Tag Archives: drilling

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













The Bottom Line

Website 004

Farming is certainly about “countryside” but it is also about survival and production to feed the people of the world.

Circel rainbow and phyllosophy

Back in the late 1980’s, I was advising ICI Plant Protection, as was, about direct drilling and their translocated, green-leaf killer, Gramoxone.  We ran a competition called “The Bottom Line” and the prize was a Moore Unidrill (which, incidentally, is still a brilliantly designed drill). The challenge put to 50 farmers was to take one field and cut the number of passes compared with the rest of the farm just by one pass.  We made a comparison of the reduced pass field with a neighbouring field. The farmer chose the passes and how they cut down on energy input.  We calculated yield based on ears per sq m and calculated MOEC – Margin Over Establishment Costs (pass costs calculated from John Nix’s Pocket Book – the farm management “bible” of the time).  The average improvement of MOEC of the reduced pass fields was 11% and the winner showed a commendable 19%.  A very interesting observation from some of the farms was that when the number of passes on one field was cut, the yield on other fields went up.  Timeliness in cultivations was vital then and, it will be progressively important as global warming advances as evidenced by this last twelve months of oscillating weather.

The Wednesday sustainability blog – Bill Butterworth –

The original patent on the Moore direct drill was really clever – the depth of placement of seed remained the same regardless of the level of seed in the hopper. Getting the crop in at the right time and with even depth and moisture round the seed is key to rapid, even establishment and  yield.

Shale gas is BEO



Do you heat your home by gas? How long would it take to change your house and several million others to renewable electricity – if we had it? (Which we don’t.)

Why is shale gas BEO (Best Environmental Option) and an environmental necessity in the UK? There is a stark choice looming.  Solar and wind turbine farms do not produce gas. Around two thirds/ three quarters of UK homes are heated by gas. Just suppose we had the renewable energy capability which was also sustainable (you get more out then you put in), which we do not have yet, but even if we did, how long would it take to change all those domestic properties to renewable and sustainable electricity?  Never mind the cost (which would be substantial), how long would it take to change several million households? Without any doubt, any doubt whatsoever, several generations.

A significant proportion of our gas is imported.  No other country in the world has technology as good as the UK drilling industry.  No other country in the world is as well regulated and inspected as the UK.  There are British drilling fluids you can drink. (Not too much at once – you would get constipated but not poisoned.)  Logically, if we have a higher degree of environmental friendliness, have our shale gas not someone else’s.  Shale gas is a clean burn “transition fuel” which will buy us the time and give us the cash to develop sustainable renewable energy – provided we do not squander the cash on something else. (Not to mention North Sea oil?) Keeping jobs here is a bonus and not an insignificant one.

Want some more figures?  Go to www.shalegas.co.uk.

Bill Butterworth 6th February 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 and pollution – the top hole

Euope ast might 2

The EU plus a bit at night. Some believe we can deliver this sort of consumption of energy with what they call “renewables”. Maybe but not yet, we need time to develop sustainable renewables – we have not got enough yet.

Does the well leak?   The answer, surprisingly to some, is yes it does. However, if the drilling engineers know what they are doing, leakage occurs where they want it and only where they want it.

The top hole does not leak simply because it is steel pipes surrounded by concrete with each phase pressure tested before drilling proceeds to the next stage. This is serious stuff because if any stage fails, then the whole well is almost certain to be abandoned and many millions of £ Sterling.  However, to proceed and have a failure later on would be even more expensive.

Depending on the strata drilled through and the ultimate predicted depth, the vertical shaft may go down more than 1000 meters before it starts to turn in a gigantic letter “J” and then running as a lateral following the shale seam which may or may not be near horizontal. Now here is another difference between the original drilling in the USA (where each vertical well had only one lateral and maybe only one mile long) and here in the UK (Where we will drill up to a dozen laterals from one vertical well hole and each lateral may be up to 10 kilometers long).

Returning to leak risks, one of the functions of the drilling fluid (with its primary function to lubricate the drill bit that does the cutting of the rock) is to seal the hole left by the drill.  Seal, that is, where the drilling engineers want to seal (which is the vertical or top hole). In the laterals, the design wants leakage but into the hole, ie. This is where the gas comes in.

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?