Croydon, the new Dallas?

By - Monday 27th July, 2015

Robert Ward isn’t buying a ten-gallon hat just yet, but there might be black gold in this here valley

Photo author’s own.

Croydon has opportunities, lots of them. Vast numbers of retail jobs on the horizon. Thriving startups hungry for investment. A construction and property boom. And maybe – just maybe – oil production.

Yes, really.

But don’t expect a bonanza any time soon. A company has licensed the area around Croydon for exploration (which, I should stress, could mean nothing more than studying existing information). A well drilled near Gatwick Airport recently generated a lot of press attention, but it’s a long process from exploration through to production. Proving that there is sufficient oil, and that it can be produced at a commercial rate, requires a lot more work.

There’s an old oil industry saying: “the best place to look for oil is where you’ve already found some”. Oil has been produced in our area for many years. You will probably have driven past an oilfield near junction six of the M25 many times. Most are small; the exception being the North Sea-sized Wytch Farm Field, Europe’s biggest, under Poole harbour.

What characterises unconventional fields is low permeability, so the oil flows rather sluggishly

These fields are called ‘conventional’ to distinguish them from the ‘unconventional’ fields which have been developed extensively in the United States in the last few years. What characterises unconventional fields is low permeability, so the oil flows rather sluggishly, from a reservoir that is spread over a large area. Commercial production is achieved through more wells which require some kind of encouragement to increase the flow rate.

The encouragement technique (usually) is hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’. Fracking has been around for decades. It is routinely used in conventional fields on an ad hoc basis but it is used in almost every well in an unconventional field. Horizontally drilling is another technology that is used frequently in conventional fields, but which is used in every unconventional field.

The rest of ‘unconventional’ field development is very conventional. Indeed, it is a lesson in innovation that the unconventional developments that have revolutionised production in the United States consisted of taking conventional techniques and applying them in a different way.

Fracking has attracted attention, not least because the word lends itself to innuendo on placards – but some concerns are right

The wells are drilled in groups from a single surface location, typically eight wells from an area about half the size of the Tesco car park in Purley. The site needs to be close to a good road, and not too close to dwellings. Since noise and visual impact of the drilling rig is the main impact during the month or so that it takes to drill each well, a site shielded by trees is ideal.

Fracking involves pumping at high pressure into the reservoir rock to create fractures, which are then held open with a ‘proppant’, usually sand. To put this into perspective, these roughly vertical fractures are few in number, more than a mile below ground, the width of a grain of sand and perhaps a hundred feet high. Once the pressure is released the oil flows back into the well at a higher rate than before through the fractures, now held open by the proppant.

Fracking has attracted attention, not least because the word lends itself to innuendo on placards. Indeed, unrelated issues are lumped in with it for this same reason: it makes for better slogans. Most concerns, rightly in my opinion, are around water. There are worries over how to source the required water, and what to do with the water that flows back afterwards.

As far as I know there are no plans to drill in or around Croydon

Studies have shown that the UK has more than enough supply water. Since the quantity and composition of the water that flows back during the lifetime of the well depend on local conditions, it is not possible to say today precisely how it would be dealt with. But minimising, treating, and safely disposing of it would be part of the development plan and subject to the approval of local and national government.

The question often asked of ‘fracking advocates’ such as myself, is whether I would be happy for it to happen near me. The answer is yes: indeed, I already have lived close to such activities.

My picture above is from when I worked in the United States. This well is far closer to homes than would happen here. I have also lived in close proximity to oil fields in the Netherlands and South-East Asia. In the Netherlands the houses were also close; yet some people living there did not know the field was there, having moved in after the drilling had been completed. Did you know about the field by junction six, or are the residents of Poole aware of Wytch Farm?

But back to current reality. The well near Gatwick has found some oil that could be exploited by conventional methods, and as far as I know there are no plans to drill in or around Croydon. So although downtown Croydon looks more like downtown Dallas every day, it will be some time before we have our very own Oilman’s Club.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager, started work on the railway but most of career in oil exploration and production. For the last fifteen years specialised in helping businesses improve their performance. Conservative Party candidate to represent Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

More Posts

  • reviewqueen

    The list of reasons why allowing a multi – billion dollar corporation to search for more oil anywhere -let alone a densely populated area like croydon- is too lengthy to get into on a comments section underneath a news article. And to talk of the impacts on local environment (water, wildlife and air pollution) is to ignore the global impact that every new exploration or new well has. The economic benefits are also often overstated and, even when they are, pale in comparison to the positive economic impact of investment in renewable energy. Research in Canada has shown that every million dollars spent in Renewables, public transit and energy efficiency provide 6-8 times the number of jobs than the same money spent in fossil fuels. I could go on. All the evidence is out there. The fossil fuel industry is dirty and doomed, it’s wrecking our planet, and its contributing massively to the widespread inequality and expensive energy that our country (and indeed the whole world) suffers. One last point: (after I said i wouldnt go into it) the current world fossil fuel reserves, when burned, will produce 26 Billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Scientists now widely agree that in order to keep below 4oC of climate warming we can only produce 5 Billion tonnes. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground and start developing and investing in renewables. So of there are plans, even to explore, we should not welcome this with open arms and a grateful smile.

    • moguloilman

      My article is about the opportunities for Croydon. I feel able to comment on the risks and benefits of oil and gas production but you appear to belong to the bad, bad, bad school so it’s rather hard to see an coherent argument in there. I will do my best.

      Remarks like “Research in Canada has shown ..” and “All the evidence is out there” I find difficulty with. Let us take your Research in Canada example.

      If the case for renewables was so strong then it would be a no brainer. Renewables investment would be attracting all the money. Perhaps it is and the economics will decimate the oil business in a few short years. No problem for you then. I suspect this is not the case. It also ignores the uses of oil that are not replaceable by renewables, plastics, jet fuel, bunker fuel etc.

      It is also not the case that there is some kind of allocation of resources that is either invested in renewables or in oil exploration. It isn’t like that. Investment can be made in both, indeed there is very significant investment in renewables. If renewables are so good they will prevail.

      The problem for you is that hydrocarbons are used not because they are expensive but because they are cheap. For economic growth a source of cheap, portable energy is crucial to bringing vast areas of the world out of poverty. Whilst renewables can and should fill some of that need, there remains a huge gap which renewables cannot fulfill, at least not yet.

      The whole climate change argument is one about which I am not yet well enough informed. I am slowly working my way through the last two reports of the IPCC. It is taking me a while.

      • reviewqueen

        I will reply with a (hopefully) somewhat more coherent and structured response. First of all I would like to state that my name is Patrick and I’m an actor who lives near Beckenham. I’m not sure why I’m called reviewqueen. It wouldn’t let me sign in via Facebook or Twitter and I must have an old Disqus account somewhere…

        Admin aside, I’d like to rebut some of your common misconceptions here with regards to the extraction of fossil fuels and the politics surrounding this issue.

        Misconception 1: ‘if renewable energy is so great, why hasn’t it got all the investment/ if it’s so great it will naturally replace fossil fuels.’

        This is tied to the now deeply embedded idea that the free market will naturally weed out inferior and inefficient products and services when the demand for them falls and better or cheaper alternatives become available. Which for a lot of products is the case. But not this one. The reason why hydrocarbons appear cheap are many fold but three big reasons are

        (A) the fossil fuel industry is subsidised by public money (our money) to the tune of somewhere between 800 Billion and 1 Trillion dollars. And this is rising, not falling.

        (B) Fossil fuel companies are notoriously bad at compensating those affected by their dirty industry, and the costs of cleanup are usually shouldered by local authorities and therefore not passed on to consumers at the pump/ gas bill etc.

        (C) The ‘cost’ of the use of fossil fuels is yet to be paid. The industry is damaging the environment in ways we have not yet tackled or remedied and these environmental costs are not counted as many of the problems do not yet have a monetary value.

        The idea that renewable energy is more costly than fossil fuel is a fallacy. As is the idea that all our energy needs must be met by multi – national corporations who care little for our local environment.

        In Germany (you know it’s gonna be good when a sentence starts ‘In Germany’) over the last decade people have started taking the grid back from the energy corporations and have been implementing localised renewable energy infrastructures that are controlled and regulated by the community. Solar and wind energy now meets more than a third of German’s energy needs and this is a growing phenomenon. There is far more to this story that I shan’t detail here but I urge you to look it up.

        I apologise for the lazy ‘Research in Canada’ bit. (Didnt think it would be a problem after reading ‘studies have shown that the UK has more than enough supply water’). This is from Naomi Klein’s fantastic book This Changes Everything. If you’re looking to hear the extent of the problems that the fossil fuel industry is causing I suggest you read this excellently researched and widely respected title.

        One point on the issue of the climate science. I often hear the response ‘I don’t know about the climate science I haven’t looked into it ‘. It seems to me to be a sort of avoidance tactic that if you can cast any doubt on the science that you weaken the arguments against further extraction. In the words of every politician who wanted to taken really seriously

        • reviewqueen

          Misconception 2: ‘I’m not convinced by the science’

          (Has been addressed somewhat above. But I didn’t label it)

          Don’t take the tiny anomalies in the widely undisputed evidence of man – made climate change as reason to suspect the science of being overstated or misleading. The mainstream media appears to love to widely report these anomalies like there is some body of evidence gaining traction in the climate change deniers camp. This merely goes to show the depth of vested interest the billionaires who own big media have in the fossil fuel industry continuing. The Guardian, on the other hand, has a fantastic campaign going on at the moment called ‘keep it in the ground’ including a weekly podcast which is very short but very informative of the issues of media and energy.

          Misconception 3: Fossil fuels are the key to lifting large parts of the third world out of poverty.

          I don’t have a whole lot evidence ready to go on this one but in general terms I think that the globalised economy, including the fossil fuel industry has ended up being a faceless kind of colonialism rather than a saviour for most undeveloped countries. These stories are commonplace if we can pull our eyes from sky news or our noses from the Times/Telegraph/Mail. I tried to copy a link here but it won’t work. Instead just type ‘oil companies exploitation’ in Google and you’ll find more than just ‘loopy links’ I promise.

          I understand that your interest here was to talk about the possibilities for Croydon. The people of Croydon would not benefit from fossil fuels being extracted in their town, the only people who will benefit are the billionaires who hold all the cards and the profits and contribute precious little in return for their destruction of our shared home and their monopoly on our planet’s resources.

          There may be some compensation here, an inquest there, and a thumbs up from a well lobbied government official, but if we keep living in the past, running our economy on victorian fuels, in the end everyone loses.

          • moguloilman

            I prefer to make my own judgement on the science. Indeed you appear to subscribe to a narrative that conflates all sorts of issues into one. I would recommend the IPCC report for separating out what are perhaps a half dozen separate questions.

            P.S. I have not found the Guardian, particularly the online edition to be informative at all. It is largely a click farm for people who have already made up their minds. Their links to basic data are often broken or just plain wrong (like basic maths wrong).

        • moguloilman

          Thank you Patrick.

          To some of your points:-

          A – I have seen these figures that claim the fossil fuel industry has huge subsidies. They are concocted by equating discounts to the consumer such as the reduced VAT rate in the UK as subsidies to the industry. These ‘subsidies’ do not go to the industry, they go to the consumer (you and I). That is not the same as a subsidy such as those that go to the renewables sector which is cash directly to them where the consumer this time pays rather than getting a discount. Chalk and cheese.

          B – Cleanup costs are quantified on the balance sheets of the companies accounts. They can usually be found as “Asset retirement obligation”. My experience is that the industry has shouldered the costs of cleanup.

          C – There are indeed costs, as well as benefits to industrial activities. Oil has given us amongst other things the motor car, the jet plane, the iPad, textiles and pharmaceuticals.

          I am not familiar with Naomi Klein’s book. Whenever I enter this kind of discussion I find I am often invited to read someone else’s favourite tome. Rather than hearing from a journalist wanting to sell a book and who needs an ‘angle’ I want to understand the science from the basic data and so, perhaps foolishly have opted to read the IPCC reports, albeit that they have clearly been written by a committee and could do with a very good edit.

          My intention is to write an article, however the Croydon Citizen wants a Croydon specific angle so I may struggle to find one.

          I have heard the ‘In Germany’ claims before. The last official figures show total renewables making less than 15% of the mix. You might also wish to note the very high 46% generated from coal..

          I have the detailed breakdown if you wish although it is in German.

  • Terry Coleman

    A very informative and well balanced article.

  • Anne Giles

    I don’t do debates, because if someone believes strongly in something that I disagree strongly with, they are never ever going to convince me that they are right and I am never going to convince them that they are wrong. Let it suffice to say that I am very very much against fracking.

    • moguloilman

      Thanks Anne. My purpose in writing this article is to present a view without zealotry. I have written before on confirmation bias and a dialogue of the deaf indeed solves nothing.

      So long as you are clear what it is about fracking that you don’t like, and that it is well founded.

      • Anne Giles

        I am.

  • Paddy Blewer

    I’ve worked in the oil industry for most of my career, advising NOCs down to wildcat explorers. The examples you’ve given can indeed be used in the way you meant – demonstrating that the oil industry can operate in densely populated areas and cause little damage to quality of life.


    For me it’s all about properly monitored regulation. Assuming we have a highly regulated industry where there are regular inspections and fines for non compliance, they can shoot the seismic and get drilling tomorrow.


    This sort of regime often means higher costs, and therefore the temptation to cut corners. The issues in the States had nothing to do with fracking per se. The wells were poorly cased as they were looking to cut corners to save costs – hence the contamination problems. One could argue that maccondo was a more dramatic example of a wider issue of cutting as many costs as possible.

    If anyone comes into our area, I’d much prefer a large company than a bunch of ex Shell engineers that have raised a few mil and want to get in and out and sell to a bigger firm either through farm in or outright sale.

    One only need look at the Gatwick announcement, subsequent backtracking and finally potential FSA investigation into sharetrading around the announcement to understand that wildcatters looking to make a quick buck won’t have the long term commitment to local communities necessary to ensure that what is a fundamentally dangerous industry (think piper or maccondo) operate as safely as possible

    • moguloilman

      I agree on a preference for larger companies. Companies like BP and Shell used to operate in the onshore UK but eventually concluded the opportunities were too small to justify the reputational risk. There are still some large companies willing to operate in the UK onshore, if the opportunity becomes bigger, more will follow.

      I do not agree on the reasons behind some very liimted issues in the U.S. The vast majority were due to surface pits (not allowed in the UK).