Category Archives: Drilling

Je suis le Roi de la maird


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




Welcome Shale Gas


There is a chapter on the safety of shale gas production in the UK and another chapter on the function of government.

Shale gas exploration can yield profits for farming, Reasonable charges can be made for access and storage but there are many active operations that can earn revenues, as well.  Materials have to be unloaded and moved, top soil removed, concrete and roads laid.  As staff come to site, then B & B, catering, waste recycling, road sweeping and host of services are necessary to keep operations and staff functioning.

If you feel that some guidance on how to handle a relationship and, if there are worried people in the local area, have a look at a series of blogs at on how to manage the relationship.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 15 October 2016


Shale gas & pollution – What comes out of the well?

360 scooping from cuttings seive

Top right of the picture is a sand screen. In the pit are cuttings and spent drilling fluids from a very long way down in the earth. The thick mud was spread to land safely and in an entirely environmentally friendly way supervised by the Environment Agency.


What comes out of the hole is, hopefully, mostly gas.  Before that happens, and indeed for the life of the well, lots of other things come out. Much of the other stuff is probably not environmentally unfriendly.

Firstly, the shaft will be bored through a range of strata, some of which may contain elements or compounds which might be toxic in some way.  The drilling fluids which are used to carry the drill cuttings out of the well as it is bored (the “flowback”), will also bring out these other materials – if they are there.  Secondly, the high pressure water used in volume to create the hydraulic fracturing will also dissolve materials from the shale, especially Sodium chloride – common salt.  Anyone who dismisses these potential dangers is, at best, irresponsible, and at worst, criminal.

There are two possible approaches to dealing with these “arisings” out of the well.  Firstly, it is important to note that in the UK (and indeed all of the EU) these arisings are legally a Controlled Waste and that means subject to regulation – of which there is plenty and the Environment Agency knows that they will be watched every step of the way by a lot of aggressive people (some emotional, not very well informed and motivated by overseas interests).

The first way of dealing with the arisings is to isolate them in a restricted area.  That could be in a lagoon or enclosed space and left there forever.  In such a case, IF there is any risk, it is called a “point risk” and is always at its maximum. Alternatively, the cuttings could be used in, say, the construction of sea wall and flood defence work.  It is likely that our regulators will favour this route because it is relatively easy for those drafting the regulations to identify the risks and write the regulations to contain the risks – even if it means permanently.  The disadvantage of this route, hover, is that if there is a concentration of a material which might be toxic, it is still there as a “point risk”.

The second way is to remember that nature is remarkably resilient and, given time and enough spreading out, will deal with almost anything and to its sustainable advantage. This known as a “dispersed risk”. The route is likely to be favoured by environmental scientists with the right training and experience because it provides for the identification, management and the sustainable elimination of the risks by creating an environmental benefit.  There advantage of this route is that if (again “if”) there is a concentration of a material which might be toxic, then a “dispersed risk” can be identified and managed by competent people and processed out of existence.

This area of discussion will be very interesting to watch. It revolves around whether the arisings are seen as “wastes” (a word with negative implications) or a “resource” (a word which implies benefit and sustainability) i.e. not to be lightly lost or left un-used.

The Sunday shale gas blog from Bill Butterworth 30 February 2016

Shale gas & pollution – what goes down the well.

Bentonite dispensing

Dispensing Bentonite into the drilling fluid of a deep drilling operation. Just how environmentally friendly is this?

There are two things that can be said about shale gas and pollution.  The first is that there is a lot of rubbish, some deliberately so, talked about the dangers of drilling for shale gas.  The second is that all, repeat all, activity (and, indeed, all inactivity) has its dangers.  Basically and first of all, the dangers of pollution depend on the mechanics of the drilling operation first and the strata drilled through. Secondly, what gets put down the hole and what is done with what comes out. Over the next few weeks, this blog will be looking at some of the experience – here and overseas.

For starters, what does and does not go down the well at drilling?

Nobody ever puts radioactive material (such as Radon gas) down the well. Not ever, under any circumstances.  Historically and possibly in the USA, oil-based drilling fluids were used.  Here in the UK, the drilling fluids are normally water-based.  Some are even drinkable. Bentonite is often added.  This is a natural clay and you can eat it.  (You would quickly become constipated if you ate much but it isn’t toxic.)

There are other additives that are sometimes added but by no means always.  Sometimes, because of high temperatures, pesticides may be added but, in the UK, these are added under strict controls which demand a high degree of environmental friendliness and lack of persistence. Many thousands of gallons of water are pumped down these wells and that frequently gives rise for concern.  In the UK, there are controls which limit what happens and there is a major concern by the industry to recycle water and new technologies are being developed to help this.

Questions to ask;

  1. What does go down the well and what happens to it down there?
  2. How much water is used and where does it come from?
  3. Is there an independent body monitoring what goes on?


Bill Butterworth  3rd January 2016

Next week;  What about leaks from the system?