself, is not that much of a new thing.  Deep drilling for all sorts of reasons (such as geothermal drilling to bring “free” hot water to heat homes, offices and shops) has been going on, even deeper,  for a long time. (And geothermal drilling is often “fracked” and yet nobody complains about that!) What is different about drilling for shale gas is that when the vertical shaft has got to the depth that the geologist thinks is right, the drill turns, in a giant “J” shape, from being vertical to horizontal.  In the horizontal bit, the engineers want the hole to leak – inwards to collect the gas!

Common sense tells us that whatever the pollution risks are of leakage from a mile or so down back to the surface, they are very, very small.  In practice, it just is not going to happen for one very simple reason.  If it was going to happen, it would have done so already during the last few hundred, million years.

That still leaves the worry about the integrity of the vertical shaft. That certainly might travel through strata near the surface which might leak back up to the top, certainly it might drill through aquifers which might be used for human consumption; leakage certainly might cause pollution.  How likely is that “might” and can it be controlled?

Leakage of the vertical shaft after construction is known but it is rare.  After all, sinking just the vertical shaft is quite likely to cost over £10 million in the UK and, therefore, the investors and engineers are going to be quite careful.  The way of covering this risk is to pressure test the vertical shaft before turning to the horizontal drilling.  If it leaks, abandon it. In the UK. that is inflicted, independently, by law.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 27 December 16