NOW is the time we demand a fracking ban

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Resistance to fracking is fertile / Forest of Dean PIC BY CAPTURING ADVENTURE

“The loser now will be later to win, for the times they are a-changin'”

True words there from the young Dylan, and relevant right now as the dust is yet to settle on an election with no clear winner.

And relevant for us anti-frackers, who are committed to keep going until we win, regardless of election results.

In the party manifestos it was clear who stood where on fracking (in England anyway, the DUP and Plaid Cymru didn’t mention it). Labour, Lib Dems and Green Party all said they would ban it; UKIP invest in fracking but not allow it in AONBs and national parks; the Tories fast-track fracking with a dedicated industry regulator and removal of planning hurdles – such as any need for planning permission for most drilling.

And yet none of this received any attention on a media consumed with terrorism, immigration, Brexit and petty personal attacks. The potential for vast tracts of Britain across 165 constituencies becoming heavily industrialised within the next five to 20 years? Not a story, not news-worthy, not immediate enough. Had Cuadrilla managed to complete its frack site on time and then created a disaster that MIGHT have attracted some interest. It’s thanks to protectors at Preston New Road we are not yet at this high-risk stage. But the drill is on its way, and the onus is on all the politicians elected on anti-fracking tickets and us rabble outside the sphere of public office to deliver what their party manifestos or they individually have pledged, and the time is now.

What kind of spectacle, other than a horrific one, would attract the media’s attention? Because in order to get a ban – as Ireland just has (another almost unreported story by the British media) – we could use some mass awareness-raising.

While millions stayed up way past their bedtime to watch the election results coming in, nine people were on shift… locked on outside the “gates to hell”, Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site. If any one of those bleary-eyed politicos stumbled upon a livefeed showing protectors at work, they’d be wrong to consider this merely a local issue. Lancashire now, Yorkshire and many other places tomorrow.

In order to carry out their fast-track fracking mission, the Conservatives will need to introduce a new Bill. Who knows how soon they might try this on?

There are others in our movement who are much closer to the parliamentary bubble than I am… I invite their comments or messages on how we can get a ban asap through the corridors of power, as chaotic as they currently are.

Somehow, we need to ensure people see fracking not as an abstract, remote threat but a disaster waiting to happen and very soon unless we manage to hold them off. When I was chatting to Simon Clough from Bentley, Australia, he said there had been 60 wells before people started campaigning. Here this has only not happened because of campaigning – but we have yet to reach critical mass. We need critical mass now and not later… just 100 people can bring PNR to a standstill for a day, but even these numbers can’t be sustained every day at the moment. Ideally there needs to be 100 people per day at Billingshurst in West Sussex too , and larger vigils at other sites which have planning permission.

“You can’t talk – you’re not there!” I hear you… What I’m hoping to do is to help bring about critical mass from my remote bunker, and find the most effective way of getting politicians to act on our behalf and get a legal ban. If Ireland can do it, so can we.

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Not newsworthy, apparently

 

 

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SOMERSET… WHAT THE FRACK IS GOING ON?

WHAT

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In 2014, the Government invited oil and gas companies to bid for exclusive rights/ licences to explore and potentially develop oil and gas in about 40% of Britain, in the 14th round for onshore licences.

In August 2015, the Government revealed it was considering offering up the coastal area of Somerset to the successful bidder.

In December 2015, it confirmed South Western Energy – a company based in South Wales – was the successful applicant.

In September 2016 Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) came into effect in North and West Somerset after SW Energy officially accepted the licences. They turned down others they were offered for Wiltshire and the Forest of Dean, citing lack of finance (and one of the directors also admitted the massive level of public opposition was another reason). SW Energy also accepted PEDLs in Dorset.

The PEDLs (licences) are effectively a contract between the Government and South Western Energy, and have been granted on the condition that SW Energy drills at least two exploratory wells to a depth of more than 1000m. The PEDLs allow until July 2021 to do this, but as can be seen with the previous round licences across Britain, can often be granted extensions if the company fails to complete their agreed ‘work programme’ on time.

In its licence application (obtained via a Freedom of Information request) and actual licences (PEDL320, PEDL321 and PEDL344 published on the Oil & Gas Authority website), SW Energy revealed its main interest is in Lower Carboniferous Shales – this would ultimately mean fracking to get the gas out following exploratory work – with a secondary interest in Devonian and Silurian rock layers, which could mean fracking or ‘conventional’ gas or oil recovery.

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Conventional oil and gas involves a vertical well tapping into an underground reservoir, and the oil or gas flowing out without the need to cause fractures in rocks (ie the traditional way of getting oil and gas). Nowadays, conventional wells can be extended to become fracking wells, so conventional oil and gas – while seeming more benign – have become gateways for fracking (see Kirby Misperton in Ryedale, North Yorkshire).

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Fracking – or high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing to give it its full title – is when a mix of water, silica sand and chemicals is blasted at exceedingly high pressure up to 5 miles down a diagonal or horizontal hole to cause shale rocks to explode in order to recover natural gas/ methane (or oil). The main risks are water contamination, earthquakes and subsidence, health impacts including respiratory, problems with fertility and cancers, destruction of the natural environment, that hundreds of wells will be required within a licence area over 20 years of production to make it economically viable, and also infrastructure incapable of dealing with extra traffic, water and sand resources, and treatment facilities for radioactive and toxic wastewater.

When/if South Western Energy gets to the stage of its initial applications the company will almost certainly insist it is not going to frack – but only drill a vertical well to sample rock cores and take them to a laboratory to test their potential for oil and gas.

Councillors faced with applications, will likely be compelled by planning law to not consider that these exploratory wells are a gateway for fracking – they will also not be allowed to consider the 800+ peer-reviewed scientific studies showing harm caused by fracking as they relate to the US and not “gold standard regulated” Britain, nor will they be permitted to consider that public opinion nationally and locally is overwhelmingly against fracking.

If SW Energy is able to claim that there is shale gas available from its exploratory wells then it will either try and sell on licences to established fracking firms such as Igas, Cuadrilla or INEOS or raise the finances itself to develop Somerset into a fracking zone for another 20 years.

The Infrastructure Act 2015 permits “any substance” (eg fracking chemicals, waste) to be left in the ground, for any gas or oil discovered anywhere to be recovered as a “legal objective”, and allows a Government minister to overrule any local democratic decision. This year we have seen the minister overrule the decision to turn down two fracking operations in Lancashire, and councils in North Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire approve fracking, despite more than 99% of respondents in each case objecting and in the Notts case, the site being located on a site littered with unexploded bombs and very close to a nature reserve.

So what the people of Somerset need to do is to make sure fracking does not get to the application stage – because then it is much harder to fight. Every section of the Somerset community – people of all classes, political persuasions, subcultures, occupations and age groups – need to help the national effort to get fracking banned in England (it is currently suspended in Wales and Scotland), to show there is no social licence for fracking/ gas exploration and prevent it from getting a toehold.

The time to get started is now, not later! And resistance is starting so if you’re in Somerset, get involved… If it’s not nipped in the bud, the fracking industry will have to be stopped by mass direct action.

WHERE

It’s important to remember that wherever the drill sites will be located, a radius of 10km around them will be the Government-proscribed “zone of influence” – there could eventually be 20 wells per site, all drilling directionally (diagonally) or vertically and then horizontally for miles in any direction.

Ostensibly fracking would need to take place at least 1000m below ground (and 1200m below ground in “protected areas” – no one has explained why 200m extra depth makes all the difference) BUT as fracking is only legally defined as using a certain amount of fluid (more than 1,000 cubic metres per frack, and 10,000 per operation), potentially frackers could get around the restrictions if they could manage with less fluid.

When South Western Energy made its initial application in October 2014, it referred to seven 10x10km Ordnance Survey grid blocks (which now comprise three licences) as “Weston-super-Mare” and proposed to drill down a minimum of 300 metres. This was before the 1000/1200m restrictions came into being.

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It’s likely that closest to Weston, geologically the drillers would encounter their stated principle target rock layer, the Avon Group aka the Lower Carboniferous Limestone Shale, at such a shallow depth – further south towards Bridgwater, the layer dips down considerably – while it seems (according to the British Geological Survey – see the map below showing the extent of Carboniferous Limestone) it would be non-existent at any depth west of the River Parrett.

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But as wells can be drilled directionally as well as straight down (vertically) none of the below areas can be ruled out.

The most major factor for a well site is unlikely to be an environmental or even a geological consideration – it will be wherever South Western Energy can persuade a landowner to agree access.

And they have 342 square km in which to explore.

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Theoretically the licence allows drilling to take place anywhere, even in “protected zones” (these include 1km buffer zones around designated nature and conservation sites – some protected by the EU, so liable to be not protected following Brexit)… but fracking is not allowed, so it would not be cost-effective for wells to be drilled if they could not be extended and converted into fracking. However, laws can be made more lax and loopholes can be exploited, so NOWHERE within the licencing area can really be ruled out.  (Indeed, a search of other licences reveals that in one case, in Hampshire, a drill site is actually several hundred metres outside a PEDL area!)

Here closest below are my own roughly-drawn interpretations on clearer Google mapping from poor-quality maps on the licences (PEDLs) themselves… I may be a researcher, but as you can see I’m no graphics ace! You can check the originals yourselves from the licences (see further below). The areas inside the red lines are where drill sites could potentially be situated.

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pedl321map

Sopedl344map

So within the LIKELY zones for well sites are…

PEDL 344 –
Dunster (east of)
Carhampton
Withycombe
Blue Anchor
Old Cleeve
Washford
Watchet
Doniford
Williton
Weacombe
Staple
West Quantoxhead
East Quantoxhead
Kilve
Lilstock
Stringston
Stogursey
Fiddington
Combwich

PEDL 321 –
Rooks Bridge
East Brent
Brent Knoll
Mark
Burnham-on-Sea (east)
Highbridge
Pawlett
Puriton
Woolavington

PEDL 320 –
Kenn
St Georges
Kewstoke
Weston-super-Mare (eastern side)
Locking
Banwell (northern side)
Hutton
Bleadon

Anywhere situated within 10km of these places could be drilled under, have a cocktail of chemicals, water and frack sand blasted at high pressure, causing the rocks to crack. This includes Hinkley nuclear power stations!

Here’s a bit more detail from the licences – you could say PEDL320 is centred on Weston, PEDL321 on Burnham, and PEDL344 on Watchet. Note that the outer ring is the “zone of influence”, so fracking could take place anywhere underground within this bubble.

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(I’ll attempt to explain the Silurian issue further down… as for the expression Drill or Drop, it means the company is obliged to investigate drilling but can decide not to if its preliminary investigations reveal finding gas/oil is not feasible)

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(most of Weston-super-Mare is unprotected from fracking)

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(all of ST25a is within a protected area, so no actual high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing that uses more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid per frack not allowed, everything else seems ok!)

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(the Government has granted the licence PEDL321 on condition the company drills one well to 1500m depth within this licensed area)

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[Bridgwater, Street and some of Glastonbury within the zone of influence… only some of the Levels are “protected”]

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[a deeper commitment here, possible reasons explained later – also note interest in the Devonian rocks]

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[Hinkley Point nuclear power stations are within the block in the (inadequately) “protected” Severn Estuary area]

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[no protection for the coastline]

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[Butlins and Minehead could be fracked under, as could the Brendon and Quantock Hills]

WHO

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This is Gerwyn Llewellyn Williams, the so-called (by The Sun) Prince of Shales – he is owner, director and financier (it appears) of South Western Energy and about 20 other companies, most with his wife Shelagh Rose as co-director and Cardiff-based geologist Oliver Taylor.

I have met Gerwyn and Oliver – pleasant enough people, were it not for their intentions! However, at our meeting they denied wanting to look for shale gas in the Forest of Dean (which we later discovered was a fib, as their licence application and unissued licences showed they were intending to), so we wouldn’t advise people give much credence to any utterances from the pair.

I have also done extensive research into Gerwyn’s/SW Energy’s apparent financial capability. If you have time, read my five-part blog on the subject (needs updating, as now the company has withdrawn from Wilts and the Forest of Dean, and has relinquished some of his licences under the names of UK Onshore Gas/ UK Methane/ Coastal Gas in South Wales, and held on to others.

Some in Somerset may recall meeting Gerwyn and Oliver in the past – in 2011 their company UK Methane to drill for coalbed methane in the Keynsham area: See Marco Jackson’s excellent film for Frack Free Somerset, The Truth Behind The Dash For Gas (2014) (watch here on YouTube, better still arrange a public viewing) for more information. Bath & North East Somerset Council’s request for information proved too much for the company, and UK Methane withdrew its applications and eventually relinquished its licences.

However, since then the Infrastructure Act 2015 has come into being, which makes it much harder for councils to refuse planning permission for fracking.

He passed the Government financial competence test (the Government won’t release that information), but if he has any money it can’t be found on public record – although the Jersey-based Damor Investors (linked to the Royal Bank of Canada and the Panama Papers) and his own vehicle, Luxembourg-based Infinity Energy are in the mix.

He and Oliver have been involved in coalbed methane and abandoned mine methane production, but there is no sign they have ever developed shale gas – although Gerwyn has expressed a wish to, in South Wales where he claims there is more shale gas available than in Lancashire! Strangely, the Australian partner Eden Energy (or Adamo as its UK branch is called) didn’t seem to agree, and ended up giving all its shares and the company Adamo in the South Wales venture to Gerwyn and Oliver for £1. Gerwyn currently has planning permission to explore for coalbed methane and shale gas in several locations in South Wales. As there is a moratorium on fracking in Wales, he can’t go into development and fracking, as much as he wants to.

A South Wales blogger has described Gerwyn’s activities as a Ponzi scheme to get a quick buck for his retirement, and to complete his massive monstrosity of a concrete palace on the Welsh riviera, near Porthcawl.

HOW

Oliver from South Western Energy is initially “building a geological model”. This is by inputting data into mapping software used by oil and gas prospectors. They don’t appear to have much data to input. There has only been one gas/oil venture in the area, conventional oil production in Kilve, in the Quantocks, during the 1920s. This was in the Jurassic rock layer which lies a long way above SW Energy’s target rocks. There was a borehole drilled in Weston-super-Mare in 1911 which shows carboniferous limestone layers began at 828ft (252m), it appears the only other deep borehole (marked on the map below with a blue dot) drilled in 1971 at Burton Row, near Brent Knoll, went down more than 1100m and reached what was believed to be (but not certain) Permian rock, which is one era more recent than carboniferous, therefore any carboniferous limestone would be somewhere below this, and Devonian and Silurian rock much further again below.

There has been just one 2D seismic survey to the east of the PEDL areas which will provide limited information. It should be noted that the reason why there were two earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011, attributed to the first-ever onshore UK fracking attempt, was attributed to Cuadrilla drilling into a fault because its 2D seismic data was inaccurate. Obtaining seismic data is an invasive process – it either involves the shallow burial of explosives, or “thumper” trucks  – in order to record imagery or data by stimulating earth tremors.

According to the licences’ work programmes, South Western Energy is not expected to obtain  – or “shoot” – any 2D or 3D seismic data.

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[the bottom group of three grey squares show the three Somerset licence areas, the blue dot a deep borehole drilled to look at rock strata in the 1971, the green line to the right of the blocks shows the location of a 2D seismic survey, and the various colours show the different rock types that outcrop (are at or close to the surface) – the turquoise represents five or more carboniferous limestone series, and the lowest/oldest of these layers is the main object of the frackers – this limestone continues below younger rock layers and the Severn Estuary/ Bristol Channel, notably the grey which represents jurassic and pink triassic, but only as far west as Bridgwater/ River Parrett… below everything on this map, at up to five miles beneath ground, are various Devonian and Silurian layers marked mostly in orange/red, purples and mauves… the darker pink in the Quantocks/ North Devon area is Middle Devonian]

However, this is a much-faulted part of the world, as this geological map shows:

somerset-geological-provinces

In PEDL344 (Watchet area), South Western Energy have committed to drilling to a depth of 1,800m to reach the Avon Group (aka Lower Limestone Shales), Devonian and Silurian levels. This is questionable geologically. It would appear (though not proven) that they will not encounter the Avon Group at all west of Bridgwater, they may reach the Devonian level if they drill inland, but the Silurian is likely to be a mile or so further underground.

South Western Energy told us they weren’t interested in Silurian rocks – they are such a long way down it would be much more expensive to look, and exploration in Poland and also deep boreholes and seismic profiling in South-East Wales and Herefordshire indicate the rocks are too old and too far down to still contain oil or gas.

Once South Western Energy have managed to secure a site(s) by means of an access agreement with a landowner, they will need to raise the money to drill an exploratory well. The Government’s inconsistent redactions of “commercially sensitive information” means we can’t see the cost estimates for Somerset, but as a guideline the non-redacted information from the Forest of Dean (for one “firm commitment” PEDL and one “drill or drop”) shows:

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Before they start drilling, SW Energy must follow a ‘regulatory roadmap’ and obtain a number of consents. It should be said though that the Environment Agency and other agencies have so far been almost totally compliant (the exception being the EA currently refusing to agree to an oil well application in the South Downs, and Lancashire County Council turning down two fracking applications only to be overruled by the Government)…

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[the DECC has been replaced by BEIS – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Local Authority in this case is North Somerset Council. The Coal Authority is not involved as there is no coalfield within the three Somerset PEDL areas].

The first stage – fulfilling the terms of the initial exploratory stage of its PEDL – will be to drill wells but not frack them. The planning applications will probably clearly state this. Rock cores will be taken out of the wells, and tested for their gas/oil content. The licence-holder (which may change, as licences can be sold on/ transferred at any time) will then enter a five-year “appraisal” period in which more wells could be drilled or existing wells will then be test-fracked. The company can decide whether to move on to appraisal, and then on to development/ fracking.

WHEN

It could be months or years before South Western Energy applies for planning permission, and 10 years before any fracking takes place.

However, if in that time, towns and parishes have surveyed their localities and declared themselves “frack-free zones”, if a groundswell has formed to show future fracking would be unthinkable, if every sector of a community is involved… this can be stopped!

Those who betray the  local population by either trying to bury the issue under the carpet, deny the threat of fracking, refuse to discuss it or show their position on it claiming it to be “political” are ironically those who have the most to lose – whether they be elected officials, or often corporate tourism industry types.

If this reaches planning application stage, it will be MUCH HARDER to stop and may only be stopped by physical direct action. This will incur costs to the public pocket, regular disruption including to businesses and transportation and the stretching to breaking point of police resources. So I’d argue those who are reticent to take a stand against fracking now – particularly those in powerful positions – are helping set up their communities and environment up for a fall.

If you’re not convinced fracking is a bad thing I suggest you just google “fracking” and read what you find… including from the most credible news sources. The more you discover the more you are likely to oppose it, from mine and many others’ experience.

MY EDUCATED GUESS

Fracking WILL happen in Somerset if:

  • South Western Energy manage to raise the estimated £750,000 to carry out its exploratory work (although there is no public sign of any sizeable assets, they have committed to drilling at least two deep wells in Somerset)
  • Landowners within the three licensed areas agree access rights/ lease land for drilling sites
  • South Western Energy gets all the necessary permits, consents and planning permissions from the Local Planning Authority, Government regulatory agencies and the Government to drill wells.
  • South Western Energy can claim there is gas (or oil) to be exploited from their exploration and then either sell on the licences to a bigger concern or get into fracking themselves (SW Energy have told some people they do not currently have the capability to frack – but there are infrastructure providers and sub-contractors).
  • The people of Somerset and beyond don’t stop them getting a foot in the door.

My experience of the anti-fracking movement so far is it cannot be pinned down to a “certain kind” of protester – although surveys have shown middle-aged, female professionals are most likely to be opposed to fracking. I believe there is no right way or wrong way to fight fracking – the widest, most multi-pronged approach is what’s needed – from the WI and parish meeting to anarchist direct actions, from group meetings to autonomous individual actions. All need to be supported, even if it’s not your bag, as it’s all to achieve the same aim.

Fracking is a civil rights issue: it’s a fight to maintain democracy as well as the environment. We shall overcome, we have to! Government may overturn local democratic decisions, or local planners ignore public opinion and massive risks, but when it can be shown there is overwhelmingly no social licence and actions to prevent drills moving in can be justified, it’s only a matter of time and keeping on keeping on before we see this threat off once and for all!

The biggest foe to the anti-fracking cause, aside from the petroleum industry and Government, is inertia and apathy. You might feel like some kind of missionary or evangelist, but wearing anti-fracking T-shirts, distributing leaflets daily, doing what you can to get conversations going must be a constant until we beat this. As is sending emails, letters etc and reading and reading and reading…

I didn’t make it to any of the events (sorry!) but I’ve heard the tour of the film Groundswell Rising, warning people of the impacts the fracking industry has had in America, plus the actions and coming together of Somerset anti-fracking groups are seeing a Groundswell Rising happening in the Somerset anti-fracking zone, with groups now fighting in the Quantocks, Bridgwater and Weston.

I hope I can be of some help with the info amassed below:

GEOLOGICALLY UNITED

I’m in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, some 50 miles northeast of Somerset, but there is much that unites us with Somerset, besides that we both extend our Rs, convert Ss into Zs and use expressions like “gert lush” and that we are all in Zyder Country…

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350 million years ago, whether you were stood on the top of the Mendips or in the Forest of Dean, you would have been either sinking, swimming or wading through a shallow expanse of sea – the Euroamerican Seaway [seen in light grey on this map] – with its coast near the Brecon Beacons and Herefordshire – any further south, and you’d be in deeper waters, the Culm Basin.

The water temperature was warm, tropical – although there was ice and snow in Africa, Australia and South America (then part of the same landmass, Gondwana), we were then situated close to the Equator.

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Some 50 million years earlier we, Ireland, Belgium and northern Germany had become joined to North America and Scandinavia.

Tcrinoidshe tropical sea was densely populated with crinoids. These creatures, also known as stone or sea lilies, spend their adult lives rooted by a stalk into the sea bed, and wave their mucus-covered five (or more) feather-like arms to trap passing plankton. They are weighed down by hexagonal segments of calcium-carbonate bones or shells.

crinoid4The sediment from the remains of past crinoids developed into a lime-rich mud, and after being buried under more layers of rock and/or soil, was baked into limestone shales.

The Somerset Good Rock Guide highly recommends Swallow Cliff, 5km north of Weston-Super-Mare for its limestone embedded with volcanic rocks, fossilised crinoids, prehistoric worm paths and lava-petrified coral colonies. (It should be noted though that this is a successive layer of limestone, the Avon Group lies beneath it).

I could also recommend Symonds Yat Rock, or the Avon Gorge in Bristol – from where the Avon Group of Lower Limestone Shales gets its name from.

So what links us now – North Somerset, Gloucestershire and South Wales – is that the petroleum industry, or perhaps just two chancers (the directors of South Western Energy), thinks our shared natural deep-history represented in this, the oldest/ lowest carboniferous rock layer, is ripe for pillaging, and not by conventional means, but by hydraulically fracturing (fracking).

What is peculiar though, is that South Western Energy appears to be the only company which believes Tournasian/ Dinantian, as opposed to later Namurian/ Silesian, carboniferous stone is prospective for gas. In its fairly definitive study of hydrocarbon prospectivity from 2013, the British Geological Survey  – commissioned by the Government – says Namurian rocks (from about 40 million years later than the Avon Group and not present in the Mendips or Forest of Dean) are prospects, but does not mention Dinantian (the various layers of carboniferous limestone found in Somerset).

FAULTS IN FRACKING

Fast forward through another 60 million years of history from where we left off… the sea became deeper, resulting in purer dolomite limestone layers (which have been heavily exploited for road-building materials), and then the seabed became a vast area of river delta/ swampland. The first land-based animals and the world’s first forests sprang up, and then were buried by massive mudslides (the submerged forests became peat and finally coal).

The reason for the earth movements was because a land mass, now France and southern Europe, was bashing into Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, squeezed by the collision of North Africa and the massive Gondwana continent to the south of Spain. This crushing resulted in major faults being activated and folding rocks to form the French Massif and Pyrenees, the land being crumpled into mountains and deep valleys – in Somerset’s case, the Mendips rose up and the land south of it (the Somerset Levels) was thrown down, while in the Forest of Dean, the area was raised into a bowl in upland plateau and the Severn Vale and Worcester Graben was thrown down to the east of it. Our area became a mountainous desert, a few hundred miles inland from the eastern coast of the Pangaea supercontinent.

The main risks with fracking are contamination of water and earthquakes (as well as general health impacts). Given that Somerset, South Wales and the Forest of Dean straddle the Variscan Front (as the 2,000km-wide major fault complex which stretches from Ireland to Poland is called). And then there’s the fact this limestone is  a “geohazard” – in other words, in the event of a water pollution incident it could be impossible to contain as water spreads rapidly through many pathways through the rock, great distances and unpredictably.

Unlike sandstone, which crumbles as it erodes and soaks up water, limestone is porous and water percolates within it. The dramatic Avon, Cheddar and Wye gorges are testament to that. Water cuts through the rock instead of around it, while – another piece of shared history – the earliest humans to reach Britain inhabited the caves in all three gorges.

Underground there are vast unmapped areas of swallows, caves and sinkholes through which our groundwater runs, at velocities which have been measured at 175 litres per second.

I quote:

It is the Carboniferous Limestone that hosts the best-developed karst landscapes and the longest cave systems in the country. It occurs widely throughout western and northern England and in Wales, and karst features are present on and within the majority of the outcrop (Waltham et al, 1997). Particularly well-developed karst occurs in the Mendip Hills, around the northern crop of the South Wales coalfield (Ford, 1989), in the Derbyshire Peak District and in the Yorkshire Dales and adjacent areas, running up into the northern Pennines. Less well known karst areas include the Forest of Dean, the southern crop of the South Wales coalfield from Glamorgan through the Gower to Pembrokeshire, in North Wales around the Vale of Clwyd, and around the fringes of the Lake District. In all these areas, well-developed karstic drainage systems, sinkholes and extensive cave systems are common.

The major challenges associated with these karst areas are water supply protection, geological conservation and engineering problems. Subsidence associated with sinkhole formation is commonly encountered in remote and rural areas with little impact on property and infrastructure, but damage to houses, tracks and roads is locally a problem. Commonly of greater significance, many of these subsidence hollows are sites for illegal tipping of farm and other refuse or waste, which can cause rapid contamination of the groundwater and local drinking supplies (Fig. 2).

Interstratal karst

In parts of South Wales, the Forest of Dean and the Mendip Hills, significant areas of interstratal karst occur. This is where karstic drainage systems have developed in the Carboniferous Limestone below a significant thickness of impermeable rocks such as the Twrch Sandstone Formation or the Cromall Sandstone Formation in the Forest of Dean. There might be little or no surface expression of karst, but extensive caves or karstic groundwater flow systems can occur at depth, such as Ogof Draenen near Abergavenny (Farrant, 2004), and the Wet Sink – Slaughter Risings system near Joyford in the Forest of Dean (Waltham et al., 1997). Areas where interstratal karst is significant have been identified and digitized, making use of geological and topographical maps, groundwater tracing experiment results, cave surveys and expert local knowledge.

[from Farrant A.R., Cooper A.H.: Karst geohazards in the UK: the use of digital data for hazard management (British Geological Survey)]

There is more general information from the BGS on the geohazard aspects of limestone karst here

Interestingly, the custodians of Bath Thermae Spa have been assured by the Government that there will be no fracking which could affect the deep underground reservoir which feeds the UNESCO World Heritage hot springs. But no one knows, or is able to prove, just how wide a catchment area feeds into the reservoir. One widely supported theory is that the whole of the Mendips is involved, but one study at least examines the potential of the whole limestone province – from South Wales to the Forest of Dean contributing to the Bath water (see pages 23 to 33).

As for fracking being unsuitable in the UK due to the large number of faults (with the Variscan Front being perhaps the largest complex), let me refer you to Prof David Smythe’s paper to the Government’s Select Committee (2013)

Ok I have rambled on for far too long now… Just help stop fracking in Somerset and everywhere, everyone who reads this, thanks!

GERWYN: BREAKING GAS 2012-16

In this final instalment of the Gerwyn Llewellyn Williams timeline, Gerwyn and Eden part ways, Gerwyn takes over a pizza company and turns it into a gas investment vehicle, and Gerwyn goes overboard in his hype for Welsh shale gas prospects (scuppered by Eden’s pull-out, saying it’s not worth the bother)…

Will Gerwyn manage to scrap together the cash to drill in the 11 Welsh sites where he has permission, plus fulfil his Government licence obligation to drill across the Forest of Dean, Somerset, Wilts and Dorset?

Will his luxury dream palace in Porthcawl ever get finished? Will he just p*** off and leave us and the planet alone?

Watch this space…

 

2012

Jan 2012 Global Brands SA goes through a demerger to transfer assets and liabilities to Domino Pizza Switzerland and becomes an investment company in oil and gas industry.

[The timeline of Global Brands SA/ Infinity Energy SA has been pieced together incorporating shareholder chats in the public domain, and documents published by Infinity Energy SA (formerly known as Global Brands SA).]

“So, for me, getting an equal stake in the Domino Pizza master franchise-owning private co is merely a bonus for the bottom drawer. Might come good one day, might not but I don’t really care because, as I say, I’m anticipating very good things from the new, clean, O&G investing company as and when we discover who is behind the “rescue” of the listing and their purpose for doing so.” [Steddieeddie]
“Agreed Steddie, exciting times ahead, oil exploration anyone?” [Mr Hangman]

Share chat, January 2012.

A public inquiry will be held in May after the firm’s bid to test drill at Llandow Industrial Estate was unanimously rejected by the Vale of Glamorgan’s planning committee last year.

But a team of Texas scientists yesterday announced it had concluded fracking cannot be linked directly to reports of groundwater contamination.

The scientists found many problems attributed to fracking are common to all oil and gas drilling systems. Many reports of contamination could be traced to above-ground spills or mishandling of wastewater rather than the fracking technique itself, they said.

Coastal Oil and Gas director Gerwyn Williams welcomed the findings and said he was confident May’s inquiry would rule in his favour, while opponents dismissed the claims as energy industry “propaganda”.

Coastal Oil and Gas is working with two solicitors and a planning consultant to prepare its case for the inquiry, while local residents fighting the plans – who formed the Vale Says No! campaign – are raising funds to hire a barrister.

Mr Williams said: “This supports not only our view, but also the view of the UK Government which, after putting in a huge amount of research, came to the same conclusion.

“About 96% of fracking fluid is water, the other 4% is chemicals – the majority of which are used in food products.

“This is absolute proof of what we have been saying all along.”

Bridgend Greens spokesman Andy Chyba dismissed the findings and said the researchers had direct links to the oil and gas industry, adding: “There are infinitely more experts who have more credibility.

“At the end of the day it’s a case of do we take a prudent course or just roll the dice and hope we get luck?

“We are talking about things sooner or later going catastrophically wrong somewhere in South Wales. There are no assurances that this is a safe process.

Western Mail article, February 2012, said by Green Leftie blog/ Andy Chyba to be fuel to the propaganda war

March 2012: Global Brands announces the company had raised £280,000 in shares – of this £230,000 has been invested “in line with the new investing policy” while £50,000 is expected to be used for general corporate purposes.

In 2012, Gerwyn transferred 30 of his shares in UKOG to Shelagh (meaning he now has 60 and she has 31 shares). UKOG revealed in its accounts to the end of August 2012 it had £27,613 at the bank and in hand but shareholders’ funds were at MINUS £1,357 (in 2013 the figures were £27,166 and MINUS £1,639 respectively)

May 2012: Public inquiry lost against Coastal’s plans to drill for shale gas in Llandow, Vale of Glamorgan, following Coastal appeal against the council’s planning refusal.

South Western Energy comes into existence, as does South Wales Energy

May 2012: Adamo moves away from the office it shares with UK Onshore Gas to a London address.

2012 Adamo accounts show total assets less current liabilities at £1,594,061 but shareholders’ funds at MINUS £96,564.

September 2012: Gerwyn Williams, representing UK Methane Limited, meets with members of Transition Keynsham, to discuss plans for CBM exploration in the Mendips and Somerset

UK Methane Ltd’s planning application to “Drill and test the permeability of the coal and associated strata at land on the south east side of Hick’s Gate, Durley Hill, Keynsham” was submitted to Bath & North East Somerset Council on 27.9.2012.

UK Methane say that they see the use of CBM as a bridging fuel to alleviate the potential energy shortfall after 2015.

UK Methane’s intention is rapid development of CBM sites to meet this energy shortfall

Planning

UK Methane have generated computer models of the likely locations of methane bearing coal strata in the Bristol and North Somerset area. There is a lack of historical information on the coal strata in this area. UK Methane have used data from the British Geological Survey and British Coal, but as most historical coal mining in this area took place in the upper coal measures there is little information on the lower coal levels. This is the reason why UK Methane want to drill exploratory boreholes so they can ascertain the amount of methane that may be available lower down. UK Methane think it worth exploring in this area as the coal seams of Somerset are similar to some of those in South Wales. UK Methane consider there is potential for methane in the Ashton Great Coal seams which lie at a depth of about 600-1000 metres in the Keynsham area. South of the licence areas the coal strata is very badly faulted, the implication appeared to be that methane extraction was unlikely as a result of this.

UK Methane stated that they only intend to drill within the coal measures in Keynsham.

Test Boring

A planning application is submitted to the council to do a test bore.

A drilling rig about 12 metres high is used to drill a 12” vertical borehole down which steel lining with a 9” outside diameter is inserted. The lining sections are 8-9 feet long and they are screwed together at the surface before being lowered into the borehole. The surrounding gap between the borehole and lining is filled with cement, the inside diameter of the steel liner is 8”

The materials used during the drilling of the borehole are identical to those used for drilling water boreholes.

Waste extracted during the drilling is put in skips and removed by a licensed waste contractor.

Any water that comes up through the borehole is initially removed off site by tanker and treated until the quality of it is established.

The test borehole is used to obtain samples of coal which are tested for methane content.

UK Methane expected the test borehole to take 2-3 months to complete.

During test boring about 15 people would be directly employed on the site.

UK Methane stated that they would be governed by the Environment Agency on noise levels created during test boring.

If there are insufficient levels of methane to make extraction economic then the borehole is filled with concrete and abandoned.

Production

If methane extraction is considered economic then a second planning application has to be made to permit methane extraction.

A further hole at an angle of about 60 degrees is drilled into the coal, from the bottom of this borehole, holes up to 400 metres along are driven horizontally into the coal measures to collect the methane.

The gas is trapped under pressure in microfractures within the coal, lowering the pressure in the surrounding area allows the gas to flow out. The pressure is lowered by extracting water, though if the coal seam is dry, the gas can still flow out. Gas flow may be encouraged through the injection of nitrogen.

Monitoring of conditions at the wellhead is automated, 24 hour security is provided on site (unclear from notes if this is human or CCTV).

Initial use of the gas would be to produce electricity which would be fed into the national grid. This though is not the most efficient or cost effective use and is done to help UK Methane’s cash flow at the beginning of operations. Their preferred option is feeding into the local gas grid at the nearby gas pumping station owned by Wales and West Utilities. UK Methane will be able to make more money out of feeding methane to the gas grid than from producing electricity from it.

Additional methane producing boreholes would be drilled 2-3 miles apart in areas where methane production was considered economic…

 

… Reference was made by Ian Wright to documentation of problems in the Australian CBM industry. UK Methane said that the UK industry was far more tightly regulated than in Australia…

Fracking

UK Methane and its related companies are not involved with fracking at present.

They may at a later date consider extraction of shallow shale gas involving fracking and may use fracking in the Kent coalfield where the conditions are different from those in Somerset.

They do not consider that fracking is necessary in the next 2-3 years to extract CBM around Keynsham but cannot promise that they wouldn’t move onto fracking after this.

They have no intention of using the cavitation method for methane extraction now or in the future, instead relying on horizontal boreholes as mentioned in the production section.

UK Methane do not see themselves as at the cutting edge of technology and would be using fracking methods developed by other companies.

Notes from Transition Keynsham meeting with UK Methane/ Gerwyn Williams, September 2012 (Frack Free Somerset website)

UK Methane Ltd withdrew the Keynsham application on 20.12.2012. The reason they gave to B&NES Council was that the level of information that was being requested was far higher than that for any other previous planning application that they had been involved with in other parts of the country. UK Methane said that for the extra amount of work that was involved, they would apply for a “full production permission” which would include shale gas. They referred to the Government’s moratorium on fracking that had been lifted recently.

Bridgend-based UK Methane Ltd wants to drill three boreholes at the disused St John’s Colliery, Maesteg, in the hope of finding gas reserves.

But environmental campaigners, politicians and people living in the Llynfi Valley fear the plans are a precursor to shale gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking”…

…The company is not looking to start fracking operations at the site through the latest planning application submitted to Bridgend council, but will be drilling boreholes between 130 and 300 metres deep to try to find gas reserves.

However, Andy Chyba, chairman of the Bridgend Green Party, said, if successful, the application could pave the way for future fracking. He said: “There is the potential for seismic activity – that is a significant threat to the valleys of South Wales. It’s quite heavily fractured already so it’s going to be difficult to protect against possible seismic effects.”

His fears were echoed by South Wales West’s Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black, who has written to Bridgend council expressing his disapproval.

Gerwyn Williams, a director of UK Methane, said the proposed extraction method was “totally different” to fracking. He pointed to a similar operation where gas is extracted from the old Ffaldau and Garw collieries in Pontycymer.

“It’s as simple a form of drilling you can have,” he said. “As far as this exercise is concerned, this is only a drill into the abandoned mine working to extract methane.” But Mr Williams refused to rule out future fracking at the site.

Western Mail, December 2012

A businessman who owns the main licence to drill for gas in south Wales, has welcomed Chancellor George Osborne’s commitment to exploring new ways of plugging the UK’s energy gap.

Gerwyn Williams of Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd says initial test results estimate £120bn worth of gas could be recovered in one area of south Wales alone.

But methods of extracting the gas are hugely controversial.

BBC TV Wales report, December 2012 (it reports analysis has been carried out at five Welsh drilling sites by Texas-based RPS Consultancy)

The in-house team of biostratigraphers have over 200 years cumulative global experience, with particular expertise in the North Sea, West of Shetlands, the West African margin, the Southern Atlantic, North Africa, East Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe/Black Sea, the Caspian and the Indian sub-continent. We provide detailed well-log sequence stratigraphic interpretations (the recognition of maximum flooding surfaces, sequence boundaries etc.) on wells analysed, offer wellsite biostratigraphic services (including acid and acid-free palynological analysis) and have comprehensive in-house laboratory facilities.

What we provide

Detailed, integrated post-well micropalaeontological, nannofossil and palynological analysis of exploration, appraisal and development wells

Palaeobathymetric and depositional interpretations

Integrated regional and basinal review studies

Worldwide offshore and onshore well site analysis / biosteering

Slope stability studies to aid site investigation services

Training for state oil companies / majors / public institutions

Laboratory biostratigraphic processing for clients

Link to RPS Group, which has global involvement in all aspects of the oil and gas industry (and also has a base near Chepstow).

2013

Drilling would take place [at Maesteg] between 8am and 6pm seven days a week and would take seven weeks to complete.

Access to the site, on land adjacent to the former St John’s colliery, would be via Heol Faen.

UK Methane said: “The proposal does not involve any hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) as this process is only associated with shale gas extraction.”

Responding to borough council consultation, Maesteg town council objected to the proposals on grounds of noise disturbance, wildlife and maintenance of footpaths.

Residents of Upper Street, St Michael’s Road, Ffos Farm, Cwm du Ganol Farm and Bryndefaid Farm all raised concerns about the plans. Their objections included health concerns, water contamination, impact on wildlife and footpaths, potential ‘fracking’, noise and light pollution, access and earthquakes.

In a report to be considered by councillors today, planning supremo Louise Fradd mentions that no fracking would take place.

She is recommending the controversial plans for approval despite the torrent of public opposition.

Daily Post report, January 2013

The applicants in this case are UK Methane, who are the same few people as Coastal Oil & Gas, who have put through a similar small scale CBM project at Cwmcedfyw Farm, near Llangynwyd. The grandiose sounding names of these companies hide the fact they are tiny companies consisting of Mr Gerwyn Williams and a couple of his mates. They do not own any resources; having to bring in Sunderland based contractors, Drillcorp, to drill at Cwmcedfyw, with labour picked up on route from Liverpool.These small scale projects are not really what they are about. It is a tactical approach used by the infamous Cuadrilla company in Lancashire, and other companies elsewhere. They undertake a couple of small, relatively innocuous methane projects (there are still serious issues over water contamination) to try and convince local people, and local planning departments, that they are not up to anything worth worrying about and that they can be trusted. With peoples guards down, they then sneak through applications for their real target shale gas that will require the use of the deep fracking techniques that have proven to be unreliable and the bringer of dire consequences (sooner or later, but inevitably) to local people and their environments.

Be under no illusion as to what Gerwyn and his cronies are up to. They are not very clever at disguising their intentions. Down at Llandow, their initial bungled application clearly stated shale gas at the target. As soon as the locals rose up and organised opposition (the Vale Says No! Campaign group) they resubmitted trying to pretend they were only really interested in conventional sandstone oil/gas. Pathetic. At St Johns Colliery, they successfully sneaked an application through to target the deep lying shales in January 2011, before we caught on to what they are up to. They again brought Drillcorp in to do that test borehole, but my understanding is that they had to abandon it because Drillcorps equipment was not up to the job.

Gerwyn is getting on a bit. Speculating on unconventional gas is his pension plan, I believe. He has picked up licences to explore for resources for very little investment (just a few thousand pounds) in South Wales, the Mendips and Kent. By undertaking some test drilling and conjuring up fanciful figures for the potential resource, he will look to sell on his licences at substantial profit and disappear into the sunset well before the frackers roll in and wreak their havoc.

There are now local opposition groups springing up across South Wales , and in order to share knowledge and resources we have recently seen FRACK-FREE WALES launched in Cardiff, which in turn belongs to a national (and increasingly international) network e.g. FRACK OFF and the ANTI-FRACKING NETWORK. We are watching them closely, but even with all the immense time, energy and effort of the fractivists, we still desperately need the general public to wake up to what is at stake. It needs to become a major political issue with peoples votes at stake, because this is the biggest threat to face the people of South Wales (and other threatened regions) for a generation at least…

Just for clarity – UK Methane is the same tiny band of speculators that are behind Coastal Oil & Gas – they are both based in the same small un-manned office on Bridgend Industrial Estate.

Andy Chyba, letter to newspapers, January 2013

Feb 2013 John Page Killer, from the US shale gas industry (and formerly North Sea and Africa oil/gas) replaces Simon Bentley on Global Brands SA‘s board of directors

Mar 2013: New investing policy includes “farm-ins” and “earn-ins” for oil/gas operators (ie providing finance to oil/gas operators).

The Company is an investing company as defined by the AIM Rules of the London Stock Exchange. Its investing policy is to make investments and acquisitions, either through the issues of securities or for cash, in quoted and non-quoted companies and their securities, in the commodities sector with an emphasis on oil and gas and oil and gas service sectors. Such investments include the provision of financing by way of farm-ins, earn-ins, loans, equity or other forms of financing and investments in and to companies in these sectors”

Global Brands SA statement

Williams is revealed as the majority shareholder, with 29.3%, in Global Brands SA.

Among its first investments is £150,000 into UK Methane and Coastal Oil and Gas Limited (Gerwyn Williams’ company), funneled through a private limited company, Gas Exploration Financing.

In 2013, Gerwyn officially changed his occupation to “consultant engineer” (from electrical engineer).

“Take Gerwyn Williams, a serial Welsh energy entrepreneur based in Bridgend. Companies house shows he has 18 current directorships has resigned from a further 17 boards and been a director of seven companies which have been dissolved. One of his companies, Coastal Oil and Gas, is owned by Thistle Gas which is owned by UK Onshore Gas. This company, in turn, owns UK Methane, which is looking to explore for shale gas in the Welsh valleys and near Bath.”

The Guardian, March 2013

March 2013: At the same time as Gas Exploration Financing was launched to fund UK Onshore Gas and its subsidiaries, Shale Energy PLC and Shale Acquisition Limited were incorporated and immediately launched a bid to raise up to £10m capital to buy Eden’s UK portfolio.

March 2013: Independent auditor expresses concern at Adamo’s ability to continue as a going concern.

FOOFEdenconcern

April 2013: Gerwyn sole director of Air Nation Limited

An Australian company has agreed to sell the shale gas and coal seam methane exploration licences it holds in Wales as well as parts of England for £10m.

Perth-based Eden Energy announced to the Australian Stock Exchange that its entire UK portfolio would be sold to unlisted UK public company Shale Energy PLC.

If completed, the sale increases the prospects that full-scale fracking operations will soon begin at sites in Wales. The controversial extraction technique involves detonating explosives deep underground to release gas locked in rock.

Eden Energy shares licences to explore about 1,000sq km in Wales, stretching from Swansea to Llantwit Major, with Bridgend-based Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd.

The conditional heads of terms deal is worth £10.061m. The deal consists of a cash payment of £750,000 and £6m in shares of Shale Energy, which is planning to list on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange.

The £3.25m balance will be payable in two equal tranches of £1.62m on the independently verified best estimate of recoverable gas of 500 billion cubic feet (bcf) and secondly when the estimate reaches one trillion cubic feet (tcf).

The sale comprises Eden’s 50% joint venture interests in 17 Petroleum and Development Licences (PEDLs) in Wales and England and its 100% stake in a further three PEDLs in Wales.

In June 2011, Eden Energy commissioned US consultants RPS Group to investigate the potential shale gas reserves in the numurian measures of about 800sq km beneath Wales.

RPS Group found the region could hold 34 trillion cubic feet of gas, of which 12.8 trillion cubic feet is classified as recoverable.

If the estimates prove correct, the amount is equivalent to four years of the UK’s gas consumption. In 2009, the UK used a total of 3.6 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The estimated coal seam gas in Eden Energy’s 10 PEDLS in South Wales is 980 billion cubic feet of gas.

Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd director Gerwyn Williams said he had no plans to sell his share of the licences.

Mr Williams said his firm would continue to be the operators of the licences, with the company awaiting the outcome of five planning applications to test drill across Bridgend, Vale of Glamorgan and Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Mr Williams said he hoped to test drill in the autumn, possibly at Llandow Industrial Estate. If successful, further planning permission would be needed to commercially extract the gas reserves.

“We are not selling our part, it just means the other 50% will have a different owner,” he said.

“I am not in this for short-term money, I am here to make this work. I want to make it work for everyone.

“I cannot tell you anything about the new owner, we are not party to that, but they will have to be approved by DECC (Department of Energy & Climate Change).”

South Wales Central’s Conservative AM Andrew RT Davies, who is opposed to shale gas exploration in the Vale of Glamorgan, said any doubt over the ownership of the licences must be resolved quickly.

“This is a large sum of money by anyone’s standards, especially given there are no proven reserves. I believe this is the market responding to the demand for shale gas in other parts of the world, particularly North America,” the Welsh Conservatives leader said.

The stock exchange announcement says Shale Energy was incorporated to pursue shale gas opportunities and has been examining possible projects in the USA for the past few years.

The heads of terms, the statement by Eden Energy’s executive chairman Greg Solomon adds, is conditional upon a number of matters, including Shale Energy completing a further capital raising of £5m as a pre-introduction to listing on the stock exchange.

The purchasing entity will be Shale Acquisition Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Shale Energy.

According to documents lodged with Companies House, Shale Energy was incorporated on March 20 this year and its registered address is a London law firm.

The papers were lodged by Sean Blackwell, who is a director of five companies, which include Shale Gas Poland Ltd and Shale Gas Europe Ltd.

Attempts to contact another director, Kevin Newman, of East Sussex, were unsuccessful.

Western Mail report, May 2013

May 2013: Global switches currency from Swiss to British

“The market is going crazy trying to get into shale gas, Global Brands now has exposure through 17 licences. GEF [Gas Exploration Financing Ltd] has a framework financing agreement (“Framework Agreement”) with Coastal Oil and Gas Limited and UK Methane Limited (together, the “Gas Companies”). The Gas Companies have an ownership interest in 17 petroleum exploration development licences in South Wales, Bristol and Kent with the right to explore and drill for shale gas in the licence areas. Under the Framework Agreement, the Gas Companies have appointed GEF, on a non-exclusive basis, to co-invest by financing their exploration and development operations. In consideration for this co-investment, GEF will receive an economic interest commensurate with the proportion of drilling expenses covered through the funding received from GEF. Coastal Oil & Gas Limited targets overlooked, often challenging, resources with the potential for transformation through the application of both proven and emerging technologies. The company has acquired an initial portfolio of production, development, appraisal and exploration assets with significant growth potential. Initial production comes from Coastal’s interest in the Avington field in Hampshire. In addition, Coastal has interests in the Waddock Cross appraisal project in Dorset and the Formby redevelopment outside Liverpool… “

“UK Methane Ltd, Unit C, Kenfig Industrial Estate, Port Talbot, SA13 2TJ. Website: None. Investors: Unknown. Licences: PEDL 214, 215 (South Wales), 226, 227, 228 (Somerset). Planning on getting permission for test sites in Somerset, potentially in the Mendip Hills near Bath. It is thought that UK Methane Ltd are run by the same group that runs Coastal Oil & Gas Ltd, Unit 9, Bridgend Business Centre, Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan CF31 3SH. Website: None. Investors: Unknown. Licences: PEDL 216, 217, 218, 219, 220 (South Wales), 249, 250, 251, 252 (Kent). Coastal Oil & Gas initially submitted a planning application to test drill for shale gas in Llandow; following local opposition, the company pulled the application in April 2011. However, in late August 2011, they resubmitted the bid. Coastal are also keen to conduct test drills on land in its Kent licences, in fields near Sandwich, and submitted a planning application in April 2011 which is still awaiting a decision. (Still Waiting)

Fair enough. Now then, do they have any ‘permitted’ drill-sites and do they have any cash? (2baffled)

Backed by Australia’s Eden Energy so cash not an issue. (Still Waiting)

Yep, still looking to see if GBR’s [Global Brands’] funding of the shale drills will give an equity stake in Shale Energy rather than an “economic interest”. Interestingly Shale Energy PLC was incorporated at the same time GBR came back!!! (Still Waiting)

So we now know 50% of Shale Energy is worth £10m. Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd director Gerwyn Williams said he had no plans to sell his share of the licences. Mr Williams said his firm would continue to be the operators of the licences, with the company awaiting the outcome of five planning applications to test drill across Bridgend, Vale of Glamorgan and Rhondda Cynon Taf. (Still Waiting)

Share investors chat, June 2013

Gerwyn Williams: We have already drilled six exploration wells in south Wales, and we have drilled one production well. From those wells, we have had a lot of information on the rocks in south Wales. There are various layers in the coalfield. There are coal layers, and, briefly, below those there are sets of numurian shales and potential for conventional gas in the Devonian measures, and then below that, there is more shale potential in the Silurian shales. We sent the results to two consultants; one in Dallas in the US, to look at shale, called RPS, and information on coalbed methane to RISC in Perth, Australia. From these initial wells, they came up with the potential resource of nearly 50 trillion cu ft of shale gas in one part of one set of the shales

Q105 Chair: Did you say 50 trillion cu ft of shale gas in one set of shale in one part of Wales?

Gerwyn Williams: Yes.

Chair: We use about 3 trillion cu ft a year in the whole of the UK.

Gerwyn Williams: Yes. We worked on 3.5 trillion cu ft, and they estimated that 18.7 trillion cu ft is recoverable. That is just the start of it all.

Q106Chair: That is just one small part of one set of the shales.

Gerwyn Williams: Yes. That is just one part of one set of the shales.

At the moment, we are focusing on exploration. We cannot really answer your question until we do the exploration work. We have another set of wells to drill; one in Swansea, one in Port Talbot, four in the Vale of Glamorgan and one near Llantrisant. They will give us a much better picture. The Vale wells will give us a better picture of the potential for conventional gas in the Devonian measures. The Llantrisant well will give us a better picture of numerian shales and the eastern wells will give us a better picture of Silurian potential, which has not been drilled. So, I suppose that the answer to your question is that there is an enormous amount of gas in south Wales. I have spent my life in the mining industry. I worked for 22 years for British Coal and then in private mines; they have all gone, but the energy source is still there, and in my view, we should be exploiting it…

“In south Wales, the majority of the area where the licences are is forested plateau, mainly north of the south Valleys. Most of that plateau is owned by Natural Resources Wales, which was the Forestry Commission, so it is Welsh Government-owned, and we can be up in the forest, drilling directionally under common ownership, without affecting the public at all.

In terms of water management and tanker movements et cetera, just to go back a little, we are working closely with a company in Newport, trying to establish what we call a closed-loop system for water, where we will drill for water on-site. We have built a 67,000 litre inflatable tank, which will go up to 100,000 litres, and we have a filtration system, so we should be able to produce water, store it, take it back out and clean it up on-site and, with a discharge licence, put it back, which will absolutely minimise tanker movements. It will not get rid of them altogether, but you are not going to see, in the future, trains of water tankers coming in and out of drill sites…

“We are drilling a long way below the coal—well, we are not, actually, because we are drilling in the coal. At this stage, we are not drilling for shale, we are drilling to explore for shale. In the short term, we have no intention to hydraulically frack. The intention of our company is to develop coalbed methane first, and that is what we are trying to do. We drill exploration holes.”…

… Chair: Would you like a final word, Mr Williams?

Gerwyn Williams: Again, I would like to see a defined time on planning applications.

Gerwyn Williams giving oral evidence to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, November 2013

Companies keen on extracting shale gas have told MPs there are “substantial” opportunities in north and south Wales.

Last month, two south Wales councils backed exploratory gas drilling bids, prompting opponents’ fears of potential future extraction, known as fracking.

The firms were making their case to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into energy generation.

Fracking opponents have held protests across the UK, including outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

The technique, also called hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure.

The rocks shatter in the process, releasing trapped natural gas.

Vale of Glamorgan and Rhondda Cynon Taf councils have approved exploratory borehole drilling at four separate sites by Coastal Oil and Gas – three in the Vale of Glamorgan, and another in Llantrisant.

The MPs heard evidence from Gerwyn Williams, chairman of UK Onshore Gas Limited, whose subsidiary company Coastal Oil and Gas hold licences to explore 500,000 acres across south Wales and some areas in Somerset and Kent.

Rather than extracting, his company is currently focusing on exploring for shale gas and coal bed methane, and Mr Williams said the results of initial tests were encouraging.

“There is an enormous amount of gas in south Wales and I’ve spent my life in the mining industry – 22 years for British Coal and then in private mines, and they’ve virtually all gone,” he said.

“But the energy source is still there and in my view we should be exploiting it.”

BBC News Wales Politics, November 2013

2014

“The assets Shale Energy [an investment company, now defunct] were (or are) buying were for £10m, though not in cash. They would have to raise that though to move forward in the next couple of years. So a min value of £20m for half sounds right. Where gbr [Global Brands] end up is interesting. Gerwyn Williams (Coastal) owns 29% of GBR and when the deal fell through we had “Coastal Oil and Gas director Gerwyn Williams said negotiations for his firm to buy Eden Energy’s share of the exploration licences were at an “advanced stage”. So make of that what you will!

… From latest results: Acquired the entire issued share capital of Gas Exploration Finance Limited (“GEF”) for £38,100 through the issue of 17,318,182 new ordinary shares at £0.0022; Invested £150,000 in UK Methane Limited through GEF; and Invested £79,162.43 in quoted company shares in the oil and gas sector.”

Share chat, January 2014

Gerwyn Williams

Mr. Gerwyn Llewellyn Williams is Chief Executive Officer, Director of the Company. He is a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, and is a member of the Energy Institute. Mr Williams is chairman of and, together with his associates, owns UK Onshore Gas Limited, which owns the entire issued share capital both of UK Methane Limited and (via its subsidiary Thistle Gas Limited) of Coastal Oil & Gas Limited (the Subsidiaries), which together hold a 50% interest in 13 petroleum exploration and development licences covering 1,181 sq. km. in the UK.

John Killer

Mr. John Page Killer is Director of Global Brands SA. He is currently serving on the Board of several oil and gas exploration and production companies. His early experience was mainly in the North Sea and several African countries, but his work is now concentrated on production operations in the USA where he has been involved in shale gas operations and expanding its use in other countries. He has also acted as consultant to other resource companies involved in project evaluation and acquisition. He has a Bachelor of Science in Geology and Mineralogy from the University of Queensland.

Gary Neville

Mr. Gary Arthur Neville has been appointed as Director of Global Brands S.A., with effect from 1 June 2015. He has an infrastructure, project finance, management consultancy and accountancy background. Until recently, Mr Neville was Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of the manager of the InfraMed Infrastructure fund ($500m) targeting transport, power and urban infrastructure projects in the SEMED region. The fund became substantially invested within 3 1/2 years of his joining. Investments include deep-water port, wind farm, CCGT, and oil & gas projects. Mr Neville was formerly CEO of the exclusive investment advisor to Infrastructure India plc (LSE Main List) and was responsible for the origination and execution of infrastructure investments in India. Infrastructure India plc became substantially invested within four months taking stakes in projects in the transport and power sectors and a substantial pipeline of future opportunities developed in the chosen sectors. Mr Neville was previously a main board director of John Laing plc, one of the largest publicly quoted PPP/PFI infrastructure investors in the UK at the time, with the responsibility of managing and growing the John Laing infrastructure asset portfolio during the period the company was transformed from a construction company into an infrastructure investor. His responsibilities included asset acquisitions, disposals and refinancing, and project monitoring and he also sat on the company’s investment committee.

Bruce Vandenberg

Mr. Bruce MacLaren Vandenberg serves as Director of Global Brands SA. Prior to this, he was Non-Executive Director of the Company as from June 2, 2008. He has experience in business management and has been involved in managing businesses across diverse sectors. He is Director and Investment Manager at Noble Rock Capital. He is involved in the management of the Virto Group as Chief Executive Officer and Sports Brands Corporation as Director. Prior to joining PCFC, he was Managing Director and founded Interactive Rights Management Ltd (IRM). He founded IRM in October 2004 and remains its single shareholder. Between 2000 and 2004, he was Director of Interactive Media at Celador International. Prior to joining Celador, he was involved in an internet start-up and built and ran News International’s Internet Service Provider, the CurrentBun, which was sold to World Online after six months.

February 6, 2014: Shares suspended for Global Brands… Global Brands announced that it was in negotiations for the acquisition of UK Onshore Gas Limited (“UKOG”), a private limited company that is owned by Global Brands’ majority shareholder, Gerwyn Williams, and his associates. The acquisition would have constituted a reverse takeover under AIM Rules and consequently trading in the Company’s shares on AIM were suspended pending publication of an admission document by the Company or an announcement that the proposed acquisition is no longer proceeding. Global Brands also nnounced that it had secured a convertible loan facility for up to £300,000 from Mr Williams. Mr Williams has already provided the Company with £80,000 in funds under the facility.

In 2014, the same independent auditor repeated his concern (as in 2013), and also revealed the interests of Adamo Energy (UK) were up for grabs.

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In 2014, two UKOG shareholders had changed from Whiteley Trustees to The Regent Trust Company Limited (1) and Abacus (C) to RBC Trustees (CI) (2) – the rest remained the same.

UK Onshore Gas Ltd is planning a listing on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market in the next three months to help finance its ongoing exploration programme in Wales, according to The Times Friday.

[* This AIM listing of UKOG never happened]

The shale gas explorer, which plans to start drill testing in June, believe that Wales has so much shale gas reserves that it eventually could start exporting globally.

UK Onshore Gas is better known for its subsidiaries Coastal Oil and Gas and UK Methane, but it also has 260,000 acres of exploration acreage in Wales, with plans to drill six wells over the next two years to assess the region’s shale gas reserves.

The Times said that, according to a consultancy in Texas, the area between Cardiff and Swansea contains up to 50 trillion cubic feet of gas, which would meet Britain’s gas needs for six years.

However, Williams argues that the official estimate is too low and should be more like the Bowland shale region in the North of England, which officially holds up to 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas.

If the exploration drilling shows enough reserves, UK Onshore Gas will apply for permission to frack the wells to test how much can be recovered.

“If the well results are positive, I’m sure we would get permission to frack them,” Williams said. “There is a lot of unemployment in South Wales. Developing a shale gas industry in South Wales would create a lot of jobs.”

Morningstar, March 2014

“Supposed experts like the British Geological Society, have offered varying estimates from 5 trillion cubic feet, to 1000 trillion cubic feet for the UK as a whole.

Meanwhile Eden Energy, who held interests here in Wales until quite recently, produced an estimate for South Wales of 34 trillion cubic feet in 2011. At this point time, the BGS was still sticking to its 5 tcf UK estimate – so who do you believe?

In this industry you choose who you want to believe, and don’t believe the BGS is completely impartial either!

What you need to understand is that this is a very imprecise science. Essentially, what happens is that they drill and take core samples that are often smaller than this (2L) bottle of coke. They than analyse the gas content and extrapolate this across the whole region.

This is utter nonsense in real terms. Firstly, the gas content can vary greatly over quite small distances. And secondly, the recoverable % also varies enormously depending on local conditions within the rock strata and the success, or otherwise, of the fracking operations.

Industry sources quote what they call the Technically Recoverable Rate, typically around 20%. But this is also a gross over-estimate of what is actually recoverable. Experience around the world has shown that 10% recovery is hard enough to achieve…

…There was a spate of test drilling operations around 2008, long before most of us had heard of fracking. They all pretty much dismissed the potential at that stage. Subsequently, astute speculators, like Gerwyn Williams, picked up the PEDL licences across South Wales for a song. He is the man behind tinpot companies like Coastal Oil & Gas and UK Methane, based in Bridgend but with no assets worthy of the name.

Their modus operandum seems to be to pick up PEDL licences cheaply; ponce around putting in planning applications for test drilling here and there – even though they don’t have the resources to do the drilling themselves; talk up the potential and try to secure some backing from somewhat bigger companies like Australian firm Eden Energy (who after some initial interest and a little investment have now withdrawn); and they  then hope to make a killing selling on their licences to the really big boys, if and when full-scale production appears on the horizon.

Gerwyn is a retired miner, getting on in years. This is his Ponzi Pension Plan!!…

 

FINALLY, just in case the frackers are ever let loose here, let me quickly list of my top 13 key local impacts, in no particular order:

1.   Hundreds of HGVs on narrow country lanes

2.   24 hr drilling causing noise, light and air pollution

3.   Dramatic impacts on house prices

4.   Loss of tourism

5.   Impacts on agriculture, such as losing organic status

6.   In total, more long-term jobs lost than short-term jobs created

7.   The threat to water supplies from the massive abstraction of scarce water resources to feed the fracking process

8.   Potential irreparable contamination of aquifers

9.   High probability of spills of frack fluids and toxic flow back water

10.                Likely minor earthquake activity that will cause and increase leaks of gas and fluids, and can cause some structural damage that will not be covered by insurance companies

11.                Long term severe health impacts from exposure to some of the chemicals involved (even in minute concentrations)

12.                Industrial injuries from chemicals, explosions, and silicosis associated with the type of sand used.

13.                The local consequences of climate change exacerbated by this reckless pursuit of extreme fossil fuels rather than focusing on the ample renewable resources that offer Wales genuine energy security and virtually free domestic energy in due course.

Andy Chyba, March 2014

 

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In March 2014, more than a year prior to Gerwyn’s companies moving to the same address, fracking infrastructure provider Guardian Global Technologies receives almost half a million pounds in Welsh Government (taxpayers’) funding.

Guardian, the Pyle-based world-leading supplier of specialist Ballistic Delivery Systems equipment to the oil and gas industry, has today (Friday) confirmed the creation of 22 jobs with the potential of a further 20 roles within the next 12 months, following a grant of almost £500,000 from the Welsh Government.

First Minister, Carwyn Jones, will today officially open a major extension to the company’s plant in Pyle which houses a manufacturing line.

In addition to helping purchase new plant and machinery, the grant has also allowed for the refit of its 11,000 sq ft Research and Development centre, test facility and stores.

Guardian is the world’s leading manufacturer of Ballistic Delivery Systems (BDS) for the oil and gas industry – supplying key components for oil and gas servicing companies.

Patrick Keenan, Guardian Chief Executive Officer, said: “We are delighted to be opening this new facility that will allow Guardian to continue to invest in its Research and Development Facility that in turn will allow us to continue our path of accelerated growth over the next few years.

“Guardian continues to break new barriers in creating the playing field for Ballistic Delivery Systems.

The Welsh Government support is greatly appreciated and has truly helped Guardian in its journey, helping create an additional 22 skilled jobs, supporting the local economy and helping us set the foundations for future growth.”

The First Minister said: “As the global market leader in Ballistic Delivery Systems, Guardian is an expert within a niche market. I believe it is testament to our skilled workforce in Wales that such an innovative company chose to establish itself here.

“I am pleased that we have been able to support Guardian in its expansion, with almost £500,000 in grant funding. This funding will bring further skilled jobs to the area as well as enabling the company to extend and modernise its facilities so it may continue to go from strength to strength.”

Guardian has been trading for more than a decade and, following private equity backing in 2008, the company has grown from 18 staff to its current workforce of more than 90 in 2014.

The company supplies major oil and gas companies.

Western Mail, March 2014

In the same month as Guardian revamps its Pyle headquarters, it opens a new facility in Houston, Texas:

Guardian announced today (Monday, 3rd March) the opening of its new facility in Houston, Texas.

The office marks the company’s fourth expansion outside its headquarters in South Wales, UK, and has been undertaken in response to the increasing demand for its Ballistics Delivery products, including its Select Fire Switch™, to aid in the continued expansion of horizontal drilling and completions in shale reservoirs throughout North America. Situated in North Houston, the facility will initially house U.S. sales, marketing, technical support and administration functions, and will position the company to better support its North American Clients.

Guardian, headquartered in South Wales, United Kingdom, was established in 2003 , and, with the backing of the private equity firm, EPI-V, has grown to become the world’s leading manufacturer of Ballistics Delivery Systems (BDS) for the oil and gas service industry, supplying all of the major companies in the sector. The company supplies everything required for perforating – from the cablehead down to the detonator – on a single integrated simple-to-operate platform.  This allows clients to deliver (and safely retrieve) their perforating guns, whether deployed singly or in combinations of up to 40 guns in a string, on-depth, orientated, and safely fired in whichever configuration suits.

Patrick Keenan, Guardian Chief Executive Officer, said,

“We are delighted to be opening this new facility in Houston. It will allow Guardian to better support our clients in North America. With the help of funding from EPI-V, and the financial support of the Welsh Government, from our engineering and manufacturing headquarters in South Wales, Guardian has been able to revolutionise the means by which oil and gas operators perforate their horizontal wells. We are continuing to develop technologies that will define the field of play for Ballistics Delivery Systems in the future.”

Guardian Global Technologies website

March 2014: Eden Energy Ltd (Perth, Australia) terminates agreement with Shale Energy PLC to sell its UK gas portfolio, after Shale Energy fails to raise £7 million capital.

Eden has entered into a conditional Heads of Terms with its existing UK gas and
petroleum Joint Venture partners to merge their respective interests on the following terms:
* Eden will transfer its wholly owned UK subsidiary, Adamo Energy (UK) Ltd
(“Adamo UK”) to UK Onshore Gas Limited (“UKOG”) (the parent company of the
two UK Joint Venture partners of Adamo UK).
* Eden will receive £1million in cash together with 33.33% of the aggregate issued
share capital of UKOG before it undertakes any capital raising.
* UKOG will hold 100% of all the merged UK gas and petroleum licences.
* [If the £1million cash is not paid to Eden by 30 September 2014, Eden may elect to forego the payment and increase its shareholding in UKOG from 33.33% to 40%
of the aggregate issued share capital of UKOG before it undertakes any capital raising.]
* It is intended that UKOG will either:
– list on AIM (possibly by way of reversal into an existing listed company) after or
contemporaneously with it completing a fund raising to give it additional funds
to develop and exploit its UK gas and petroleum licences; or
– complete an off-market capital raising into UKOG of not less than £10million.

 

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Now Gerwyn is spearheading a new industrial revolution that he hopes will once more see Wales exporting energy to the world.

He has bought the 65-acre derelict St John’s Colliery site and wants to frack shale gas from the pit where four generations of his family toiled 1,000ft underground.

He says: “Our family and Maesteg made a good living from coal. Now fracking can provide cheap energy and bring industry and jobs back to South Wales.”

His UK Methane company has a licence for exploring 260,000 acres in the former mining heartlands between Cardiff and Swansea.

The area contains about 50 trillion cubic feet of gas, of which 18 trillion cubic feet is recoverable, say experts in Texas. Enough to meet Britain’s needs for six years.

His firm has already drilled six test boreholes for coalbed methane gas. Now it is applying for plans to drill for shale gas too.

To fund further drilling, Gerwyn is floating one of his other companies, UK Onshore Gas, in June on the London AIM exchange.

The Sun, April 2014

July 23, 2o14: Global Brands resumes trading on the London Stock Exchange Alternative Investments Market (AIM) after failing to acquire UK Onshore Gas Ltd in a reverse takeover.

UKOG Ltd – the parent company of Gerwyn’s three exploration companies holding licences, UK Methane, Coastal Oil and Gas (via Thistle) and South Western Energy – according to its last accounts (up to December 31, 2014), had £2,540 in the bank, but shareholders’ funds remained at MINUS £1,754.

October 2014 – Somerset

Somerset-PEDL-Area-Map-July2014

UK Methane have renewed their PEDL (Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence) 227 for a further year. PEDL 227 covers Ston Easton and adjacent areas of the Mendips. However the other three PEDLs in Somerset (225, 226 and 228 – including Saltford) have been relinquished but can be purchased by other companies in the latest, 14th, licensing round (licensing closing date 28th October 2014) [UPDATE: they weren’t, but South Western Energy now has other PEDLs for another part of Somerset].

In their relinquishment report for PEDL 228, UK Methane conclude that “the licence was still potentially prospective and that a number of potential drill sites were identified”. They also report that B&NES Council made it “increasingly difficult to attain planning permission following on from the Europa Oil and Gas Limited refusal of planning for an exploration borehole in green belt land in Surrey. This limited the potential to get planning permission for an exploration borehole on the licence”.

Frack Free Somerset organised an ‘Autumn of Awareness and Action’ with public events during November in the PEDL 227 area.

Saltford Environment Group website, October/ December 2014

November 2014: Gerwyn Williams is appointed Global Brands SA‘s CEO.

Interesting appointment… According to LSE (London Stock Exchange) morons there have been some developments going on with DECC and Eden? If the main guy is getting involved then it looks more likely this could be used as a vehicle for his interests. And he comes in as CEO so not just any old Director.

Share chat, November 2014

Gerwyn is a qualified Electrical Engineer with many years hands on experience in the coal mining and unconventional gas industries. He has founded a number of energy businesses and is currently the largest shareholder in Infinity Energy and the company’s Chief Executive Officer. Gerwyn is also the Chairman of UK Onshore Gas, his family owned group of companies that hold substantial areas of Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences in South Wales via wholly subsidiary companies Coastal Oil and Gas and UK Methane.

Gerwyn is a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, and a Fellow of the Energy Institute.

Infinity Energy profile

 

November 2014: Seven people with an interest and expertise in fracking debated the question Should fracking be allowed in Britain? in front of an audience of around 200 people at Canterbury Christ Church University.

“We have drilled six wells so far. We have drilled five exploration wells and one production well. We’ve never had an objector on site. Sometimes we’ve never even bothered to put security outside. That has all changed in recent years since Balcombe came round in the summer a few years ago. The whole industry has changed. And I think it has changed for the worst.”

Gerwyn Williams, Canterbury Debate, November 2014

 

Bridgend-based Coastal Oil and Gas have planning permission to test drill for gas at land owned by Evfil in Llantrithyd.

A spokesman for the Llantrithyd Residents Association said the group has a petition asking Evfil Ltd and its directors not to allow Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd not to drill for gas.

He said: “We are expecting a very special guest to come to deliver our present for us.

“We are inviting everyone to come along and help spread the word about the dangers of fracking.

“There will be live music, mince pies and cheerful company as we all look forward to a happy Christmas and a frack-free future and new year.”

The association spokesman said: “We have held several meeting with Natural Resources Wales and hope that the area will be classed as being of ‘high public interest’ which would mean that there would have to be public engagement before any licences for drilling were granted.”

The association was formed in January with the aim of “preventing the exploration and production of hydrocarbons in the Llantrithyd postal address area.”

The association says it represents over 90% of the village.

Meanwhile, Gerwyn Williams, chairman of UK Onshore Gas Limited, of which Coastal Oil and Gas is a subsidiary, said drilling at its Llandow site would begin “in the near future”.

Mr Williams said the company, which also hold licences to explore for shale gas in parts of Somerset and Kent, had also applied for similar licences to explore in other parts of Wales.

He added: “There is an enormous amount of gas in South Wales and in my view we should be exploiting it.”

Western Mail, December 2014

GERWYN WILLIAMS (UK Onshore Gas Group – incl Coastal Oil & Gas)

Most interesting was our brief discussion beforehand where he revealed his stock market flotation has had difficulties and is a few months behind schedule. His new line of spin was that shale gas should be seen as providing the carbon for lightweight vehicles and the hydrogen for pollution free vehicles.

Green Leftie report on Public Forum for Energy Policy in Wales

John Page Killer’s seismic firm Sigma Exploration Ltd shows shareholders’ funds at MINUS £1.7m in its accounts up to December 31, 2014. [Sigma owns 5% shares in UK Onshore Gas, while John Killer, born in 1943, is also director alongside Gerwyn with investment platform Gas Exploration Limited and its owner, Luxembourg-based Infinity Energy SA, plus sits with Gerwyn on the board of the seemingly dormant UK Gas Ltd, and did from 2006-11 at Seven Star Natural Gas Limited.

2015

20th January 2015: UK Methane applied for planning permission for a well which will target both the Coal and Shale formations at a site near Pontrhydyfen. An earlier application for the same development was rejected by Neath Port Talbot Council over noise level concerns. [the plan was given consent]

February: The Western Mail asks if the Welsh Government’s vote to impose a moratorium on fracking until it can be proven safe means the end for fracking in South Wales. [note: the moratorium doesn’t seem to apply to testing, which doesn’t involve fracking]

The company behind a series of applications to test drill for gas in South Wales has applied for a permit to start work on land in a village near to where scenes for the epic adventure drama film Lawrence of Arabia were filmed.

Bridgend-based Coastal Oil and Gas has applied to Natural Resources Wales for an environmental permit to drill a borehole at a site off Tyla Lane, Merthyr Mawr, Bridgend.

The proposed site is 800 metres from the village and 1.7 kilometres from the Merthyr Mawr dunes, a Site of Special Scientific Interest where parts of the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole, were filmed.

Planning permission for the scheme was granted by Bridgend County Borough Council in December last year and gives the company up to five years to begin the test drill.

However, before any work can begin, the company will need an environmental permit.

The Vale of Glamorgan council, which unsuccessfully opposed an application by the company to test drill at the Llandow Industrial Estate, has been asked for its “observations” on the application for an environmental permit on the Merthyr Mawr site.

The Vale council’s refusal of the Llandow application, which was based around concerns that it could lead to a “fracking” operation, was overturned following a public inquiry.

The council was ordered to pay the company’s costs of £40,000.

Work has yet to begin on drilling at Llandow for which a similar environmental permit will be required.

The Merthyr Mawr scheme involves drilling an exploratory borehole for “unconventional oil and gas” to a depth of approximately 1,500m.

Drilling operations would last for about eight weeks. Both the company and Natural Resources Wales have stressed that “there will be no hydraulic fracturing (fracking) as part of this operation.”

In their letter to the Vale council, Natural Resources Wales says: “Any application for an environmental permit will assess the impact of the proposed activity on the environment and local community.”

The original planning application at Merthyr Mawr was opposed by 29 residents and members of the Broadlands Residents’ Association.

They said fracking was “dangerous and unwarranted and can result in a range of environmental concerns including landslides, subsidence and minor earthquakes and effect on ecology. This activity is banned in several countries.”

They also raised concerns about noise and the impact the operation could have on the Merthyr Mawr sand dunes.

Planners pointed out that while there were concerns about fracking, the application did not involve the controversial gas extraction technique and therefore objections on that ground would be invalid.

Coastal Oil and Gas has permission to test drill at three sites in the Vale of Glamorgan. They are Five Mile Lane, Dyffryn; Llandow Trading Estate, Cowbridge; and Llancarfan.

In Bridgend, the company has permission to test drill at Merthyr Mawr and Cwmcedfyw Farm, Pontrhydycyff.

In Rhondda Cynon Taf, it has permission to test drill at Pantybrad Road, Llantrisant.

Western Mail article, May 2015

May 2015:

May 2015: “In the absence of any other sources of additional funding, the Company will continue to be reliant on the financial support of Mr Williams.” (Global Brands Notice of Results)

The Global Brands‘ wholly owned subsidiary, Gas Exploration Finance Limited (GEF), has a framework financing agreement with Coastal Oil and Gas Limited and UK Methane Limited (together, the “Gas Companies”) whereby GEF has been appointed, on a non-exclusive basis, to co-invest to finance the Gas Companies’ exploration and development operations.

Share chat, May 2015

[NOTE: THIS GERWYN COMPANY SHOWED PROFIT IN ITS LATEST FILED RESULTS!]

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July 2015: Somerset confirmed frack free [but only until August 2015]

We have confirmation that PEDL 227 which covers part of the Mendip Hills between Bath and Shepton Mallet has now been relinquished by the licence holder UK Methane.  This is excellent news for our area as it now means there are no active oil and gas companies seeking to explore possible reserves in Somerset! We are Frack Free!

This follows the relinquishment last June of the 3 previously held licence areas in Somerset.  So for the time being the threat of immediate unconventional gas exploration has been removed.

We feel this move by UK Methane is at least in part due to the amazing efforts of local people and groups to make Somerset an unwelcome place for oil and gas exploration, showing that any moves to explore in Somerset will be strongly resisted.

A word of caution here though as we are soon expecting the government to announce the results of the 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licencing Round, which could mean that another oil and gas company could have bid for any of the licence blocks in our area and attempt to commence exploration.

Gasfield Free Mendip website

June 2015: What next for fracking in South Wales, asks a Bridgend blogger?

Remember that UK Methane and Coastal Oil & Gas are both Gerwyn Williams companies. He is scratching around trying to fund some drilling activity so he doesn’t have his licences taken off him. Re the Bridgend sites, Cwmcedfyw has seen test drilling for CBM done and dusted. It is not a major concern. Similarly, Ffaldau has been generating electricity on a small scale from CBM extraction without fracking and is not a significant concern. St John’s Colliery saw drilling aborted sometime ago and is unlikely to be revisited anytime soon. This leaves Merthyr Mawr as the focus of attention in the Bridgend area at present. Gerwyn has just recently applied for an Environmental permit for this site – and two other in South Wales, namely Five Mile Lane, and Llandow ). These are clearly top of his initial hit list. Watch this space.

Andy Chyba: Green Leftie blog on live fracking planning applications in Wales, June 2015

A change of address for Gerwyn and his many companies… to an office housed within the Merlin House industrial estate complex in Pyle, near Bridgend, belonging to fracking/ drilling infrastructure firm, Guardian Global Technologies (servicing Halliburton and Schlumberger among other global fracking giants).

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Twenty nine jobs are set to be lost at a Bridgend firm that supplies equipment to oil and gas companies around the world.

Guardian Global Technologies employs 80 people at its manufacturing and research facility in Pyle.

Chief Executive Officer Patrick Keenen said it is “with deep regret” that they had entered into a consultation process with the workforce in order to reduce numbers.

‘Sudden and severe fall in orders’

“The economic downturn in the worldwide oil and gas industry has regrettably led to Guardian Global Technologies entering into a consultation process with staff, in order to reduce the size of our workforce,” said Mr Keenan, in a statement released on Wednesday .

“We provide sophisticated equipment for oil and gas wells, but the worldwide fall in oil and gas prices has greatly reduced the amount of drilling being performed in our industry, particularly in our key market of the United States.

“The result is a sudden and severe fall in the number of orders on our books.

‘We cannot maintain our current staffing level’

“We have no option but to reduce our costs, and, regrettably, this means we cannot maintain our current staffing level. This is a great disappointment as, until very recently, we were recording very good results.

“We initially believed that 40 staff would be affected. However, very constructive consultation with staff representatives has resulted in some innovative cost saving measures, and we now anticipate a reduction of 29 jobs.”

In March 2014, First Minister Carwyn Jones officially opened an extension to the plant on the Village Farm Industrial Estate.

‘Excellent, hard-working and loyal workforce’

At the time, Guardian, which was established in 2003, also confirmed the creation of 22 jobs.

Mr Keenan praised the company’s loyal workforce for helping it through the ongoing consultation process.

“We have an excellent, hard-working and loyal workforce at Guardian and it is with deep regret that we have had to initiate this process – to protect the future of the company,” he said.

“Employees have remained incredibly professional and they have been tremendous in helping the company to overcome this difficult period.

“It is likely that there will be an upturn in the market at some time and our order book may grow again, but unfortunately we cannot know when that will be.”

Mr Keenan added that the consultation process is ongoing.

June 2015: Not much more than a year after receiving £500,000 in Government grant money targeted at job creation, Guardian lays off 29 of its 80 staff

Guardian are the first publicly-available accounts we’ve investigated so far that show a seven-figure turnover (it costs millions of pounds, rather than thousands to undertake a single well, from construction to completion).

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FOOFEPI-V

As well as receiving Government aid, since 2008 Guardian has been funded by a private equity company, EPI-V. EPI-V also funds a petroleum exploration and production company active in Yorkshire, Moorland Energy. But EPI-V focuses on investment in the infrastructure and services provided to the oil and gas industry. They are minimal risk as they are “less directly impacted by fluctuating oil prices.”

FOOF EPI-V

 

Epi-V is a private equity firm providing growth capital to companies in the energy sector.

Headquartered in the UK, Epi-V seeks out commercial opportunities within upstream oil and gas services to deliver growth and exceptional returns for our investments and shareholders.

Through our investments we play an active role in developing dynamic businesses and technology-based application solutions which will meet the present and future challenges of oil and gas production.

Since 2007, we have invested in oil field services technology, providing capital, industry insight and commercialisation competence to companies targeting growth markets in the global upstream sector. We specialise in sourcing, structuring and syndicating non-auction, off-market transactions with high growth potential.

We seek to make investments between $3m and $15m (£2m and £10m).

EPI-V website

The link with Guardian and EPI-V is Kevin Forbes, a director of both companies:

Kevin has over three decades experience of successfully commercialising and implementing new upstream technology.

Kevin works closely with management teams to develop innovative products which can be commercialised in international markets. He has been particularly involved in Epi-V’s investment in i-Tec, the manufacturer and designer of highly advanced completion, drilling and intervention products, leading the company to exploit the US shale gas market and leading the company’s exit sale in 2013.

Kevin has extensive leadership experience in the oil and gas industry including 30 years at Schlumberger Oilfield Services, initially as an engineer before spending ten years at the heart of both the Company’s Integrated Project Management and Marketing divisions. Prior to joining Epi-V he held the position of Group Technolgy and Marketing Manager at the firm’s Houston office. Over the course of his career Kevin has worked in London, Aberdeen and the USA.

Kevin has served on the board of directors for Schlumberger’s Evaluation and Production Services, the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce and Epi-V’s portfolio companies Guardian Global Technologies, i-Tec, Moorland and Darcy.

Kevin joined Epi-V in 2008. He holds a Bsc from Brunel University and an MBA from Cranfield Institute of Technology.

Kevin Forbes profile, EPI-V website

July 2015: Adamo moved its office from London to Wales (Cardiff Gate).

July 2015: Global Brands SA changes its name to Infinity Energy

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August 2015: Geologist Oliver Taylor joined the board of directors at UK Methane

 

GAS exploration is in the pipeline for land north of Swansea.

Pyle-based UK Methane wants to drill a 1,000m borehole to test for the presence of coal bed methane at a site owned by Penllergaer Estates, off Bryntywod Road, Llangyfelach.

If given consent to test drill by Swansea Council, Natural Resources Wales and the Coal Authority, the samples would be sent off for analysis.

UK Methane’s planning statement said: “This application is for exploration works only and does not entail any ground stimulation (fracking) or any gas production. If the results indicate that viable reserves are present, consultation will be carried out with the community and the council to explore a suitable site for gas production. This will be the subject of a new planning application.”

August 19, 2015: New fracking licence blocks announced, pending Habitats Regulations Assessments – licence operators not revealed (until December 2015).

August 20, 2015: Share prices in Infinity Energy SA spike by 200% (a day after the Government publishing a map with licence blocks – licence operators not made public until December 2015). Company releases statement: “The Board of Infinity Energy notes the sharp increase in the Company’s share price today.

The Board is not aware of any reason for the price movement.”

You do all realise the history here. This used to be Global Brands. It was pumped by the regular tipsters and those who are self-proclaimed gurus. It then collapsed in a very dishonourable style from a very high price. Infinity is the dying embers under a new name. (apfindley)

Only 70 million shares traded and it was up by 200%… something to think about (letmepass)

Drop like a stone tomorrow. Feel for all those who will get spiked (ch4_p88)

The company is in debt and has very limited cash. The only reason everyone is jumping on-board is because it had a sub million market cap (for a reason). You get the usual pumping group start to buy and push the promotion buttons, and all the little followers jump on an already doubled share price to push it higher. It moved because the price was so cheap so it was easy to manipulate. Tomorrow will be tears, even the pumpers on lse are getting a bit nervous. Let’s face it, if they were confident, then they wouldn’t have been posting every few minutes all evening. It’s going to be a mad scramble to get out first before it collapses. The company have debts, and are not big enough to service those debts. There will be a cash raising very soon, wait and see… That’s why it’s being pumped. (apfindley)

I definitely do not want to buy here. Can you not see, this has been pumped and hyped by the regular ORGANISED PUMPING CREW. All you little guys suckered in again to the dying embers of a failed and renamed company (apfindley)

They buy in very low in a depressed company over several weeks so the market doesn’t notice. Then they start to promote it all over the place, They place a few trades to spark the price into life, then a few people think ooh it’s rising, the stories must be true, then the pumpers buy a few more into the rise to make it move faster and give the impression of volume gathering, then the snowball starts, which is what happened yesterday afternoon. The organised pumping crew then choose their time to exit, which they probably started late yesterday just before close. They knowthe score, and we’re probably surprised at no movement rns during market hours, but they knew one was coming after close, it had to. I knew it would come too as I posted yesterday, it had to come. The people left holding expensive stock in a company with debts and very little cash, are unfortunately the small guys, the mug punters who are just chasing prices that have already risen. Probably the same ones nursing losses at apfo or rmp too this week. (apfindley)

Share chat, August 2015

Sep 2015: Infinity Energy reports losses of £65,000 from Jan-June 2015 (£97,000 in 2014)

Gerwyn Williams’ stable of largely valueless companies, including Coastal Oil & Gas and UK Methane, have found themselves a new home.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 09.00.21Given the apparently parlous state of his finances, I suppose that paying out rent for an office on Bridgend Industrial Estate, that he barely ever used for anything but a glorified mailing address, was a luxury that had to go in these austere times. Luckily, he appears to have been offered a helping hand from a company with a vested interest in fracking worldwide – Guardian Global Technology Ltd of Village Farm Industrial Estate in Pyle

… But things just aren’t working out as planned for Gerwyn. His home is progressing at a snail’s pace, as he clearly cannot afford to finish what he has started. The same is true with his PEDL licences. He may well have got Environment permits sorted for a couple of sites recently, but I seriously doubt he has the resources to do the test drilling. Having lost the backing of people like Eden Energy, I can’t see Guardian’s magnanimity extending to a 7 or 8 figure loan!!

Things have not exactly been going as planned for Guardian either. Only last year, they extended their Pyle plant (extension opened by none other than Carwyn Jones) and took on extra workers. But now they too are struggling, having already made 29 of their 80 employees redundant earlier this year. 

Andy Chyba: Green Leftie blog, September 2015

Guardian Global Technologies offers a useful service for gas explorers – as well as sales, it includes rental of drilling equipment:

Having the ability to rent selective equipment is an option that often proves crucial in the oil and gas industry. Challenges can change on a daily basis and having the opportunity to immediately access key technology can be critical to success.

Being able to rent equipment also provides the opportunity to try technology before purchase, hire for just one job, or to cover the short lead time while your own made-to-order equipment is being manufactured.

Guardian makes available, for immediate use, a selection of our most popular surface equipment, perforation instruments and production logging tools for those occasions.

Guardian Global Technologies website

Oct 2015: Infinity Energy suspends trading while it negotiates buying Eden Energy‘s shares in 9 PEDLs in S Wales exploration

Having been alerted to the fact that some significant sums of money have passed through Gerwyn Williams companies quite quickly recently (I hope the taxman is watching him!), I thought I had better check on what he is up to. All his test drilling sites are being monitored regularly and there is negligible evidence of anything going on at them, but what of his luxury retirement home? As previously reported, progress has been painfully slow this year, but having popped down there today, there is evidence of activity that would probably equate to the sums of money passing through his company accounts. For a start the lift installers were on site today, and one of them commented that it is the biggest lift they have ever installed in a residential property. You can gauge this from the installation on the roof. Secondly, there is a sizeable indoor pool being installed in the ground floor…

Andy Chyba: Green Leftie blog, November 2015

Dec 2015: Trading resumed as Infinity Energy says its attempt to buy out 50% of Eden Energy failed. Shares plummet.

FOOFInfinityEnergy

2016

To mark ‘No Fracking Way UK 2016’, supporters of Frack Free Wales visited all the [10] live sites in South Wales to check on progress.

Three of the sites have had their land access agreement withdrawn, so will probably not be drilled.  One site (Llanharan) was refused Planning Permission; we await an appeal.

Of the remainder, three (Pontrhydyfen, Merthyr Mawr and Llandow Trading Estate) have been granted Environmental Permits.  One of these is likely to be the next site drilled in South Wales, but there is no indication that work is about to start.

January 30, 2016: Frack Free Wales inspected all the South Wales sites with permission for test drilling and reported no activity at any

 

FOOFswaleslicences2015

Welsh sites for coalbed methane and shale gas (2015)

Feb 22, 2016: Gerwyn Williams ups his convertible loan facility to Infinity Energy SA to £400,000. The market reacts negatively – share prices drop by 1 per cent.

Feb 24, 2016: Eden Energy (Australia) confirms completion of sale (for £1 plus royalties) of South Wales PEDLs to Adamo Energy and UK Onshore Gas (parent company of UK Methane Ltd/ Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd). UKOG acquires Adamo Energy

As previously disclosed, there is no guarantee that any payment will be made by UKOG to Adamo Energy under the Earn Out, as such a payment is dependant upon Petroleum Substances being mined, derived or extracted from the PEDLs and there is no guarantee that this will occur.

Whilst coal bed methane is known from earlier exploration to occur on PEDL 100, the size of this resource is not yet proven.

Further, whilst there is a reasonable chance that other hydrocarbon deposits may exist in one or other form of conventional or unconventional hydrocarbons on the PEDLs, this is also not proven.

In any event, the production of commercial quantities of recoverable hydrocarbons, should they exist on the PEDLs will depend upon many matters, including but not limited to any necessary regulatory and/ or environmental approvals that may be required, the economics of both exploration for and production of hydrocarbons, and the ability to secure access to the sites for drilling (much of the licence areas being privately owned).

Statement from Eden Energy, on selling its South Wales interests to UK Onshore Gas for £1 plus a share of royalties, February 2016

February-March 2016: All Adamo’s £2,125,000 shares are allotted to the parent company, Eden Energy. Gerwyn Williams appointed as director of Adamo.

March 2016: Shale Energy UK Limited, with offices in London and Lagos, Nigeria, dissolved.

March 31st 2016: Drill Or Drop reports Coastal Oil and Gas had dropped its appeal against planning refusal in Llanharan, Rhondda Cynon Taf and plans to look for another site.

April 2016: Geologist Oliver Taylor appointed as director of Adamo

THE STORY SO FAR…

INVESTIGATION INTO SW ENERGY: KEY FINDINGS

WHO ARE SOUTH WESTERN ENERGY?

GERWYN: PRINCE OF SHALES 1950-2007

GERWYN: LICENSED TO DRILL 2008-11

GERWYN: LICENCE TO DRILL: 2008-11

2008

During 2008, UK Methane Limited drilled three exploration wells in South Wales (source: Frack Free Somerset)

January 2008: Gerwyn establishes Newton Beach Development Company

June 2008, Bruce Vandenburg joins Global Brands SA as a non-executive director

 

FOOF2011map

July 2008: 13th Onshore Licencing Round awards announced (potentially running until 2039):
1. PEDL212 (North of Swansea) to Eden Energy;
2. PEDL214 (Swansea, Gower) administered by UK Methane but with 50/50 ownership between UK Methane and Eden Energy;
3. PEDL215 (Port Talbot) also admin UK Methane 50/50 ownership split;
4. PEDL216 (Merthyr Mawr) administered by Coastal 50/50 ownership split between Coastal and Eden5. PEDL217 (Bridgend) ditto
6. PEDL218 (Rhondda Cynon Taf?) administered by Eden, 50/50 ownership split between Eden and Coastal
7. PEDL219 (Vale of Glamorgan) administered by Coastal 50/50 ownership split between Coastal and Eden
8. PEDL220 (Vale of Glamorgan?) ditto
9. PEDL221 (Vale of Glamorgan?) to Eden Energy
10. PEDL223 (Vale of Glamorgan?) to Eden Energy
11. PEDL226 (Mendips) operated by UK Methane, 50/50 split between UK Methane and Eden Energy
12. PEDL227 (Mendips) ditto
13. PEDL228 (Mendips) ditto
14. PEDL249 (Kent) operated by Coastal Oil and Gas, 50/50 split between Coastal and Eden
15. PEDL250 (Kent) ditto
16. PEDL 251 (Kent) ditto
17. PEDL 252 (Kent) ditto

[as from February 2016, UK Methane/ Coastal/ UK Onshore Gas Ltd now have 100% ownership of all 10 South Wales PEDLs. Those in Kent and Somerset were relinquished before 2015]

By August 2008, UKOG had accrued a debt of £1,316 and by 2009 £1,819, in 2010 £2,109

WALES could soon have a raft of “methane millionaires” after a global energy firm announced the South Wales coalfield was saturated with the valuable gas.

It was once the miner’s deadliest enemy, causing devastating underground blasts in pit after pit and killing more than 1,000 Welsh colliers.

But yesterday, Australian-based clean coal technology firm Eden Energy opened the door for a methane-based energy supply revolution in South Wales.

After years of test drilling, the company made the first ever resource estimate from drilling for coal seam methane. And the results have been astonishing.

Perth-based Eden say the prospective recoverable resource from just one of its drilling areas (Port Talbot) could provide heat to every home in a town the size of Maesteg for the next 670 years.

Eden has a joint arrangement with Pyle-based Coastal Oil and Gas, run by Welsh businessman and energy expert Gerwyn Williams, to drill not only in Port Talbot but also in an area stretching to the Llynfi Valley above Maesteg to the North and Pencoed to the east.

Eden says the prospective recoverable methane in its Port Talbot area alone could raise 380 to 670 petajoules of methane energy.

One petajoule is equivalent to a million gigajoules and the average, well-insulated home can be heated using 50 gigajoules a year.

At today’s inflated gas prices, the value of the methane field in South Wales could run into billions of pounds.

Mr Williams, of Coastal Oil and Gas, could not comment yesterday, leaving the announcement to Eden Energy.

But a coal industry expert who has been involved in the test drilling, who did not want to be named, said Wales’ rich seam could see “methane millionaires”.

He said: “Britain has many billions of pounds worth of methane trapped in its coal seams but by far the richest carriers of methane are the seams beneath South Wales.”

Eden Energy’s executive chairman, Greg Solomon, said yesterday: “This initial estimate confirms what we have always suspected, that we are sitting on a major resource of coal seam methane at a time when prices for this commodity have never been so high. The area is also exceptionally well located, with easy access to natural gas pipelines and an unprecedented appetite for natural gas in both the British and European markets.

“There is a lot of knowledge from previous data compiled by British Gas which suggests that the gas contained in coal deposits in South Wales is up to more than twice as gassy as that from any other coal fields in the UK.

“We are immediately commencing a further review of the joint venture’s existing data from the vast British Coal mining database.

“This will be followed by drilling and testing of between six and 10 further drill holes, which should be completed within the next 6-12 months subject to rig availability.”

Western Mail, September 2008

It seems Perth-based RISC Advisors had analysed CBM samples, and come up with the figure (according to Gerwyn’s evidence to Parliament in 2013, see further below).

RISC has participated in all the Coalbed Methane projects in Australia, as well as projects in India, China, Indonesia, Europe and Africa; provided Shale Gas support in Australia and the US and Tight Gas support in Australia, China, Vietnam, Russia, Oman and Algeria.

Reserves Certification

RISC certifies reserves and carries out audits to SPE-PRMS, SEC, NI-51-01 and other standards. The principals of RISC have also had responsibility for the preparation of reserves statements, the preparation, evaluation and implementation of oil and gas field development plans, gas and LNG contract negotiation, joint venture negotiations and evaluation of new business opportunities during their careers with major organisations such as Shell, BP, Arco, Santos, Mobil, Petrofina and Woodside.

RISC applies its understanding of how unconventional resources differ from conventional oil and gas to derive reserve and resource estimates with the discipline and thoroughness applied to the conventional petroleum sector.

RISC has carried out conventional and unconventional petroleum reserves evaluations in over 30 countries, as well as due diligence and advisory assignments on behalf many major banks including Merrill Lynch, Barclays, ANZ, BNP, CSFB, Standard Chartered, Socgen, BOSI, RBS, Macquarie Bank, CBA, RMB Banker’s Trust, Mizuho Corporate Bank / Daichi Kenyo Bank, International Finance Corporation, and JP Morgan.

RISC Advisory website

 

October: Gerwyn appointed director of Unity Power Generation Limited. He resigned in July 2009.

For its first-year accounts Eden said “the principal activity of the company in the year under review was to develop and commercially exploit its UK Coal Bed Methane, Coal Mine Methane and Natural Gas Interests”.   The accounts show zero turnover and a loss of £1,333 in administrative expenses. They also show assets of £747,669 but total assets less current liabilities at MINUS £333.

2009

2009 Bruce Vandenburg, former Portsmouth FC Chief Operating Officer, is now CEO  of Global Brands SA.

Gerwyn establishes Local Energy Supply Systems Limited

February 2009: Bascall resigns as secretary of Eden Energy (UK), replaced by Chief Financial Officer Aaron Philip Gates (also with an address in Western Australia).

July 2009: 10 0f Gerwyn’s companies are placed in administration: Unity Power PLC, Unity Power Supplies Limited, Unity Power Distribution Limited, Ocean Coal Limited, Centreclear Limited, Horizon Mining Limited, Abbey Mine Limited, Unity Mine Limited, Horizon Mineral Handling Limited, while Unity Power Generation Limited is dissolved.

September 2009: Eden Energy (UK) moves with UK Onshore Gas to Bridgend Business Centre. Its 2009 accounts show fixed assets of £282,229 and £18,391 in current assets, with a balance of MINUS £1,418.

2010

2010: Global Brands SA attempts but fails to get the master franchise agreement on YO Sushi in Switzerland and Austria.

2010/11: The balance of Eden Energy (UK) in 2010 (total assets less current liabilities) was declared at PLUS £413,392 (although shareholders’ funds stood at MINUS £3,367), and in 2011 the figures respectively were £759,155 and MINUS £64,184.

2011

In 2011, UK Methane Limited drilled a production well at Llangenior [in the Garw Valley, five miles north of Bridgend]. Here they had DECC permission to drill to 600metres and later 1000metres. The well or borehole is 8” diameter steel to be screwed and cemented together. At the surface is a recessed 3 metre-deep, 2 metre-diameter, hole containing valve gear. There is no external visual impact from the completed well.

May 2011: Seven Star Natural Gas Ltd becomes a subsidiary of Alkane Energy (concerned mainly with coal mine methane – collecting methane from disused collieries). All existing directors (Gerwyn and Shelagh Williams, John Killer) resign.

October 2011: Eden Energy (UK) changes name to Adamo Energy (UK).

READ ON
GERWYN: BREAKING GAS 2012-16

READ BACK

THE STORY SO FAR…

INVESTIGATION INTO SW ENERGY: KEY FINDINGS

WHO ARE SOUTH WESTERN ENERGY?

GERWYN: PRINCE OF SHALES 1950-2007

GERWYN: THE PRINCE OF SHALES – Pt 1: 1950-2007

Gerwyn has spoken several times about his desire to create hydrogen for fuel, extracted from coalbed methane. He has given evidence to Parliament – he has been the main ambassador for gas in Wales.

We have yet to meet him, but

we can discern:

  • He says fracking has been around in the UK for 50 years or more, so what’s all the fuss?
  • He also says “don’t worry, we’re not going to frack”
  • He won’t rule out fracking on the exploration sites in the future
  • He explores for both coalbed methane and shale gas (despite often saying initially he’s only looking for coalbed methane)
  • He reckons there’s enormous reserves of gas
  • He uses a lot of scientific and engineering arguments
  • He’s been waiting for a coalbed methane / gas revolution to happen for two decades
  • He was introduced to Australian Eden Energy by the Welsh Development Agency. Coastal and UK Methane went shares with Eden’s UK subsidiary Adamo Energy on PEDLs in South Wales and Soemrset
  • In February 2016, Eden Energy sold all its UK interests to Gerwyn’s UK Onshore Gas for £1 concluding that the “size of the resource is not proven”, leading for the Welsh media to ask if it meant the end of fracking in South Wales
  • His investment company, Infinity Energy SA, trades on the London Stock Exchange but is based in Luxembourg, a tax haven.
  • Gerwyn’s registered office is now at Guardian Global Technology, a Welsh firm that makes and hires infrastructure equipment for the oil and gas industry and has worked with global fracking giants Halliburton and Schlumberger
  • For his South Wales and Somerset operations, he has used a geologist called Oliver Taylor to front his public meetings.
  • Two other names regularly crop up in his companies – Bruce Vandenburg (lives in Berkshire) and John Killer (Suffolk). Vandenburg also runs a fracking investment firm Noble Rock, and Killer a seismic test firm, Sigma
  • Since the ‘dash for gas’ began in 2011, he’s made the news as the “Prince of Shales” (The Sun) and as a “serial Welsh energy entrepreneur” (The Guardian).

 In this timeline of Gerwyn Williams and his business entanglements, the following text colour code is used:
(Black) for Gerwyn’s general business
(Red) concerns John Killer
(Green) concerns Eden/ Adamo Energy
(Orange) concerns Global Brands SA/ Infinity Energy SA/ Gas Exploration Financing Ltd

(Blue) concerns Guardian Global Technologies / EPI-V

1950

Born in 1950 (so that makes him 65 or 66), Gerwyn Llewellyn Williams came from a family of miners – he followed his father down the pit, St John’s Colliery in Maesteg, the same pit where his grandfather was killed in an underground rock collapse.

1985

One month after the year-long miner’s strike , St John’s was shut by British Coal. Gerwyn continued working for British Coal. As the mines began to close one by one, opencast corporations such as Celtic Energy moved in to opencast, while Gerwyn promoted both private deep mining and methane (coal mine and abandoned  – from old mine workings, as well as Virgin Coalbed Methane).

1991

Gerwyn appointed director of UK Wind Energy Limited

1992

It seems Gerwyn has been waiting for his gas ship to come in for quite some time, perhaps starting here?

Gerwyn appointed director of UK Gas Limited – his other directorships at the time are listed as UK Mining Contractors Ltd, UK Coal Ltd and UK Consolidated Mining Ltd

1993

“I have been in unconventional gas for 20 years in the UK. I worked for 22 years for British coal. We had our first licence in 1993 for coal bed methane before British Coal as it was then was privatised…”

Gerwyn Williams, Canterbury Debate, November 2014

 

1995

Registered as company secretary of Maxim Machines Ltd (which later became UK Onshore Gas) his occupation was listed as ‘electrical engineer’, he was based at Newton, Porthcawl, and he declared seven directorships, including UK Gas Ltd.

 

1996

Maxim Machines Ltd became Modal Mining Aberbaiden.

Maxim Technology founded (becomes Guardian Global Technology in 2004)

1997

Modal Mining Aberbaiden became Drew Campbell Energy Limited

Gerwyn appointed director of UK Methane, South Wales Gas, Coastal Oil and Gas, Transgas, Thistle Gas and UK Water Supplies Limited

Geologist John Killer appointed director of UK Gas Limited

1998

In 1998 its address changed to an office in Llandarcy, Neath. At some point, Gerwyn became the sole Director while Jonathan Williams of Cardiff became company secretary.

August: Director of Unity Mine Limited (resigned June 2009)

In September 1998, another name change and change of address for Drew Campbell Energy Ltd (originally Maxim Machines): now Campbell Oil and Gas Limited and based at the Innovation Centre in Bridgend Science Park. The company described its business as extraction of oil and gas, but filed as a dormant company.

 

1999

Global Brands SA – which Gerwyn would later become chairman of – established in Luxembourg (none of its original directors remain)

2000

In 2000, Shelagh Rose was listed as a co-director of Campbell Oil and Gas Limited, along with Whiteley Trustees, based in Jersey, and Jonathan Williams and of course Gerwyn. The same year, the company moved back to Llandarcy, Neath.

September 8: PEDL licence 100 originally granted (up to anticipated date of September 8, 2031) – later taken up by Eden/ Adamo Energy.

2002

In May 2002, Campbell moved offices again to Kenfig Industrial Estate, Margam, near Port Talbot. Its accounts from the previous year showed it was £107 in debt. Now in July 2002 Gerwyn bought 87 of ordinary £1 shares in the company while the remaining five shares were bought by London-registered Sigma Exploration Ltd.

[Sigma is the seismic testing firm headed by John Killer, who Gerwyn is still connected in business with… for more on these connections, see further down]

In September 2002, Campbell changed its name to UK Onshore Gas Limited.

2003

Guardian Global Technologies founded.

Gerwyn founds St John’s Vision

2004

In 2004, UKOG’s Annual Return showed shareholders were Gerwyn (90 ordinary £1 shares), Shelagh (1) and Jonathan Williams (1), Sigma (5), Whiteley Trustees (1), and also Abacus (C1) (2), based at the same St Heliers, Jersey (offshore tax haven) address.

October 2014: In the 12th Onshore Licensing Round (licences potentially run until 2035): PEDL 148 (north of Swansea) and PEDL 149 (Neath) granted to UK Methane Limited

December 2004: Appointed director of Abbey Mine Limited. Resigned July 2009.

2005

2005 Global Brands SA begins trading on the London Stock Exchange (AIM). Its main business is Dominos Pizza outlets in Switzerland.

January: Seven Star Natural Gas Limited incorporated in 2005 and based in Bridgend as a subsidiary of UK Methane Limited, with Gerwyn and Shelagh as directors, apparently taking on ownership of CBM PEDLs in Derbyshire (which ran out in 2006). Horizon Mineral Handling Limited and Horizon Mining also established by Gerwyn (he resigned as director in 2009).

July: Gerwyn becomes director of Centreclear Limited, Ocean Coal Limited, Unity Power Distribution Limited and Unity Power Supplies Limited. He resigned from all in July 2009.

September: Topex Limited incorporated by Gerwyn – has net assets of almost £30,000 in September 2014

2006

“Whilst it may be true that the Swiss have not taken to Pizzas, it is too early to write off your investment, although it is a concern that the company’s stores are only operating at 60% of capacity during the first half of 2005. The annual results will tell us whether this business is viable, be patient.”

Share investors chat (Global Brands), 2006

John Page Killer (of Beccles, Suffolk) joins Seven Star Natural Gas Limited as a director.

There are, however, still vast untouched coal resources in the UK that represent a significant energy resource. Increased awareness of the potential for clean energy from coal seams, advances in technology and recognition of the environmental benefits has seen a revival of interest in the potential to release some of the energy value of UK coal via alternative, non-mining technologies such as coalbed methane production and underground coal gasification. If successful, these could supplement declining conventional UK natural gas production. The utilization of clean energy from coal seams is supported by the UK Government through its Cleaner Fossil Fuels Programme.

There is some activity in this field already. Methane is being drained from most of the remaining deep mines and utilized as fuel for electricity generation or on-site boilers. Drained gas that is not utilized is conventionally vented, but at one mine this gas is now flared to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is also being produced from abandoned mines, but the present low electricity and gas prices have adversely affected its economics. For the longer-term future, there is potential for virgin coalbed methane production and underground coal gasification. The UK has coalbed methane resources estimated to be in the order of 2.9 × 1012 m3 CH4. However, the limited exploratory drilling for coalbed methane in unmined areas undertaken to date has not led to commercial production – the major barriers are perceived to be low seam permeability, drilling and completion costs, together with planning and access issues. Initial research suggests there is very large potential for underground coal gasification providing the environmental and perceived safety issues surrounding the application of this technology can be overcome.”

N. S. Jones, S. Holloway, D. P. Creedy and K. Garner: Can UK coal resources contribute to a gas renaissance, Geological Society report abstract, 2006

December: Gerwyn appointed as director of Unity Power PLC. Resigned in July 2009.

2007

GOVERNMENT AID

Given that Wales has substantial amounts of coal and copious amounts of Coal Bed Methane and that development of Coal Bed Methane reserves provides good geotechnical information for future coal mining operations, it is our view that some government funds ought be spent securing security of fuel supply for Wales for the foreseeable future.

Government aid is really required in the following sectors:

        —  Research into Combined CBM, underground mining, deep underground coal seam gasification and CO

2

      Sequestration Technologies.
    —  Combined exploration techniques including 3D seismic.
    —  Hythane utilisation for road vehicle fuel.
    —  Research into liquefaction techniques so that stranded gas can be transported by tanker from remote sites.
    —  Uprating of electricity infrastructure, (Currently overbooked by potential wind farms that may never get planning permission).
    —  New coal tip gasification technology (USA—Brian Barrows EIN).
    —  Improving rail infrastructure for existing and new coal mine infrastructure.
    —  Improving port facilities for coal handling, particularly export.

Other Subjects of Concern:

    —  Preservation of mining skills—New training facilities required.
    —  Preserving Welsh coal reserves in Wales (Corus going to Brazil or India).
    —  Around 2000 new jobs could be created in a new mining/power generation sector.

January 2007: Memorandum submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on Welsh Affairs by Unity Power Plc, described as an amalgamation of Horizon Mining Limited and Chian Resources Plc, an Australian owned company. The combined company is soon to be listed on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange with a market capital planned around £50 million [no evidence this took place]. Gerwyn Williams is director of Horizon (drift mining and “clean” coal power stations planned) and UK Onshore Gas.

GERWYN WILLIAMS: From a gas or methane coal bed point of view, we have had no problems [getting planning permission]. We have had something like 28 out of 29 applications approved. They have gone through the necessary channels very quickly, I would say – six to eight weeks. I have given a thought to the Welsh Rural Planning Association, and we get help, if anything, from the planners in that respect. As far as deep mines are concerned, when we have had preliminary talks with planning authorities they have been quite receptive towards the prospect of new deep mines…

… Mr Williams: It goes back to what I said earlier, that I think it is a mixture and we need to quantify the resource we have. It is difficult – and John is an international banker (?) – to go to potential investors and say: “Please give us £30 million just to look at what is there”. If there is nothing suitable there it has gone.

Q188 Nia Griffith: Do you think there is a role for —-

Mr Williams: There is a role for joint funding for exploration purposes, to establish what the resources are.

Mr Davies: I totally agree with that.

Mr Williams: Secondly, there has been a lot of success with a company called Composite Energy in Scotland recently, which I think proves the point for coal and methane, certainly in South Wales, because Dr Cready, who is probably the UK’s expert on coal bed methane, in his calculations put South Wales top of the league for potential coal bed methane production. There is huge scope. For example, when we talked about reserves earlier, we usually talk about those reserves that are left around closed British coalmines. Our petroleum licences in South Wales cover 430 square kilometres, the bore holes that we have from British Coal are about 24 in total, and they prove somewhere in the region of 20 to 28 metres of coal, plus associated sandstones. If you just take 20 metres of coal and take one square kilometre, the specific gravity of coal is 1.35, on average, so it means that in one square kilometre there is something like 27 million tonnes of coal. If you multiply that by 430, it is 11 billion tonnes of coal. Opencast mining and deep miners probably will not be interested in a lot of that, but wherever there is coal, and it might be a very small, thin seam, the energy is there, either in the coal or in the associated sandstone. So we should, I think, be investing money as a nation to look at what we are sitting on.

UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 221-ii, House of COMMONS, MINUTES OF EVIDENCE TAKEN BEFORE WELSH AFFAIRS COMMITTEE Energy in Wales: follow-up, Tuesday 23 January 2007

Date uncertain, but likely to be 2007: Gerwyn Williams introduced to Australian company Eden Energy by (now-defunct) government-business interface quango the Welsh Development Agency [Source: Frack Free Somerset/ Transition Keynsham]. They formed a partnership, which lasted until 2012, then began to fall apart. It culminated in February 2016, with Eden Energy dumping the shares in its remaining South Wales PEDLs and whole UK subsidiary for £1 on Gerwyn, declaring the potential for shale gas and CBM, associated risks and costs not worth Eden’s continuing investment.

May 2007: Eden Energy (UK) incorporated by Cardiff-based 7Side Secretarial Limited (although 7Side Secretarial files its accounts as a dormant company for this period). Its director (appointed on May 18, while 7Side resigned) is solicitor Gregory Solomon, based in Western Australia, and secretary is financial controller Raymond Bascall, also based in Western Australia. Eden Energy, based in Perth, Australia owns all 1000 ordinary £1 shares.

Eden Energy (UK) changes its office address from the Cardiff law firm to the same as UK Onshore Gas (Margam, Port Talbot) (while still being wholly owned from Perth, Australia).

 

INVESTIGATION INTO SW ENERGY: KEY FINDINGS

WHO ARE SOUTH WESTERN ENERGY?

GERWYN: LICENSED TO DRILL 2008-11

GERWYN: BREAKING GAS 2012-16

WHO ARE SOUTH WESTERN ENERGY?

UPDATED 29/4/16: TRANSGAS IS SW ENERGY PARENT COMPANY?

Company geologist Oliver Taylor told Forest of Dean District Council (so we have been informed by a councillor) that the parent company of South Western Energy Limited is Transgas Limited. This contradicts records at Companies House (see below under UKOG heading) which show South Western Energy is a subsidiary of UK Onshore Gas (UKOG) Limited – another one of Gerwyn Williams’s 18 current companies.

Transgas, according to its last filed accounts, has net assets of £36,903. As Oliver Taylor also told councillors one well would cost £500,000, it’s still unclear where the six-figure sum is coming from.

Included on the latest list of shareholders is Damor Investments, based in Jersey. Further research reveals Damor is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada, which also operates from Luxembourg (the tax avoidance hub of choice for Gerwyn Williams’s investment company Infinity Energy SA, formerly Global Brands – see below again for more on Infinity). RBC Capital Markets – is ranked as the world’s 11th largest full-service investment bank.

Damor is also a shareholder in some of Gerwyn Williams’s other companies, namely UK Water Supplies Limited (last accounts show MINUS £278 in net liabilities), MANDACO 727 Limited (net assets of £7,684), South Wales Gas Limited (MINUS £1,507), Modal Mining Limited (company dissolved/ struck off register in 2015 – Damor was the joint majority shareholder in 2013, the same year the company showed MINUS £36,396 in its accounts), UK Gas Limited (MINUS £76,598) and UK Wind Energy Limited (MINUS £7,694).

Damor Investments is mentioned 55 times in the Panama Papers.

WHAT ELSE DID OLIVER TAYLOR TELL COUNCILLORS?

Thanks to several councillors sharing their notes with us (we hope some official minutes will be released publicly), we have been able to glean…

  • OT (Oliver Taylor) said it would be two or three years before SW Energy submits an application for a test well [if this is the case, they are leaving things to the last minute, as they must complete all their exploration work by December 2020].
  • Initially he will be building a geo-model of the Forest of Dean. It seems this may involve 3D seismic surveys (ie simulating earth tremors to build a picture of deep underground rock layers), but will be mostly a desk exercise. The company is also consulting mine maps from the Coal Authority, securing gales (coal seam areas) and sites within the Forest.
  • OT said wells could be drilled in forest clearings – they have already done so in a South Wales forest.
  • The target depth for drilling is 1,000m (this is BELOW all the coal measures/ seams which have previously been estimated at 630m at their deepest level), so indicates shale gas is the real objective, not coalbed methane (CBM).
  • South Western Energy believes they will find gas. They are not interested in Underground Coal Gasification, but are interested in shale gas.
  • OT would not go into detail about drilling techniques (such as fracking) because he said he could not predict what technology will be available when they get to the drilling stage.
  • They say they won’t drill on or under environmental protected sites.
  • Thinks there is probably no oil , but claims there is methane/ natural gas.
  • Touted a scheme called ‘local gas for local people’, where gas could be pumped directly to a hospital, for instance.
  • Wouldn’t use same chemicals as they use in America
  • Claimed no noise could be heard from drilling if people are more than 200 metres away.
  • Is working with a Newport-based company to store and treat waste water on site before discharging it back into the water table

 

A QUICK RECAP AND A LETTER FROM THE GOVERNMENT

In December 2015 the Government confirmed it had awarded two Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences, giving exclusive rights to explore for gas and oil to a company called South Western Energy. For one licence covering the Wye Valley and west of the Forest of Dean, the licence-holder is keeping its options open on whether to drill (called “drill or drop”) – for the other licence, covering most of the Forest of Dean, east as far as Westbury and Longhope, and across the Severn to Sharpness area, South Western Energy has made a “firm commitment” to the Government to drill at least one well.

The Government has refused to withdraw these licences, insisting that the planning process and regulatory agencies will take into account our concerns. We don’t have any faith in these agencies or the planning process, because of changes in law which override local democracy enabling one Government minister to decide, and also have seen many case studies which show the HSE and Environment Agency to be understaffed, ineffectual, rarely – if ever – visiting sites, issuing permits with few questions asked, and failing to adequately monitor sites.

We have tried to make the case to the Government in a meeting in the House of Lords  (see the document we presented).

The Government also tells licence applicants that they can’t relinquish their licences until they have fulfilled their commitment – so if South Western Energy has said it will drill at least one well in our beautiful Forest, then the Government says it must do! It appears to be predetermined, whatever local democracy says.

The Government has told us South Western Energy could have their drill site(s) on public forest land. Surely – after the commitments HOOF was repeatedly given by the Government up to the last election that our Forest would remain public and be protected – this is an outrageous breach of trust!

The Deputy Gaveller Dan Howells, who works for the Crown and the Forestry Commission at Bank House, in Coleford, is the public official obliged to work with the Government’s Oil & Gas Authority, South Western Energy and the owners of gales (areas of the coalfield) – which include freeminers, the Coal Authority and outsider private owners.

Lord Bourne has listened to our concerns and this is his response. It doesn’t allay any of our concerns. But really – coupled with South Western Energy starting to organise choreographed private presentations to the council, police and a small group of us “antis” – it shows us that they mean business.

Despite what some local politicians may say – the licencing is no idle threat.

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SOUTH WESTERN ENERGY . . . WHO?

We can’t lift the company’s snazzy logo because if they have a logo at all, it’s not available online. They also have no website, unless it’s a secret one.

The Government has been apparently satisfied with the operator’s credentials to give South Western Energy exclusive rights to search for coalbed methane (CBM) in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley, plus west Wiltshire, and look for shale gas in north and west Somerset, including the coast, the Quantocks, the western edge of the Mendips, and part of Exmoor… and right across central Dorset and Bournemouth. The Oil and Gas Authority awarded nine licences in all in December 2015 to South Western Energy – a company that has not previously drilled or had a licence to explore for CBM or shale gas.

As a private limited company, South Western Energy is required to register with Companies House, provide director and shareholder information, and also its end of year accounts, currently published up to the end of 2014… the company is described as “dormant”:

FOOFSWenergybalance2014

So that’s MINUS £8,616, down from minus £12 in shareholders’ funds. Maybe the money went on the successful PEDL 14th Round applications (made between July and October 2014)?

South Western Energy began life as a shelf company in 2012 called MANDACO 726, created by Steve Berry from Cardiff Bay-based corporate law firm Acuity Legal Limited – one of the firm’s specialities is setting up companies. Actuity co-founder and chairman Berry also includes advising South Western Energy’s “parent” company UK Onshore Gas on fundraising and public listing as one of his work highlights.

A month after its incorporation, in May 2012, South Western Energy Limited was born with £1 share capital.

THE PARENT: UK ONSHORE GAS LTD

Might the money to fund the exploration, and ensure the completion of it and clean-up afterwards (as per the Government’s criteria) be coming from South-Western Energy’s parent company, UK Onshore Gas Limited?

Again, no website, nor logo for UKOG Ltd that we can find on the net…

FOOFUKOG

And UKOG’s latest files to Companies House don’t look financially rosy either. They were filed at the end of 2014, by which time South Western Energy would have submitted its application for these new and current licences.

UK METHANE AND COASTAL OIL AND GAS – OLDER SIBLING AND NIECE/NEPHEW OF SOUTH WESTERN ENERGY

Meanwhile UKOG’s other wholly owned subsidiaries, Coastal Oil and Gas and UK Methane had been putting plans in for both CBM and shale gas exploration wells in the heart of South Wales, where they’d been granted licences in previous licensing rounds.

FOOFUKOGsubsidiaries

 

 

So according to the latest legal accounts filed, all these companies are in negative equity. But where’s Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd on this list? Turns out Thistle Gas Limited (listed as a “dormant” company above) is the “parent” of Coastal – one of the two companies putting plans in for gas exploration in South Wales (along with UK Methane, listed above). These two companies have so far drilled six wells in Wales, with another six given planning consent. And yet nothing is showing up on their books?

How about Coastal Oil and Gas, who have exclusive rights to explore in thousands of square km of South Wales (again no website)?

WellFOOFcoastal

This account shows more sign of financial activity, but there’s no getting away from the fact the shareholders’ funds are MINUS £280,938 (or were at the end of 2014).

So a raft of companies – all of which share the same director and shareholders, and the same secretary: Gerwyn Llewellyn Williams, and secretary Mrs Shelagh Williams (Gerwyn’s wife)?

CLICK ON TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT GERWYN WILLIAMS AND HIS DEALINGS

PREVIOUS PAGE: KEY FINDINGS

NEXT: GERWYN: PRINCE OF SHALES 1950-2007

GERWYN: LICENSED TO DRILL 2008-11

GERWYN: BREAKING GAS 2012-16

SOUTH WESTERN ENERGY… AN INVESTIGATION

Here’s my investigations into the company that has been given Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences covering the Forest of Dean, Somerset coast, part of Wiltshire and Dorset, and its owner and director, Gerwyn Llewellyn Williams (plus a web of other companies). Only the most dedicated will get through the whole report, so here’s the key findings (you can see how the conclusions were reached by clicking on the links and reading on).

KEY FINDINGS

COMPANIES AND PEOPLE

      • South Western Energy Limited was founded in 2012 by Gerwyn Williams. It is based in Pyle, near Bridgend, has no website or public profile besides its records at Companies House (which show it to have negative equity).
      • Electrical and mining engineer Gerwyn (originally from Maesteg/ Port Talbot area, but since the 1990s supplying addresses in Newton, Porthcawl) was involved in deep mining, and then has been involved in methane from the early 1990s.
      • SW Energy’s parent is UK Onshore Gas Limited (also in negative equity, and 100% owned by Gerwyn and his wife Shelagh) [UPDATE 29/4/16, contrary to records at Companies House  which show SW Energy as a wholly owned subsidiary of UKOG, South Western Energy informed Forest of Dean councillors that Transgas Limited is the parent company]
      • Transgas had more than £30,000 in assets according to its last filed accounts, and along with six of Gerwyn’s 17 other companies, has Damor Investments, an offshore (Jersey) subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada, as a shareholder.
      • UK Onshore Gas’s subsidiaries UK Methane and Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd have drilled six exploration wells and one production well in South Wales between 2008 and 2013. Most if not all of the exploration was done in partnership with Australian Eden Energy. They relinquished or didn’t complete the exploration stages of their PEDLs (granted in 2007) in Kent and the Mendips.
      • UK Methane and Coastal have planning consent for another 10 wells in South Wales, but there has been no actual drilling activity at any of these sites.
      • Gas Exploration Financing Limited was set up following the collapse of the partnership between UKOG and Eden Energy in 2014 to finance UKOG operations. GEF in turn is 100% owned by Infinity Energy SA, a London Stock Exchange AIM-listed oil and gas investment company (formerly Global Brands SA) which is registered in renowned tax avoidance hub Luxembourg.
      • Gerwyn is CEO, majority shareholder and Infinity’s only published source of income (through a £400,000 convertible loan). Other directors in the company, Bruce Vandenburg and John Killer, regularly crop up as names involved in Gerwyn’s numerous businesses, which appear from Companies House records to be largely valueless.
      • Gerwyn has publicly announced his intention to float companies in the Alternative Investments Market (AIM) on the London Stock Exchange at least twice to raise capital – including UKOG – but this has not happened.
      • The Government insists Gerwyn and South Western Energy has passed all its competency tests for having the financial ability to carry out its firm commitment of at least one exploration well in the Forest of Dean, and its other licence commitments in South Wales, Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset, including “access to sufficient resources”.
      • Since July 2015, Gerwyn’s stable of companies (including South Western Energy) have been based with Guardian Global Technologies in Pyle, Bridgend. The engineering company specialises in various components used in drilling for oil and gas and the firm’s clients include (US fracking corps) Halliburton and Schlumberger. Guardian also rents fracking equipment. [There is no evidence that Gerwyn’s companies are actually working with or have any partnership agreements with Guardian… as yet]
      • Guardian is funded with a mixture of Welsh Government grants and from private equity company EPI-V. This company funds one fracking company in Yorkshire (Moorlands) but focuses more on funding the service industries and infrastructure providers to the oil and gas industry, rather than the prospectors.
      • In February 2016, Eden Energy gave away (for £1) all its interests in South Wales to Gerwyn and UKOG, saying there was no guarantee any petroleum would be produced. So much for all the hype since 2008!

 

MODUS OPERANDI: HYPE, MISSION CREEP INTO SHALE GAS EXPLORATION… SERVICES TO INDUSTRY PROFIT WHETHER THERE’S GAS OR NOT

 

It’s worth considering the model suggested in this US model explaining fracking as a Ponzi scheme and to consider whether it might apply here…
1. Take the best laboratory results from rock cores (from ‘appraisal boreholes’) and extrapolate them over the entire area (despite immense variation found throughout rock beds in hydrocarbon content)… Or if there are poor results they continue to hype the prospects, urging the need for more wells to be drilled. 
2. Overstate valuations for the area (Valuers are usually companies with financial interests tied up in the oil and gas industry).
3. Use stages 1 and 2 to attract investors and sell shares
4. While investors directly in gas and oil prospecting often end up as losers in “pump and dump” scams (when people in the City, known as “organised pumping crews” orchestrate surges in share-buying ie pump, and then sell and scoop up profits when share prices peak, ie dump, causing share prices to plunge), the smart money is in the service industries (eg engineering firms involved in the manufacture, supply and hire of drilling and pump equipment, concrete providers, transport, legal, seismic testing, water treatment firms) – these industries are in business in well construction and operations whether any oil or gas is found in the wells or not.

  • Following initial drilling operations in S Wales in 2008, after sending rock cores for analysis to RISC, a global firm based in Australia with involvement in many aspects of the oil and gas industry, Eden and Gerwyn hyped the results, claiming that “the prospective recoverable resource from just one of its drilling areas (Port Talbot) could provide heat to every home in a town the size of Maesteg for the next 670 years” and CBM could produce “methane millionaires” and be worth “billions” to South Wales, but more wells needed to be drilled to realise the full potential.
  • The 2011/2012 explorations by Gerwyn/Eden, while originally aiming at CBM, also looked at shale gas. Analysis of rock cores by Texas-based RPS Group (another global corporation with tentacles across the oil and gas spectrum, including offices near Chepstow) claimed 50 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lay under South Wales, worth £120 billion – and enough recoverable gas to power the UK for 4 years. Gerwyn even claimed these extrapolated results were a vast underestimate.
  • Campaigners in South Wales have discovered that there are no grounds for opposing applications for test wells on the basis they could lead to fracking, when no fracking at the initial stage is confirmed in the planning applications.
  • While simultaneously arguing that there’s nothing wrong with fracking and claiming its been standard practice in the industry for 50 years, Gerwyn tends to stress in all his planning applications for exploration wells (and also a CBM production well north of Bridgend) that there will be no fracking – but will not rule it out in the future.
  • Gerwyn has revealed he would rather drill on public land rather than go through the more costly and complicated procedure of getting access to private land. Natural Resources Wales, the authority which amalgamated the Forestry Commission and Environment Agency in Wales, not only gives Gerwyn the permits to go ahead, but also manages public forest in which he plans to drill. [The Government told us that public forest land (that managed by the Forestry Commission) in the Forest of Dean could be used for drilling sites]

 CONCLUSION

I’ve prepared this report and timeline below to enable those who need to, to get as full a picture as possible of the man and the various companies which are or may be involved in financing and providing infrastructure, but there remain many unanswered questions:

The key unanswered question is that the investigation found nothing in the public domain which indicated funding on the scale required to drill wells, maintain and complete them (ie cap them after use). UPDATE 29/4/16: Research has revealed a Jersey-based offshoot of the Royal Bank of Canada holds shares in a number of Gerwyn’s companies, including Transgas.

What we can discern, though, is that Gerwyn likes to – as a man with many letters of engineering after his name – try to blind with science. Having had 20-plus years’ experience in the unconventional gas industry, he knows far more than anyone else!

He also has a tendency, increasingly after 2011 in South Wales, to initially state he’s looking for Coalbed Methane, but then sneak in applications to look further down for Shale Gas.

The final conclusion is… whether he gets past the planners or not… we the people will ensure no drilling operations begin.

WHO ARE SOUTH WESTERN ENERGY next page, click here

 

GERWYN: PRINCE OF SHALES 1950-2007

GERWYN: LICENSED TO DRILL 2008-11

GERWYN: BREAKING GAS 2012-16

FRACKING AND THE GOVERNMENT

THE GOVERNMENT

Since 2011 the Government has been banging the drum for fracking. It’s not only the case that the Government is being lobbied hard by the petroleum industry to get results, but it’s that oil and gas interests are at the very heart of Government – leading to the doors of George Osborne and David Cameron. Here’s a diagram that explains the connections as they were in early 2015, before the General Election:

shalegas-650x459

Petroleum interests being at the heart of Government is nothing new. But Lord John Browne (ex-BP, part-owner of Cuadrilla – dubbed the “UK fracking czar”) was appointed by MP Francis Maude to the Cabinet Office in June 2010, and tasked with appointing non-executive directors with industry links and knowledge to different departments, including the Cabinet, Home Office, Treasury, Defra and, of course, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and its new subsidiary the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA).

 

 

South Western Energy and the other current operators of Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) were pushing at an open door when they responded to the Government’s invitation to bid for PEDLs – the 14th Onshore Round – launched in July 2014 with the deadline for applications in October 2014.

Since 1964, the Government has regularly invited oil and gas prospectors to explore both offshore (mainly in the North Sea) and onshore (ie on land). Until unconventional hydrocarbons came along (including shale gas and coalbed methane) the closest sources of oil or gas found and explored were in the Potteries and Dorset – while methane which naturally seeps out of an old colliery, has been collected at Pontycymer in the Garw Valley by Alkane (this is Coal Mine Methane, a wholly different form of methane extraction which collects gas from vents). The process of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) has been used since the 1940s, and in Britain since the 1970s – such as at Wytch Farm in Dorset (the oil is actually collected from a 1.6km distance under the seabed, with the wells on the coast). But this article points out major differences between this 18ha intensive conventional oil site and a coalbed methane operation.

AWARDING OF LICENCES – 2014-15

frackmap2014So in 2014, the Government opened up a large proportion of Britain – including almost the whole of Gloucestershire (bar the Oxfordshire border) – for oil companies to bid in its 14th Onshore Round.

The following year, Parliament changed the law with the Infrastructure Act 2015 to make the “economic recovery” of onshore oil and gas a “legal objective”. The law made it possible for drilling to take place under anyone’s land, for “any substance” to be abandoned in the ground, and also gave a single Government minister the right to override any local authority decision. As well as this, the law provided for gas companies to provide £100,000 compensation to communities nearest installations.

(1)In this Part the “principal objective” is the objective of maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum, in particular through—

(a)development, construction, deployment and use of equipment used in the petroleum industry (including upstream petroleum infrastructure), and

(b)collaboration among the following persons—

(i)holders of petroleum licences;

(ii)operators under petroleum licences;

(iii)owners of upstream petroleum infrastructure;

(iv)persons planning and carrying out the commissioning of upstream petroleum infrastructure.

 

 

 

The Queen gave her seal of approval, her assent, and this became law in March 2015. The Oil & Gas Authority was set up by the Government as a subsidiary of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

However, during 2014-15 the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament both agreed to impose a moratorium (ie suspension, rather than a ban – well, not even that, as this excellent Welsh blog explains) on gas exploration/ fracking.

When the Government announced in August 2015 a whittled-down list of the 159 blocks subject to be licenced (93 licences spread across the 159 OS-grid blocks) – pending a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) – there were no new licences for Wales or Scotland, but the all-English blocks included the Forest of Dean, Somerset coast, east Wiltshire and a strip across the middle of Dorset including Poole.

In December 2015 the Government announced – following a “consultation” exercise on the HRAs – that every licence would go ahead. It offered, and continues to offer, reassurance that:

A Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) does not itself give any direct permission for operations to begin. A PEDL grants the licensee exclusivity over an area of land for onshore hydrocarbon exploration, appraisal and extraction. The exclusivity applies to both conventional and unconventional operations.

The UK has a long history of onshore gas exploration, and has developed a robust regulatory system to ensure that any such operations will be carried out to the highest standards of safety and environmental protection. Before a PEDL licensee can begin operations (such as drilling, hydraulic fracturing or production) they must be granted a number of further permissions and consents. These include, for example, planning permission, environmental permits from the Environment Agency, scrutiny of well design by the Health and Safety Executive, and OGA consents under the terms of the PEDL.

 

See here why we can’t trust the regulators and agencies- LINK TO FOLLOW

 

The Government has announced it wants to see at least 100 wells drilled to assess the viability of shale gas industry in Britain. Coalbed Methane – which has been dubbed ‘fracking’s evil twin’ – and Underground Coal Gasification get less press and there is a lack of public clarity about the Government’s targets for these industries, although this 2013 DECC report assesses the potential. (Page 15 suggests the coal volatility measured in a Forest of Dean borehole may have potential for oil).

Each licence applicant was asked to state its primary objective and “work programme”. The full licence applications from this 14th Round have not been made public (although you can see applications online from former rounds), but there are spreadsheets which show the name, address and email of the operator, the stated primary objective, and whether the applicant has gone for a “drill or drop” or “firm commitment” option. South Western Energy says it wants to explore for CBM (coalbed methane) and has opted for a “drill or drop” in the Wye Valley side of the Forest – which still requires the licensee to look into the potential of exploration – and has committed to drilling at least one well to test for gas in the rest of the Forest, east as far as Longhope and Newnham.

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See the below explanatory diagram, or this letter we recently received from energy minister Lord Bourne where explains the stages from licence to exploration well:

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FRACK OFF OUR FOREST: The Current Situation

The short answer as to whether there is a fracking threat to the Forest of Dean is a YES, and will be until we get licences removed which allow a company to explore for gas until December 2020. To get the licence, the company has pledged to drill at least one gas well.

 

We are sharing all our investigations so far regarding the potential of unconventional exploration and recovery of hydrocarbons (oil and gas), including the technique of fracking (hydraulic fracturing of rock) in the Forest of Dean.

A company which has no apparent website, South Western Energy, was in December 2015 formally granted two Petroleum Exploration & Development Licences (PEDLs) to explore for hydrocarbons/ petroleum/ gas and oil in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley, including the SW corner of Herefordshire, and also the Sharpness area across the Severn.

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The Government’s “potential impact” zone (the red square above – while the green shaded areas are the licencing area) borders Newent, Wooton-under-Edge and Chepstow and includes the whole of Ross-on-Wye, Berkeley (including its nuclear waste storage facility) and Monmouth, stretching to a few miles west of Gloucester.

Here are more detailed maps (provided by the Government when the licences were subject to ‘consultation’) of the licenced blocks.

These two western blocks, subject to one of the two PEDLs, might be judged at being at less risk to fracking as the licensee has made no commitment to drilling here (but that does not mean the licensee won’t, so the threat is still there):

SO51

SO50

 

Note: the blue buffer zones marked on the maps are only protected from surface level works and not from fracking underneath them

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And here are the three blocks (or two, with one split into two sections) where South Western Energy has made a “firm commitment” to drill at least one well somewhere within the three:

SO61

SO60a

SO60b

 

Each block is marked with ‘potential impact’ zones by the Government. This refers to its Habitats Regulations Assessment, which concerns the impact to protected wildlife species (and no other impacts), tabled as follows:

fracking impacts

The Government passed a ‘statutory instrument’ (secondary legislation) in November 2015 to allow “associated hydraulic fracturing” to take place at a minimum level of 1,200m below Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and EU-protected nature sites, as well as Groundwater Protection Zones as shown locally below:

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But here’s the catch… these flimsy protections only apply to “associated hydraulic fracturing”, legally defined (see below) as when a minimum of 10,000 cubic metres (or 1,000 cu m per stage) of fluid is used. Typically, if fracking occurs in the coalbed, it only uses 200 cubic metres per fracking stage, so it would be legally possible for fracking using less fluid to take place at no minimum depth.

Section 50, clause 4b of the Infrastructure Act 2015 states:

4B Section 4A: supplementary provision

(1)“Associated hydraulic fracturing” means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which—

(a)is carried out in connection with the use of the relevant well to search or bore for or get petroleum, and

(b)involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of—

(i)more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or

(ii)more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total.

 

 

Unless we succeed in getting the PEDLs/ licences withdrawn, we have this threat (of Stages A and B, as explained above) hanging over us until December 2020, when the PEDLs’ exploratory phase expires. We are committed to ensuring the oil and gas industry does not even get its foot in the door.

And it’s not just us here – In December, South Western Energy were also given PEDLs to explore for Coalbed Methane and Shale Gas in Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset.  People in South Wales are currently fighting battles, winning some of them, against the same fracker under different company names. 10 wells have already been drilled, another 15 are being resisted. (The companies were granted PEDLs in a previous licensing round).

oct15frackmap

Since this map was produced, every block being considered for licences was granted licences, a total of 159 across England. The exploration stage of the licences granted in the last round (the 13th Landward Round) expires at the end of June 2016. Then the licencee, if they have done what they said they would do in their Work Programme have the option of another five years of evaluation, followed by the option of taking on a 20-year-long licence to develop gas or oil.

 

For more information on what fracking is, see xxxxxxx [FORTHCOMING PAGE – LINK TO FOLLOW]

For the threats fracking poses locally, see xxxx [FORTHCOMING PAGE – LINK TO FOLLOW]

For more on the company that wants to frack, see xxxx [FORTHCOMING PAGE – LINK TO FOLLOW]

For more on the bigger picture and the need for solidarity with other areas fighting fracking, see xxxxx [FORTHCOMING PAGE – LINK TO FOLLOW]

 

 

As we anti-frackers are opposed to any form of extreme or unconventional oil and gas/ petroleum extraction, beyond this restrictive legal definition of ‘associated hydraulic fracturing’ we use the term ‘fracking’ as shorthand for all these technologies – including Coal Bed Methane/ Coal Seam Gas, Shale Gas and Underground Coal Gasification/ Syngas.

To be granted licences/ PEDLs, South Western Energy was required to submit a ‘work programme’ to the Government’s Oil & Gas Authority (OGA). Government guidelines for licence applicants say:

FOOFworkprog

 

The licence applications have not been made public, but examples can be seen from PEDLs granted in previous application rounds, eg:

FOOFworkprog2

(The above “work programme” applies to SW Energy’s “sister” company Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd and its “partner” as regards this licence, which expires on June 30, 2016, and has just given up on one site in Llanharan in Mid Glamorgan within this PEDL)

Government guidelines to operators (‘landward’/ onshore oil and gas explorers and developers) state: “A Firm Drilling Commitment is a commitment to the Secretary of State to drill a well. It is only appropriate if the Applicant is certain that s/he would drill if awarded a licence. Essentially drilling could begin immediately, subject only to outside factors like other Regulatory regimes, rig availability, or weather. The well should therefore be drilled early within the Initial Term [the initial term lasts five years].”

“A Drill-or-Drop ‘Commitment’ leaves the decision whether or not to drill entirely with the licensee. If a well is to be drilled, it should be planned to complete drilling within the Initial Term.”
.

The licences holder’s stated primary objective in the Forest of Dean area is to explore for Coalbed Methane (CBM). But there is nothing stopping the explorer from looking for shale gas as well, or investigating the potential of Underground Coal Gasification (UCG). 

South Western Energy will almost certainly say: “We’re not going to frack.” That may well be the case – another, bigger company would most likely move in to develop a gas field, potentially using fracking techniques. South Western Energy will begin softly-softly, drilling small boreholes to take rock samples, taking the samples at various levels (they say between 600-1200m, but there are no depth restrictions) to a laboratory to be baked to ascertain their potential for producing gas and oil. The later stage of exploration would include more invasive operations, differing depending on whether testing the feasibility for CBM, shale or UCG is the end object.

It will cost South Western Energy less than £10,000 per year to pay for its two licences for the five-year window of exploration (based on the fee of £25 per square km)… the amount will double successively for a company developing gas or oil production (which could start as late as 2030 and go on for 20 years)… See below:

FOOFlicence

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS TOLD US

Frack Off Our Forest supporter Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon managed to arrange a meeting with the energy minister Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth in February 2016, at the House of Lords, following questions being asked in the Lords on January 25.

Here three of the four of us that went down are pictured with Jan Royall (on the right) shortly before our meeting, on the riverside terrace of the Houses of Parliament:

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We presented Lord Bourne and officials from the Oil & Gas Authority and Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) with this document. Lord Bourne and officials gave us more than 30 minutes of their time, and appeared to listen properly to us. More meetings were proposed, but to date (2/4/16) we have heard nothing more.

This is what we had confirmed/ were told:

 

WHAT GEOLOGISTS, LOCAL MINING EXPERTS AND RESEARCH HAVE TOLD US

  • There is no methane in the Forest of Dean coalfield. There is not a single known instance of a miner encountering methane underground, and miners have historically used naked flames, carbide lamps and pit ponies in the pits.
  • The coalfield is a maximum 450m below the surface, according to the deepest level of mining at the former Princess Royal colliery, Bream. There are 17 seams, most of them very thin. However, a report produced by a CBM prospector Onshore English Gas Ltd for a licence application in 1997 (search for SO60 in pre-licence applications here) reckoned the coal measures reached a maximum depth of 630m.
  • Explorers have looked for oil and gas in the past in the Forest of Dean and we gather none has been found. In 1963, a licence was granted jointly to three petroleum prospectors covering the same or similar range in the Forest of Dean with London offices, Continental Oil Services Limited, Marathon Petroleum (G.B.) Limited and Envoy Oil Limited. There is no record of any work been done or gas or oil found. In 1997, Onshore English Gas (OEG) applied for the same map grid areas under licence now, in the 8th Onshore Round. Its stated objective was coalbed methane. We can find no record of OEG being granted a licence. Below is some of its licence application – is South Western Energy looking to do what OEG apparently didn’t do?

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  • Most of the coal seams have been worked, but there are pockets of unworked coal ‘pillars’ and a stretch between Lightmoor and Mallards Pike (including the Awres Glow valley) which have not been worked because they have proved inaccessible using surface and deep-mining methods.
  • Some gales are owned by the Coal Authority, many others by freeminers.
  • Freeminers can sell their gales to anyone for any purpose. Gales have been sold since the 19th century, then nationalised in the 1940s, and some remain privately owned by non-freeminers.
  • Over the centuries there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of mining operations, many unrecorded and uncharted.
  • The Forest of Dean coalfield is very wet – one of the main reasons deep mining finished in the 1960s. One retired mines surveyor asserts that there is a vast underground lagoon under the centre of the Forest where water pressure has connected the extensive deep mine workings. He says it would be impossible to drain the coalfield, as shown by the volume of water which drains predominantly north to south from the coalfield at Norchard, near Lydney.
  • In 1999, it was hypothesised by scientists (see pages 23-33) that water from the Forest of Dean found its way to the reservoir which feed the Bath hot springs. The predominant theory is that the water for the UNESCO World Heritage site (confirmed as protected from fracking by two Government ministers) comes from the limestone karst (caves etc) system in the nearby Mendips. However, the study argues for a much wider catchment area, theorising that water could find its way from the Blaisdon/Longhope/May Hill areas through the Malvern Fault System (including through Old Red Sandstone, and the faults themselves), which runs underneath the bed of the Severn, and also percolating through the limestone which continues from Wigpool to beyond Chepstow and passes underneath the Severn, beneath the Severn Bridge.
  • Mark Harper said the British Geological Survey confirmed to him there was no shale gas under the Forest of Dean. My own conversations with BGS staff is that there is no evidence of shale gas, and it’s unlikely there is any… but not inconceivable. As for CBM, the BGS have reported there is no or little potential here, nor for UGC as the coal seams are so close to the surface.

 

OPPOSITION TO FRACKING IN THE FOREST OF DEAN

POLITICIANS

From the start of our campaign, we have had councillors supporting us, and parties and groups from across the political party spectrum.

West Dean Parish Council was the first to unanimously declare itself against fracking, calling an extraordinary meeting in Berry Hill in September 2015 to determine its position.

Others we know of who have now declared their opposition are Coleford Town Council, Cinderford Town Council, Mitcheldean, Awre, Ruardean, St Briavels and Soudley & Ruspidge Parish Councils. (Apologies if we missed any council out, please let us know if we have.)

In October 2015, Forest of Dean District Council unanimously agreed a statement which expressed opposition to fracking “at this time”. We have been informed the wording used was the result of cross-party consultation and designed to avoid any accusation of prejudice in future planning applications.

We understand the council’s Fracking Task Group, set up as per the motion, met for the first time recently, but we have yet to hear what was decided at that meeting.

Shortly after this historic district-wide vote, Councillor Gethyn Davies broke ranks and declared he supported fracking in a letter to a newspaper (despite voting against it!). Coun Davies’s ward Tidenham is outside the licencing zone (but within the potential impact zone). Councillor Brian Robinson (also a county councillor who abstained from the vote there), of Mitcheldean ward, told BBC West’s Politics Show “we have yet to be persuaded…” and later told a county council Environment and Communities Scrutiny Meeting that he disagreed with sending a letter on behalf of the county council calling for licences to be withdrawn (despite voting to do so with Forest of Dean District Council) because regulatory agencies would prevent it from happening:

“I’m from the Forest of Dean, where the district council has already expressed a view. My concern is for the safety of the Forest of Dean, and I found the session this morning very interesting… Because it was clear that there are quite a lot of regulations, particularly from the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive that would prevent these activities taking place, where they would cause damage to groundwater and surface water or any materials used in the process escaping into the natural environment.

That said, I take on board a lot of what Councillor Graham Morgan said earlier and from that you would actually probably conclude that the prospect of fracking or methane extraction from coalbed industry in the Forest is almost zero, because the opportunity just doesn’t exist.

But the opportunity not existing isn’t a certainty and I think what I would want to happen is for the certainty that we as a council have the right to determine the Minerals and Local Plan issues, so that a local decision on whether they can proceed could be made, and I’d like to ensure that the Environment Agency also undertook their duties and promptly, and both of those would actually prevent fracking in the Forest.

But in order to achieve that, we have to make sure we take control of planning activities. I therefore believe that today the best thing we could do is not to do anything that would undermine the ability of this council to determine the planning decision and I will therefore not be supporting the motion. [FOOF: Read our leaflet, please!] [CHAIRMAN: Be quiet!]

It will undermine our ability to actually prevent fracking from taking place in the Forest, which is manifestly an unsuitable location. But we have to do that using the tools available to us, which are planning authority rules and are Environment Agency rules and they I believe will be… [sufficient? Last word inaudible]”

Councillor Robinson did attend a public information evening after this organised by Mitcheldean Parish Councillors, the WI and others, and having watched Frack Free Somerset’s 2014 Marco Jackson film The Truth Behind The Dash For Gas commented that perhaps the Environment Agency might not be safely relied upon to protect the environment from fracking.

For more on the saga with Gloucestershire County Council, see this page about what we’ve achieved so far [LINK TO FOLLOW] but suffice to say that 21 councillors eventually in February 2016 voted unanimously to declare opposition to fracking and to write a letter to the Government calling for licences to be withdrawn – 26 councillors abstained, so the vote was carried. (Strangely, although The Citizen was present at the meeting, nothing was reported in the paper – surely nothing to do with the editor being betrothed to the Leader of the county council, who had called for all councillors to abstain from the vote?)

We have not seen the letter due to be sent to the Government, but presume/ hope it has been.

We have also been given a statement unequivocally opposing fracking here and elsewhere in Europe by South-West Member of the European Parliament Molly Scott-Cato:

 “The forest of Dean is a unique and special landscape which must be protected against the environmental destruction that fracking threatens. I stand with the local Councils in the area who have expressed their dismay and opposition to fracking in the Forest of Dean and Sharpness area. Communities across the region don’t want the noise, air, light and water pollution that this industry would bring. In a recent vote in the European Parliament I voted for no new fracking to be authorised anywhere in EU member states. I am delighted that there is cross-party opposition to fracking in the Forest of Dean. For the sake of our climate we must leave fossil fuels in the ground, the South West is not for shale”

We are awaiting a statement from our other MEP, Clare Moody.

Jan Royall (Baroness of Blaisdon) is, as previously mentioned, a champion for us in the Lords, and we have also had support from the Bishop of St Albans, plus Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative Lords. Read or view the debate in the Lords.

As for the three MPs whose constituencies include the licence zones – Mark Harper (Forest of Dean), Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) and Neil Carmichael (Stroud) – all have voted with the Government on fracking.

PEOPLE POWER!

11896341_809268272504072_3019328758688823528_oWhile many of our political representatives are on board (bar the House of Commons), and helping us in council chambers, in Parliament, and by writing letters and attending events, we need confirmation from the public as a whole that the majority oppose fracking.

So we teamed up with the Toxin Free Network people, following a successful strategy used in Australia and in Cheshire and Sussex here – social surveys in a bid to declare communities Gasfield Free, to send out a clear message that the Government and company has No Social Licence to explore here.

Two separate teams have been engaged in neighbourhood surveys (for more on how to get involved in this, see this page [LINK TO FOLLOW]. The Drybrook team, after delivering to all the approx 100 houses in Brierley a DVD and information sheet, and then visiting each household, were able to declare the first community result in the Forest of Dean: 85% of households in Brierley want to live in a gasfield-free community, 7.5% are unsure, while 7.5% said yes to gas exploration.

Brierleysocialsurvey

The Drybrook team is currently meeting once a week on Wednesday evenings to work their way through the much bigger community of Lydbrook.

Meanwhile, a separate ‘South Forest’ team has very nearly finished surveying Parkend (approx 250 homes), and we await the result. Indications are that the majority also want to live in a gasfield-free community.

Supporters Fran Challice and Coleford Town Councillor Kevin Ball launched a petition in Coleford where people can declare their objection to shale gas, CBM and ‘syn gas’ manufactured from Underground Coal Gasification and collected 570 signatures all from people living within the boundaries of the area’s Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP). This will be fed into the Coleford NDP.

We decided to extend the petition to throughout the licenced areas (apologies, we haven’t got round to going to the Sharpness area yet), and it can now be signed in more than 60 outlets (in addition to the places named below, it’s also in Ruardean Woodside’s shop). We hope that the signatures and names can be adopted for various purposes, including fed into other NDPs. The petition is also a chance to raise awareness and have conversations about the fracking threat to the Forest of Dean.

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Ultimately, if all diplomatic powers of persuasion through our campaigning fail, direct action methods such as blockading and camping will be required. Text this number to join the rapid responders (and also if you have any intel – bear in mind that elsewhere in the UK, infrastructure has been moved on to sites before they go through planning): 07902 129695.

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FRACKING LOCATIONS, TIMETABLE AND ACTIVITIES: WE CAN ONLY SPECULATE…

Given that the Government has not made public the submitted ‘Work Programme’ of the licensee South Western Energy, but only told us the first thing they propose to do is to drill a stratigraphic well and indicated the size of a gas well exploration site (the following stage), and that South Western Energy have so far proved impossible to communicate with, let alone revealed their intentions or plans, we can only take theories and rumours we’ve heard forward…

There are a number of hypotheses we are looking into, put forward by various Frack Off Our Forest supporters and from our own research. We’d say it’s well worth everyone keeping an eye out for activity such as ground clearance and preparation, track improving etc in the following sites, but keep your eyes peeled throughout the licencing zone.

IS IT SHALE THEY’RE LOOKING FOR?

Although South Western Energy has stated CBM as the “primary prospectivity” type in the application, the Government says “a PEDL licence covers any hydrocarbon and is not limited to this classification”.

For shales (the most common form of rock found) to contain gas or oil, depends on many factors. The first is that the rock was formed at least partially from organic matter, ie from fossilised plants and animals. Though this is not the case everywhere, in the Forest of Dean, the various sandstones found were often laid down in deserts and barren conditions. The limestones, however, were formed in shallow seas, and contain varying amounts of organic matter, or carbons.

For more detail on the local geology, see this newly created geological Timeline

The rocks need to be ‘mature’ enough to have formed gas or oil within their pores. This means they need to be ‘buried’ under sufficient thicknesses of rock to have maintained the heat required for petroleum. Rock can also be ‘over-mature’, meaning its temperature has caused any gas/oil to have evaporated.

Oil or gas-producing shales tend to be found within folds, of which there are a great many in the Forest of Dean. Natural fractures increase the porosity of the shale. Some geologists argue that the severity of local folding of rocks, which took place between 330 and 220 million years ago, mean the layers are so cracked any methane or gas/oil would have escaped.

There are two types of limestone rock which outcrop within the licencing area… that they outcrop means there is a good chance they continue underneath other layers of up-folded rock: Silurian shales and Carboniferous limestones. There may also be Ordovician and Cambrian shales beneath the Silurian layers.

If the Government information is still current: that South Western Energy wants to explore at between 600 and 1200m down, this leads us on to two hypotheses – both of which involve shale gas and neither coalbed methane (unless they genuinely believe that, contrary to all available knowledge, the coalbed extends deeper).

Plenty of borehole data exists in the Forest of Dean, as boreholes have been sunk and drilled since the 19th century by mining prospectors. However the deepest only goes down 300m. Deeper boreholes exist at Fownhope in Herefordshire, in the Usk valley (or Inlier) in Monmouthshire, and to the west of the Malverns and evidence of Cambrian shales from the oldest rock outcrops – Tortworth, near Dursley and the Malvern Hills themselves.  These four points surround the Forest of Dean and geological connections can be made: the Malvern fault system which borders the Forest at May Hill/ Longhope/ Huntley, between Newnham and Blakeney and carries on south to the Keynsham area (the Malverns and Tortworth sit on it). The ridges which form the eastern border between the Malvern Line and the Forest of Dean coalfield culminate around the Woolhope Dome, including at Fownhope, while the Usk Inlier is the gap between and outer limit of this geological micro-terrane which comprises the Forest of Dean, Wye Valley and Monmouthshire hills/sloping plateau and the next much larger one, the South Wales coalfield.

A recent BGS document on UK Shale Gas prospects compares “satellite basins of the Worcester Graben”, with the Barnett Shale of the Fort Worth Basin in north-eastern Texas and south-western Oklahoma, a major fracking centre for the past 10 years. The areas referred to are between Berkshire and Somerset, between the Worcester Graben (which includes Huntley, Newent, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham) and the Variscides (which include the Mendips and Quantocks, as well as the Forest of Dean).

There are three target era rocks for shale gas exploration:

The youngest, Jurassic, occurs in a thick layer in David Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency of Witney. It’s strange, then, given that the law – the Infrastructure Act 2015 – makes it a “legal objective” for the “economic recovery” of onshore petroleum, that Witney escaped licensing (PEDLs). In the home county of Surrey, similar Kimmeridge Clays are currently being hyped by the oil industry following successful oil flow tests at Horse Hill.

The middle-age rock, Mississippian Carboniferous – said to have the most potential for shale gas (this includes the Millstone Grits of northern England) blankets and underlies most of South Wales, the Forest of Dean, Bristol Channel, and Somerset and beyond to southern Ireland and Pennsylvania, once a tropical shallow sea called the Euroamerican Seaway. They act like a broken misshaped bowl which contains the coal measures, all around the Forest of Dean. (Puzzlewood and Clearwell Caves, as well as Symonds Yat Rock and Devils Chapel are examples of the dramatic scenery produced at the western rim of the coalfield). As well as around, they are thought to lie beneath most of the coalfield. The only known exception is in the Yorkley/ Viney Hill/ Lydney area, where there is no layer of limestone between that the old red sandstones which underlie the whole area.

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The presumed extent of Carboniferous Limestone (turquoise for outcrops, blue for underlying other sedimentary rock layers), laid down when the area (in blue and turquoise) was part of the Euroamerican Seaway circa 350-320 million years ago. The licenced areas for fracking are roughly marked as well as wells drilled, ready to be drilled (have planning consent), and wells proposed. Water from these rocks (aquifers) could find its way into the reservoir that feeds the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Bath hot springs – it has been confirmed by two Government ministers that fracking will not happen within the vicinity of the springs, but the catchment area may include the Forest of Dean (according to a 1999 scientific report, pages 23 to 33).

silurian_wenlock4

The oldest type of target rock, Pre-Carboniferous Black Shales are probably more than 3km down in the central part of the Forest of Dean, increasing the risk of them being over-baked so far underground. However, they outcrop and fold between the summit of May Hill and Longhope. There are tiny outcrops of Silurian Much Wenlock limestones in an intermittent line including Hope and Flaxley woods and Popes Hill. Immediately across the Severn from Purton (near Blakeney) even older shales outcrop. The Fownhope and Fowlet boreholes to the south-west of the Malverns have shale gas potential, says the report.

Silurian limestones were created between 450 and 400 million years ago when most of Wales was under the sea, and May Hill was near the coast

SCENARIO 1: exploration in the central Forest

carboniferousshalehypothesis

Geological map of the Central Forest of Dean. To the right of the red line, no carboniferous limestone is thought to lie beneath the coalfield (while to the left of it, it does) The bright orange, turquoise, green, blue, and grey bands represent limestones, the browns and pinks Devonian sandstones. Below, a cross-section view from west to east…

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As stated further above, the information supplied to us by the Government when we met officials at the House of Lords is that the target range for South Western Energy is between 600m and 1200m. The deepest extent of the coalfield, which is Trenchard sandstone (from 300 million years ago), is not believed to extend as far down as 600m. The carboniferous limestone layers beneath the coalfield (from 350-330 million years ago) probably extend at least 150m further, before reaching non-organic layers of Devonian sandstone, believed to be between 1000 and 2500m thick.

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Could a preferred site be the Awres Glow valley between Mallards Pike and Lightmoor? Coal cannot be got out here by surface, adit or deep mining as seams are so close to the surface and on the flat. In the 1990s, a big scheme was proposed, including new access roads from near the Dilke, which would have led to a 2-mile-long stretch of public forest land being an opencast mine site. Some of those who successfully fought against opencast then are raising fears this site – the coal underneath, the gale, is we understand privately owned by a man from Wales who isn’t a freeminer. The area isn’t the most scenic in the Forest partly because, we understand, the Forestry Commission clear-felled the area in preparation for the failed opencast operation. Now there exists a large patch of unwooded valley, probably about the right size for an exploratory drilling site. Also, Lightmoor is on the list of proposed district council sites for development (“employment generating uses”).

The Awres Glow valley is on the border of the Staple Edge monocline (geological structure), which was named as being most prospective for coalbed methane in a 1997 pre-licence application (along with the Clanna Anticline, which runs from Tidenham to Bream).

It has also been claimed by a man who allegedly witnessed it (according to a 1990s newspaper article) that mustard gas canisters were buried shortly after WW2 in a line parallel with Awres Glow valley, just to the west of it. We know the Dean was used as a store/ dumping ground for wartime munitions. Only recently ordnance was found near Ruspidge, and the area had to be evacuated while it was safely detonated. Coupled with ancient and new flytipping and dumping of dead animals down mine workings and iron-ore scowles – of which there are many known incidents down the centuries. There are many hazards associated with drilling down in the centre of the Forest of Dean.

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We have heard other rumours/ speculation that the sites could be near Parkend, some fields near the Orepool, Sling or on the proposed Cinderford Northern Quarter development (where at the time of writing, £14.75m has been spent but the college, housing or industrial buildings have not materialised, or been conclusively confirmed), or the strip of land that was recently violently cleared of its farmer-occupiers on Yorkley Court Farm (a dress rehearsal for clearing a future anti-fracking Community Protection Camp?). The Coal Authority map reveals there are two licenced areas for future activities (marked ‘underground’) in Awres Glow and Oakenhill, near Whitecroft, and one for opencast (also in Oakenhill wood, between Parkend and Whitecroft).

The Deputy Gaveller, Dan Howells, based at the Forestry Commission’s Bank House in Coleford, is in charge of allocating gales in the Hundred of St Briavels (which includes almost the entire coalfield) on behalf of the Coal Authority. We have not spoken to the DG ourselves (we’ve been informed the only way we can meet with local Forestry Commission officials is if their higher-ups, Defra, permit and/or organise the meeting, hardly a means for a frank exchange of views). But we understand the Government’s interpretation of the Dean Forest Mines Acts is that its considered ok to drill through other people’s gales as long as no coal is removed. A freeminer we have spoken to disagrees with this.

CONCLUSION: The object could be shale gas from carboniferous limestones if the exploration site is in the central Forest of Dean area.

SCENARIO 2: exploration to the east of the Forest, and across the Severn.

silurianshaleshypothesis.pngfoofbreakhearthillEast of the carboniferous limestone ridge – from Mitcheldean and Longhope south to Blakeney and Etloe, Silurian mudstones cover most of the surface, with bands of limestones and possibly shale-gas-bearing mudstones which accumulated in marine conditions more than 400 million years ago, when May Hill was close to the coast (further east) and a deep sea covered mid Wales. Older strata of rocks outcrop across the Severn near Tites Point and down to Tortworth, near Dursley.

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CONCLUSION: If the exploration site is to the east or south east side of the Forest of Dean, the object could be gas or oil from Silurian or older shales (420-550 million years old).

SCENARIO 3: exploration in the area of the former deep coal mines (Bream, Cannop, Brierley, Drybrook, Cinderford, Ruspidge)

foofCNQ

The final possibility really doesn’t bear thinking about – but this is still mooted for central Scotland, Swansea Bay and the Loughor Estuary (between the Gower and Carmarthenshire). Underground Coal Gasification could be a ‘final solution’ applied in the deep-mined areas between Ruspidge and Drybrook, including Brierley, or Bream or Cannop. This would involve pumping out all the water from the flooded mine workings and causing the dregs of the coal to combust (ie burn) by pumping oxygen or another solution into the worked seams. The vapour would then need to be collected and processed to make syn gas, probably at a power station on site. The numerous breaches of environmental laws have led to UCG operations being permanently shut down in Australia and one town in the US has been abandoned as it continues to burn as a result of UCG operations decades later.

CONCLUSION: They wouldn’t… or would they try UCG?

frackingUCG

 Graphic explaining Underground Coal Gasification

 

THE QUEST TO MEET SOUTH WESTERN ENERGY

We understand from a “police public liaison officer” that he (the Police Constable) has spoken to “the geologist” (presumably Oliver Taylor) about South Western Energy’s plans – the police officer made the phone call, he said. Gloucestershire Police have mooted us campaigners having a meeting with South Western Energy to discuss their plans. This was initially meant to have taken place at police HQ in Bamfurlong, near Cheltenham, in February. Then it was going to be at the end of March. We have still heard nothing. (Mind you, we are suspicious of police claims of ‘impartiality’ with good reason). The Government minister Lord Bourne also told us he would seek a meeting between us and SW Energy.

While we assume the police meeting would be more about intelligence gathering (for a policing/ corporate advantage) than us being able to try and make the case to those wanting to trash our beautiful Forest, we would dearly like to hear what the company wants to do. We suspect it will begin with the line “we’re not going to frack”. Yes, SW Energy may not intend to do any actual fracking, but the exploration paves the way for another, bigger company to frack (or similar)!

So, unless we succeed in getting the licences withdrawn (which has been our goal since they were granted), SW Energy is licenced until December 2020 to explore this area (and others) for oil and gas. The exploration work itself will probably take between one and two years, so there’s every chance the company is currently biding its time, trying to attract investment and waiting for the market to pick up, and we won’t see any planning applications in until 2017 or 2018. Playing the long game suits SW Energy as they’ll hope that our campaign has died down and perhaps more and more of the power-brokers in the Forest of Dean can be bought off by then.

Until then, South Wales – where the licences expire at the end of June – is the focus of frackers Gerwyn Williams and Oliver Taylor of SW Energy and a plethora of other tinpot gas explorer companies.

Frack Free Wales is involved in a six-week Energise Wales Camp on the A48 between Cardiff and Cowbridge, the heart of Gerwyn country. Why not go along and join our fellow fractivists and show solidarity?

TO FRACK OR NOT TO FRACK?

Just to reiterate an important point made earlier, the Government has restricted “associated hydraulic fracturing” to a minimum depth of 1000m, or 1200m below Groundwater Protection Zones, European-protected environmental sites (including bat habitats), Sites of Special Scientific Interests and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. If you consider the 200m extra distance underground a restriction it means the western licence blocks, plus pockets of the rest are “protected”.

However, a closer look at the legal definition of “fracking” applicable in these restrictions reveals it only refers to “high-volume” fracking, where a total of 10,000 cubic metres of fluid is used per operation. Any amount less than this escapes the legal definition.

CBM exploration or production sometimes does not involve any fracking, or stimulation of the coal using this method, and when it does as coal isn’t as hard or as far down as shales, it typically only uses one-fifth of the fluid (water, chemicals and sand). This it can legally do with no minimum level legally proscribed (guidelines indicate anywhere from 100m down is fair game).

The current shale oil operation at Horse Hill, Surrey is at just over 800m, and the company insists there is no need to frack as oil is flowing freely. However, campaigners believe the company will use fracking at a lesser volume than meets the legal definition once the flow has stopped, and/or will go further down than 1000m and use high-volume fracking. Given the environmental issues and health concerns already reported here, whether fracking as legally defined is employed or not, there is every reason to oppose this onshore petroleum extraction.

The latest (successful) application for a well to test rock strata (from Gerwyn Williams’s UK Methane company), at Pontrhydyfen in the Afan Valley east of Neath – the subject of a new film A River, narrated by Michael Sheen with a Massive Attack soundtrack – aims to examine various layers for both coalbed methane and shale gas potential. Gerwyn Williams said: “It is an exploration borehole. It is nothing to do with production and it is nothing to do with fracking.” (But it is potentially the first stage towards both).

Whatever they say on the licence application and whatever assurances locals may give that there is no methane in the coalfield – shale gas exploration can take place. If no gas-bearing rocks are found in one place, the exploration can make more holes in the ground elsewhere.

These stratigraphic wells may be hard to object to on planning grounds, as they are only little holes and cause little disruption in themselves. Whatever decision our authorities would end up making, it’ll be up to us to ensure South Western Energy don’t get their foot in the door in the first place.

But it could be the case that the frackers can just move in without any planning consent.

In January, the BBC and other media outlets reported the Government will “no longer need planning permission to drill boreholes to monitor water quality and carry out seismic monitoring”. The plan to change the law was revealed in December 2015, but we don’t think the statutory instrument required has been introduced yet.

So we may need to stay vigilant and keep campaigning for another few years… or the ‘phoney war’ (comparable to the first year of the Second World War) may be over tomorrow. I do hope everyone stays on board and stays the course, however long and drawn-out it might be.

WILL THE GOVERNMENT GIVE THE GREEN LIGHT, REGARDLESS OF WHAT PLANNERS DECIDE?

The Infrastructure Act together with a Statutory Instrument gives a minister – Greg Clark, Communities Secretary – the power to overrule any local democratic decision, independent of any planning inspectorate’s ruling on an appeal. So all eyes are on what happens over Lancashire, where a planning appeals inquiry has just taken place with Lancashire County Council and people vs Cuadrilla and the Chamber of Commerce. In this case, the planning inspector will make recommendations to Greg Clark and he will make the final decision (no one’s sure when that’ll be).

ARE WE NEEDLESSLY WORRYING?

Some people continue to be of the opinion there will be no fracking here. Mark Harper, Forest of Dean MP and now Government Chief Whip, said during his pre-election hustings in early 2015 he was confident there was no shale gas beneath the Forest of Dean and so – even though Gloucestershire was included in areas offered up to potential frackers from 2014 – there would be no fracking. When potential licences were announced in August 2015, the MP said perhaps they could be for Coal Bed Methane (CBM). Mr Harper replied to many letters specifically referring to Shale Gas fracking, endorsing the Government’s support for it (he is in the Government of course, and his job is to get Conservative MPs to vote for Government proposals).

Even after two Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) were confirmed for four/five blocks in the Forest of Dean and Sharpness areas, with the operator – South Western Energy – committing to drilling at least one exploratory well in one of the eastern blocks – Gloucestershire County Councillors, including Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative, briefed media and meetings that they believed fracking was unlikely to take place. The Leader of the council, Mark Hawthorne, told the full council this in February, but declined to elaborate.

From what we can discern here are the various reasons cited by the ‘you’re worrying about nothing’ people, followed by our counter arguments. Of course, it’s not a case of ‘us’ and ‘them’, it’s just many people understandably like to avoid over-concern and unnecessary stress and conflict.

We sincerely hope we can overcome these worries, but that’s not possible until licences to explore for petroleum/oil/gas/hydrocarbons here in the Forest of Dean are completely withdrawn.

This is why, until the licences are removed, we feel our concern/ worry is justified:

  • ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

    THEY SAY: The Governmental regulatory agencies and planning controls will ensure fracking/ exploration doesn’t happen here, as it will be deemed too environmentally risky.
    WE SAY: A leaked letter and memo to George Osborne from the secretaries of state for the environment, energy and communities state a commitment for speeding up the procedure in getting fracking going, with agencies such as the Health & Safety Executive and Environment Agency charged with making the case FOR in planning applications. To date, the EA has not refused a permit for any CBM exploration, and the EA didn’t even bother issuing permits until 2013. The process of getting a permit rarely, if ever, requires a site visit before or during operations. (During our meeting with Lord Bourne and Government officials in February 2016 he instructed officials to ensure the EA makes site visits in this area). The threat of the cost of fighting an appeal, and also for punitive measures by Government, plus the loss of financial incentives, has been seen to have influenced councillors’ decisions to grant planning consent in other councils, notably in South Wales. Another thing to bear in mind is that of mission creep. The earliest stages of exploration (seismic testing, borehole drilling) are nowhere near as environmentally damaging as the later stages (which these less invasive early stages pave the way for). Here’s the guidelines the Government has produced explaining the permits needed etc for shale gas fracking…

  • NO ECONOMIC SENSE

    THEY SAY: The bottom’s fallen out of the global gas and oil industry, thanks to the Saudis/ the US fracking industry, shares are plummeting and South Western Energy’s latest accounts (from December 2014) show they are almost £9,000 in the red.
    WE SAY: It’s true that the oil/gas industry is at a low, but there’s no guarantee it won’t bounce back. The main raison d’etre for fracking in the UK and Europe is to create and stimulate new markets for investors. At the moment, many investors don’t seem to be biting, but the situation is always subject to change. Some investors see fossil fuels as ‘stranded assets’ – some think there’s no point going after them at all, but others maintain that in a few years their value will increase due to scarcity and rarity. Hedge funds etc may think it’s worth investing now while the price is low. Our investigations into South Western Energy and its owner-director Gerwyn Williams indicate he has £400,000 in available capital, but the Government claims to be content his company is financially secure.

  • THERE’S NO GAS

    THEY SAY: Anyone who has been underground knows there is no methane in the coalfield, and any company would be wasting a fortune bothering to explore. (Let them waste their money and resources exploring, nothing will come of it.)
    WE SAY: 1. The actual process of exploring for Coal Bed Methane, following a first stage of seismic surveys, boreholes for water and rock monitoring, will involve a space the size of two football pitches being cleared of all vegetation, the draining of a colossal amount of water which contains radioactive substances, and will involve many truck movements, possibly new roads, as well as noise and light pollution from 24/7 drilling activities. 2. Even if a sample borehole convinces SW Energy there is no point in searching for coalbed methane, their licence permits exploration for shale gas deeper down in various levels of limestone rock. Their data may also help them or another company to apply for an Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) licence from the Coal Authority – methane is not required for this technology, which involves setting fire to worked coal seams and converting the vapour into synthetic gas (or syngas).

FOR MORE ON THIS, SEE THE ‘WHAT IS FRACKING’ PAGE… [LINK TO FOLLOW]

A Timeline of the Forest of Dean – Part 1: Before People

FOREWORD
I wrote this a while ago, before we realised that the rocks that lie underneath us in the Forest of Dean are of interest to oil and gas companies. I am still seeking decent and exclusive illustrations… so apologies if it’s a bit text-heavy… it’s a work in progress.

 

PART 1:

BEFORE PEOPLE

Introduction

IF we were to condense the history of the planet into a single day, humans would enter it at the very last few seconds. It is largely through our destructive social construct that the planet is experiencing the latest wave of mass species extinctions. Previously you could blame meteorites from space, changes in the Earth’s orbit or the ball of red-hot iron – hotter than the surface of the sun at 1600 degrees Celsius – which spins around in the centre of the planet.

While the Moon tugs at the ocean tides, and atmospheric conditions above our heads cause us to obsess about the weather, beneath our feet a whole lot of action is going on which we are mostly unaware of, unless all of a sudden the fiery mantle spews out molten lava, unseen forces make the Earth shudder and shake, or sinkholes suddenly and unexpectedly open up to swallow houses and cars.

And yet homes, villages and towns have been built from the sandstones or limestones beneath the soil, and the Forest of Dean’s stone, iron and coal industries relied on the natural resources which were formed when the area was a desert, river delta, under a shallow tropical sea. The Forest’s core ranges from 150m to 250m, originally a mountainous plateau caused from a collision with France, Spain, Africa and North America. It is this plateau existence that gave the Forest of Dean such an independent spirit, and the layers of history way before humanity which produced the minerals and fossil fuels that gave populations their livelihoods.

These days, while sinkholes are not so rare, the chances of volcanic eruption or major earthquakes round these parts are pretty slim (there were 25 earthquakes with a sizeable magnitude of 4.5 to 6.1 in Britain during the 20th century) – that is, unless by human endeavour such as hydraulic fracturing, we provoke the planet into violent action. Then again, Iceland and parts of the Mediterranean area, the nearest current ‘hot spots’, are not so very far away. A cloud of volcanic ash not only has the potential to stop flights, as the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 did, but such an event can also bring on widespread crop failures, sheep moraine epidemics, and a deterioration in climatic conditions as the acidic fallout from one Icelandic volcano did in the Middle Ages.

Despite being in the grip of an ice age – currently in a temperate phase of it – with sea levels some of the highest for the 800 million years since records can be traced, and rising, and the land sinking and eroding, Britain and Ireland as a whole are protected and anchored by Europe. Like it or not, we are tied to Europe, on the northwest of the continental landmass – the Irish and North Seas and English Channel are superficial, really, as beneath their fairly shallow waters is land. This land extends down 40km to the Earth’s upper mantle, or aethenosphere. It is welded to much deeper and older land, known as cratons, in Finland, Russia and the Ukraine, which is more than double the thickness. Meanwhile, in the middle of the Atlantic, a line that cuts through the middle of Iceland and continues down to the edge of the Caribbean, land beneath the ocean is being ripped apart by a rift as you read this. Chunks of land are forced to plummet down towards the Earth’s core, to be eaten up by fire as they drop thousands of kilometres towards the centre. And down in the Mediterranean, Africa is very gradually consuming the sea and getting ever closer to Spain and Italy. Meanwhile the whole of Eurasia is shifting eastwards, with North America getting crushed by both sides.

Continental crust (land) and the thinner and more brittle and condensed oceanic crust (about 10km beneath oceans) are carried around the planet at a speed of between five and 50 centimetres per year, many scientists believe, on tectonic plates by means of heat convection which emanates ultimately from that ball of nickel and iron, the Earth’s core. Sometimes the two plates – if the edges are continental crust – dock neatly without any tumult, but most times they either strike and slip against each other or one crust is pushed under another. Oceanic crust is generally crushed or slides under land, while continent-to-continent collisions produce mountain ranges on one side, and canyons and basins on the other.

The collisions often reignite faults, or cracks, which were originally formed when smaller bits of land were joined together. This is how the Severn Vale came to be, and May Hill and the Malverns. The contrast in scenery is apparent now whether west of east of May Hill, but would have been far more dramatic 280 million years ago.

Because of the incredibly slow pace of continental drift – or wanderings – mountains don’t spring up overnight. They take millions, sometimes tens of millions of years, to form, and even as they form they begin to erode – some quicker than others, depending on the rock and climatic conditions. But as sure as day turns to night and back again, a cycle lasting roughly 500 million years sees continents come together to form one supercontinent, and then disperse. The land that became the Forest of Dean went from being low-lying to raised up to its fullest extent at the edge of a mountain range that extends west across Wales when Pangaea (meaning ‘all land’) was formed. Now midway through the supercontinent cycle, it has eroded so only the stumps of the mountain plateau remain.

It happened so long ago that it’s hard to retrieve enough paleomagnetic or paleogeographic data to determine where on the planet the land that became the Forest of Dean was originally formed, by magma from the Earth’s mantle (right now, unbeknownst to us, the Earth could be adding extra layers 40km below us), but it’s likely to have been in the middle of an ocean, close to the South Pole. Since then we have mostly been on a north-easterly trajectory. In another 250 million years the land will be close to the North Pole, on the edge of the next supercontinent. It’s likely that the temperature will be about the same as now, perhaps even warmer, as the ice age will be long over.

The last glacial maximum – as the latest freezing phase of this ice age is known as – ended about 11,000 years ago. The resulting melting glaciers (although the ice sheet didn’t cover the Dean, it came close, and the land would have been severely affected by the rapid melting of mile-thick ice) scalped and washed away all traces of 300 million years of earth history in the Dean and uplifted the land again. Scotland is still rising after the weight of the ice was lifted off its back (while we and the south of England are sinking a millimetre or so per year). But even though the more recent layers were stripped away, the stories represented by the remaining layers can still be pieced together.

Where to start? Right at the beginning…

13,798,000,000,000 years ago [13.798ga]

Birth of the universe

I DON’T know about you, but the hardest thing to get my head around is that something – and eventually everything – came from nothing. Scientist Alan Guth, the proponent of the cosmic inflationary theory, calls that void from which the universe which we know of emerged as a false vacuum: false in that the vacuum was temporary, and vacuum meaning a state of the lowest possible energy density (but crucially above zero).

So, according to Guth’s theory, at first, there was nothing. Or seemingly nothing. The apparent nothingness decayed because it contained a miniscule amount of energy. This energy converged at one point, producing what it now near universally accepted as the Big Bang. This energy, or matter, condensed in one spot less than a billionth the size of a light particle, or proton. This bubble, before expanding, achieved a near-uniform state. This meant that as it rapidly expanded – as it continues to do so today – it does so in equal measure in all directions. But if it was completely uniform, the building blocks of atoms would never have come together to become atoms and matter wouldn’t matter!

This collation of matter was so freakishly hot and dense it turned gravity on its head, so instead of objects being attracted by each other, as our Earth and Moon are, they found each other repulsive and inflated, and 13.798 billion years ago…

BANG-KER-BLAM!!! A colossal explosion gave birth to the universe.

This fireball is invisible, as there are not yet light particles to illuminate the universe and make it transparent – protons evolved 380,000 years later. Yet this Big Bang is still detectable – one per cent of the static, or snow, which fills the screen when tellies are detuned has come directly from the Big Bang’s afterglow.

In the space of 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000001 of a second, or one trillionth of one trillionth of a second, the universe doubles in size, and in another 10-37 of a second doubles again, and so on, until the process slows down and a hot cosmic soup fills space.

 

guth1

bb_theoryAs the universe continued to inflate, it became cool enough to coagulate into stars and galaxies. Gravity became an attractive force and dragged into position the alignments we see in our night skies today. Except we would have to wait billions of years before we have a planet to see them from.

Our universe kept expanding, slowing down for a while, then speeding up in the last few billion years.

Although we can now measure the whole of our universe, we only see less than one-twentieth of the universe’s matter. We can only detect the remaining so-called dark matter because of gravitational relationships. The unfathomable force that is currently causing the universe to expand by 73km per second in all directions is known as dark energy.

It’s unlikely – the scientists behind the ‘multiverse’ or ‘bubble universe’ theory and inflationary theory maintain – that our bubble will collide with another universe. And hopefully our bubble won’t burst any time soon.

4,550,000,000 years ago [4.55ga]

Birth of the Earth

Eon: Hadean (4550-4000ma) Precambrian-Archean (4000-2500ma)

By now the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, a giant web of matter held in place by gravity. But parts of the web are prone to collapse, and this is how our solar system forms. A pile of objects end up in a heap.

Most of the matter forms the Sun, while the rest whirl around it – a disc of dust, hot metals and gases spins around for 100,000 years or so, gradually accumulating mass. A solar wind then blows the condensed rocky and gaseous spheres away and planets and asteroids find their own orbital grooves.

Until recently, the prevailing belief was that the sky and all it contains – stars, sun, moon, thunder, lightening, clouds, rain – was a solid firmament with no beginning nor end. This was the hypothesis in the Bible’s opening book Genesis, compiled during the iron age about 2,700 years ago. Within a thousand or so years Christianity, Islam and other single-deity religions worldwide held that everything was built by one creator.

In 1225, English theologian and later Bishop of Lincoln and Archbishop of Leicester, Robert Grosseteste, envisaged that the Universe was created from an explosion. He theorised that matter crystallised to form stars and planets which nested around Earth. Another four centuries passed before Isaac Newton proposed gravity (in 1687), and it it wasn’t until 1916 that Einstein computed that E equals MC-square, his theory of general relativity.

Science is also tracing the history of the Earth, dating its rocks, lifeforms, DNA, and peeling back some of the layers of human history too. But we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors right now in 2016 CE (common era) at parliament, in corporate offices and in our next door neighbour’s house, never mind who shot JFK or whether Robin Hood was based on a real person, if King Arthur was a King or a self-aggrandised warlord, and whether Alfred or Cnut were so Great. We still know little of what life is like in the past centuries, beyond the often self-perpetuating, myth-making world of kings and queens (the earliest Gaelic text, for instance, is a list of kings).

While history has generally been written by privileged people with their own perception or agenda – or those often second-guessing God, the Pope, their king, bishop, editor or media magnate – advancements in science are throwing up wholly new versions, confounding the old stories, showing that random craziness, things colliding with each other, and a combination of improbabilities have more of a part to play than destiny or pre-ordained order or hierarchy.

The embryonic Earth, with its core of iron, is about 80 per cent the size it will reach when an object the size of Mars smashes into it – the debris, a mixture of Earth rock and the asteroid’s – crystallises into the Moon. It’s thanks to the Moon, its size and proximity, that the Earth remains relatively stable and develops an atmosphere. Until the moon locks into its current position and orbit, conditions on Earth are chaotic – tumultuous tides and fiery chasms dominate. But it doesn’t take too long, less than a billion years, before conditions are stable enough for the Earth to develop a magnetic field, its core to sink to the centre, and its surface to cool enough to form a skin, or crust. Not that it will ever become totally stable.

primeva2

Scientists now think that water was present on the Earth from the beginning – now that a mass of water has been discovered beneath the Earth’s crust, within its mantle. Then again, may be thanks to Mars or some passing asteroid that water reached Earth and eventually also the first life-forms – micro-organisms. Mars was smaller than Earth so cooled much more rapidly, meaning life only had half-a-billion years to develop before everything froze.

The sun still has an estimated 5 billion years left to shine. Andromeda could wipe us out in a collision one billion years prior to that. The Earth, and the Forest of Dean within it, won’t last nearly as long… so let’s enjoy them while we can.

1,600,000,000 years ago [1.6ga]

First foundation rock

Eon: Precambrian-Archean (4000-2500ma)Precambrian-Protoerozoic (2500-541ma)Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Paleoproterozoic (2500-1600ma) Mesoproterozoic (1600-1000ma) Neoproterozoic (1000541ma)

Period: Statherian (1800-1600ma) Calymmian(1600-1400ma) Ectasian (14001200ma)

Today (2015), the Forest of Dean is a plateau between two rivers, situated on the island of Britain, rising up on a tectonic plate that stretches westward to volcanic Iceland and the Mid-Atlantic Rift’s submerged canyons and mountains, and eastwards to cover most of Siberia and down to the Philippines. This continent came together and in its current place on the globe less than 30 million years ago – Iceland was only formed from a volcanic plume 16 million years ago (or 16ma), and the tiny island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, about 50ma. At the same rate our fingernails grow, every year this great mass moves a few centimetres to the east, and tilts downwards to the east as well. It collides in slow-motion and is thrust downwards in places by other jarring continental tectonic plates, and thinner ocean crust plates. Eventually all land masses are likely to collide a form a single land mass, before rifting causes land to break apart and form other interesting new shapes, all driven by the moon’s pull.

In a similar way that boiled milk cools enough to form a layer of skin, the Earth cooled down enough by the time it was one billion years old to develop a stable skin. That skin, or crust, or lithosphere, is now 40km thick (and twice as thick in some other parts of the world). It is a constantly evolving skin, added to from below, and occasionally magma shooting through cracks, or faults, to erupt above-ground as lava.

By 1.6 billion years ago, only a fraction of the Earth’s land mass today has been formed as barren land. Out in the ocean somewhere between the more ancient land – or cratons – of Amazonia (Brazil) and West Africa, the basement, on which the inner Forest of Dean perches close to its edge, is formed from magma plumes rising from deep within the Earth’s mantle, emanating from its raging hot core (which is hotter than the surface of the Sun).

wrekin terraneThis triangle-shaped crystalline rock mass is formed in the Southern Hemisphere at 60-degrees South, not far from the South Pole. This platform or floor is known as the Wrekin Terrane: what will eventually become May Hill is situated right on its edge. The land extends as far west as Tenby. It’s hard to work out how far south because the ripples caused by a continental collision – Africa meeting Europe – destroyed the evidence between 300 and 280 million years ago.

The Earth is a little different: there are about 450 days in a year, and each day lasts for 20 hours – the moon pulling heavier on the Earth. Microbial mats and stromatolite domes formed by photosynthesising algae are the main signs of life in the water – the land is barren, though there may be microbes present helping the rocks form. Under shallow seas sand, mud and silt gradually consolidates into sandstone. The ozone layer has just been formed, and average temperatures are about -3C (29.6F).

Stromatolites_in_Sharkbay_Paul-Harrison_detail-800x315

Sexual reproduction is a thing of the future… and so is oxygen (this arrives in the atmosphere about 100 million years later, along with eukaryotes – the basic cell type found in almost all life forms).

The Cymru terrane, eventually bumping up alongside and flanking the Wrekin terrane to the west, formed a little later, 1,350 million years ago – at about the same time as the Fenland terrane which extends from the East Midlands to East Anglia. In between the Wrekin and Fenland terranes, the Charnwood terrane, which includes land that will host Newnham, Huntley, Newent, Gloucester, the Cotswolds and extends east as far as London and Belgium, formed much later – 900 million years ago. 1bn

More than 650 million years ago, these chunks of England and Wales, together with chunks of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Ireland, may have been loosely welded together by means of a volcanic arc – in a similar way to which the Caribbean islands and Indonesia were formed much later on. It’s a matter of conjecture whether this embryonic landmass joined on to the mainland of what is now Liberia, West Africa, or to what is now Tocantins, a province in central Amazonian Brazil. Fragments of rock from deep in the basement only come to the surface carried on lava flows, and the tiny amount of evidence matches one or the other.

Island-Arc

Between 640 and 570ma, a more extensive phase of arc volcanism took place, which soldered the pieces together. However, the faults – the cracks – between the blocks of land remained, making them susceptible to rupturing, or deformation, should the mass be pressurised by another landmass squeezing up alongside it.

At this stage in the Earth’s history, it’s difficult to trace the wanderings of land masses. There is a roughly 500-million-year cycle where land comes together in supercontinents and then disperses, and the basement miles below the Forest of Dean (west of May Hill and Newnham) may have begun as an extension of the Nuna supercontinent, while the pieces could have come together as part of the formation of Rodinia (1,100-750ma), and again, fully sealed, for the supercontinent of Pannotia (600-541ma).

Where are we now on the supercontinental cycle? About halfway through – now our land is annexed to cratons – the most stable, deepest land masses – in the Ukraine and Finland, and the nearest action is in the Mediterranean, where Africa is pushing northwards, while the Mid-Atlantic Rift is driving a wedge further between Ireland and North America. The Mediterranean Sea will eventually be swallowed by Africa meeting southern Europe, while North America will be wedged on to far-eastern Asia and Siberia. Britain and Ireland will be resting on the North Pole. It may not be as cold as might be imagined – as throughout much of the Earth’s history the poles have been ice-free.

540,000,000 years ago [540ma]

England and Wales unites

Eon: Protoerozoic (2500-541ma)Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Neoproterozoic (1000541ma) Paleozoic (541-252.17ma) Mesozoic (252-66ma)

Period: Ediacaran (635541ma) Cambrian (541485.4ma) Ordovician (485.4444.3ma)
Series: Terreneuvian (541521ma) Series 2 (509ma)
Stage: Fortunian (541529ma) Stage 2 (529521ma)

terranes

 

The pieces of crust, or terranes, of England and Wales, after evolving as separate entities in various places, have all slotted into place (sutured) by means of volcanic activity below and above the surface (apart from the Lizard and Start peninsulas of southernmost Cornwall, which is a piece of upturned oceanic crust created about 350ma when the mini-continent of Armorica smashed into Cornwall).

This land, only periodically an island and one which takes many different shapes, including tropical archipelagos, sits on the eastern half of a microcontinent called Avalonia which stretches from New England and Newfoundland to Germany. Five islands which will later form Scotland and the northern half of Ireland are at this stage 4,000 miles across the Iapetus Ocean to the north, off the continent of Laurentia.

Avalonia is formed in the Southern Hemisphere, on the northeastern margin of Gondwana, a continent which straddles the South Pole.

Volcanic arcs culminating about 550ma in the Ardennes, Wales and southern Ireland eventually seal Avalonia as a land platform above the sea, consuming and replacing the crust of the Tornquist Ocean.

Our most distant ancestors, comb jellies, are now hoovering up the oceans’ tiny lifeforms. They have nervous systems and light up when disturbed, as well as voracious appetites and breeding rates. Their contemporaries, sponges, until recently believed to be the ancestor of all animals, in contrast, form passive, friendly cell associations.

combjellysponge

Nothing in the world yet possesses a brain. Nothing colonises land.

Avalonia

This process of welding together a “complex mosaic of fault-bounded terranes” began about 700 million years ago. Once formed, Avalonia rifted away from the continent and began wandering northwards, heading towards Laurentia, a continent which contained much of North America and also at least five islands which eventually formed the northern half of Ireland and Scotland.

550ma

Until about 600ma, the land spent much of its time developing submerged under a shallow sea studded with volcanic islands. Then the first known mountain-building episode (known as the Cadomian Orogeny) transformed England and Wales into a mountainous region, along with much of north-west Europe (Eastern Avalonia). Within perhaps 100 million years, the volcanoes and mountains were eroded as the land flooded as the sea level rose. Most of central England, including the Forest of Dean, formed a stable block of crust known as a Craton or Microcraton.

 

475,000,000 years ago [475ma]

Aboard the Midland platform

Eon: Protoerozoic (2500-541ma)Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Neoproterozoic (1000541ma) Paleozoic (541-252.17ma) Mesozoic (252-66ma)

Period: Cambrian (541485.4ma) Ordovician (485.4-444.3ma) Silurian (444.3419.2ma)
Series: Furongian (497485.4ma) Lower Ordovician (485.4470ma) Middle Ordovician (470-458.4ma)
Stage: Tremadocian (485.4477.7ma) Floian (477.7470ma) Dapingian (470-467.3ma)

Like a gargantuan cruise ship the extended crust of Avalonia slips its moorings – well, rifted – from Gondwana, and by 440ma it had drifted to about 30 degrees North. The rift creates the Rheic Ocean, with the Iapetus Ocean to the north.

Avalonia was, at less than a snail’s pace but still moving rapidly compared to today’s tectonic plate movements – at my rough but conservative estimate shifting 50cm per year (these days we’re moving at 1 or 2cm per year) – heading towards Laurentia and far-off Scotland and the northern half of Ireland. North and west Wales experienced a fair bit of volcanic turbulence, as did the Lake District from about 510ma.

440ma

As Avalonia continues its northward shift, the Wrekin and Charnwood terranes are overlaid with more volcanic and sedimentary rock layers, sealing and stabilising the pair as the Midlands Platform. May Hill to the Malverns are on the western shelf of a rectangular deep sea basin. This trough includes land that will eventually become the Vale of Evesham, the Golden Valley (between Gloucester and Cheltenham), the Severn Vale and Cotswolds. The bulk of the Forest of Dean is low-lying river delta country.

Within 10 million years, the first plants on land will take root, as well as loads of plankton in the sea, vital starting posts in the future food chain.

Roughly 455 million years ago, Baltica – including Scandinavia, western Russia and Eastern Europe – rotating in an anti-clockwise direction towards Avalonia, while Avalonia has been drifting northeast towards Baltica, collided with the eastern end of Avalonia. This closing of the Tornquist Ocean between the two continents coincided with a sudden ice age, where sea levels dropped 100m, wiping out 85 per cent of species. A line which runs beneath the North Sea, Denmark, north Germany and Poland marks the ocean closure (suture).

The melting of the glaciers caused a rise in sea levels until they were at the level they were today, and much of Avalonia was plunged under deep water. The oldest rocks to outcrop, at May Hill, date from a later time when the sea had become much shallower, and the coast was not far to the east. The slightly younger rocks surrounding the top of May Hill are rich in coral reef fossils.

silurian_wenlock4

MayHill

mayhillbrachiopod

[Fossil found of an articulate brachiopod – a marine shellfish which built reefs – at Glasshouse, near May Hill, in Woolhope Limestone formation, dating from the Sheinwoodian Age (Silurian Period) (426.2 – 428.2 million years ago) when May Hill (pictured, centre) – then a flat continental shelf – was covered by shallow sea, close to the coast (top illustration)]

By 425ma the combined Avalonia and Baltica have locked horns with Laurentia. The docking took 30 million years of slipping, striking and sliding, by which time the north of Ireland joined the south, Scotland joined England, and the Appalachian mountains formed as part of a mighty chain which continued across Scotland and Norway. Volcanos erupted where the Mendips now stand in Somerset.

midlandplatform

By now, the Forest of Dean, on the Midland platform (stretching from Tenby to London, and south to Bristol, and just south of today’s M4 corridor), was above the water. Across the sea to the south was Pretannia, another island (now south Somerset and Devon). Mid-west Wales remained a basin filled with a deep sea. There is still some conjecture about whether mountains were formed further south. Those which did formed at north-eastern angles. Could the fault-line which later became the Severn vale, and the Clanna anticline, the slope of upfolded rocks (as opposed to the down-folded rocks, or syncline, of the Dean) that leads from Tidenham up above Woolaston and Aylburton, pushed up the southern edge of the Forest of Dean and perhaps also uplifted the land to the southeast of Lydney (where Naas House and Fairtide rock now stands)? If so, that might explain why older rocks remain on the surface directly to the east of Lydney Docks.

Naascliffs

[East of Lydney Harbour, remnants of the oldest remaining hills, now the southern frame of the Forest of Dean?]

Clannaanticline

[Eastern section of the Clanna Anticline in the foreground, facing south – this flank stretching from Tidenham to Lydney Park may have been formed during the continental collision to the north, which saw Scotland joining England and Wales and the Avalonia subcontinent merging with Scandinavia and North America… was this upland area once part of the Appalachian mountain chain?]

398,000,000 years ago [398ma]

Caledonian fallout

Eon: Protoerozoic (2500-541ma)Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Neoproterozoic (1000541ma) Paleozoic (541-252.17ma) Mesozoic (252-66ma)

Period: Silurian (444.3-419.2) Devonian (419.2-358.9ma) Carboniferous (358.9298.9ma)
Series: Pridoli (423419.2ma) Lower Devonian (419.2393.3ma) Middle Devonian (393.3382.7ma)
Stage: Pragian (410.8407.6ma) Emsian (407.6393.3ma) Eifelian (393.3387.7ma)

375ma

We’re at 20 degrees south on the globe, the climate is warm – average Earth temperatures are more than 6C higher than in 2014. Sea levels have dropped and the Forest of Dean area is a river delta, plants which have evolved from algae not more than a few inches tall are growing on the muddy banks. Fish are everywhere.

waleslondonbrabanthigh

hopemanselldome

rosssandstone

 

quartzcon

tinternsandstone

deandevonian2

[Top: 400-360 million years ago, most of the Forest of Dean was on a semi-arid muddy plain crisscrossed with rivers, with uplands (the Wales-London-Brabant High) rising to the north of the Dean in an unbroken line from western Eire to Belgium, culminating at their southerly point around Howle Hill, Hope Mansell and Puddlebrook, these hills were possibly part of an uplift occurring at the same time as the Pennines, Scottish and Cambrian mountains (Caledonian orogeny). 2nd from top: The remnants of these once-great mountains, viewed from the northeast side of Howle Hill, surround the Hope Mansell Dome, once a hill with the shape of May Hill, now almost flattened by water and mud erosion. 3rd from top: Ross-on-Wye (its name thought to derive from ‘Rose Town’) is built on and from red sandstone. 4th from top: a wet period about 390 million years ago transported quartz conglomerate boulders, which now form a necklace around Forest scree slopes, also known as ‘pudding stone’. 2nd from bottom: Tintern Abbey was built with Tintern sandstone, which dates from 375 million years ago and outcrops on slopes and valleys beneath eroded local older sandstone hills, especially either side of the lower Wye valley. Bottom: The area may have looked like this]

The Midland Platform, and Wales, now combined as the Wales-London-Brabant High, south to a line stretching from Ireland to Germany via the Bristol Channel, is now a vast muddy plain which verges from desert to river swamp deltas. Parts of it, including Herefordshire, form a vast arid upland desert, with the oxidised sand, brownstone, still visible to the north of the Forest and around Lydbrook and on either side of the Wye Valley, blown by desert winds to rest and consolidate into iron-rich sandstone. The debris comes from mountains to the north, especially in Powys and Shropshire. The Devonian period is also known as “the age of fishes” but it’s thought life was mostly if not entirely absent in the Forest of Dean during this period, as the several sandstones do not contain organic matter.

Today, the soils of Herefordshire and the river turns red after heavy rainfall, as fragmented ironstones, or brownstones, remain on the surface. About 390ma, flash floods transported great boulders known as jackstone, puddingstone and officially quartz conglomerate to low land and river beds. These incredibly resistant rocks – thanks to their imbedded quartz – form bracelet trails through the Wye Valley and parts of the Dean, some close to or in the river. Others have since been lifted up, as high up as Staunton – possibly as recently as after the most recent big freeze, 10,000 or so years ago.

Laurentia, Baltica and Eastern Avalonia went through a protracted dodgem-bumpfest of collisions lasting 150 million years, before finally amalgamating, sometimes necessitating earth movements and volcanic eruptions, as well as vast quantities of sand from eroding mountains tumbling southward.

The final act of the so-called Caledonian orogeny (mountain-building episode) saw the Iapetus Ocean plate forced under and through the crust of the continents between Scotland and Angelsey, and this major upheaval caused the land to buckle and warp. The Appalachian, Scandinavian and Grampian mountains formed a huge Himalayan-sized chain, which began eroding as it was thrust up, the debris covering the lowlands with masses of red iron-oxided sand and mud.

Britain and Ireland (aside from the Lizard and Start in Cornwall) were now composite structures. They formed the southeastern flank of the mighty old red sandstone continent.

The last stage of southern Britain closing the gap with Laurentia folded more rocks, and ‘deformed’ the land, still evident in the Lake District, Scotland and North Wales, but it probably happened further south too. It continued to build mountain ridges and plateaux.

Perhaps the land remained a plateau for 10 million years or more, from about 385ma, as a successive layer of purer sandstone was lain down in the Wye Valley from Coppet Hill to Tintern, in the Hope Mansell dome and Lea Bailey, and presumably elsewhere in the Forest of Dean area (now buried under later rock layers) between then and 359ma. The stone is limited to this area, indicating the sediment came from fast-eroding local hills.

 

350,000,000 years ago [350ma]

The first Foresters?

Eon: Protoerozoic (2500-541ma)Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Neoproterozoic (1000541ma) Paleozoic (541-252.17ma) Mesozoic (252-66ma)

Period: Devonian (419.2-358.9ma)Carboniferous (358.9298.9ma) Permian (298.9-252.17ma)
Series: Upper Devonian (382.7358.9ma) Mississippian (358.9323.2ma) Pennsylvanian (323.2298.9ma)
Stage: Fammenian (372.2358.9ma) Tournasian (358.9346.7ma) Visean (346.7330.9ma)

Perhaps its a little facetious to make a claim for the first Forest dwellers before the area was even wooded – but I can’t resist handing the honour to the crinoids: still resident in fossil form (with 600 different living, evolved versions of the echinoderm species in seas and oceans elsewhere in the world – 5,000 species are now extinct).

Generations of the gregarious, huge population of tree-like aquatic animals, stood rooted to the spot for millions of years; as each one died its skeleton contributed to the rocks that now lie beneath the soils west of Bream – a rich agricultural landscape farmed since neolithic times, which currently faces utter desecration from a massive quarrying corporation.

crinoid4

crinoids

3crinoid terms

[Top: crinoid segments fossilised in limestone. Middle: live crinoids. Bottom: guide to a crinoid]

Crinoids live together in crowded populations, each attached to shallow seabeds by a stalk and tubular feet. Each has more than five arms which they use to filter food (plankton), and an anus next to their mouth. Their main visitors are snails, which feed on their waste products. Males and females release sperm and eggs in surrounding sea water, which together produce larvae. Females have been known to brood their offspring with their arms until they are old enough to grow stalks and spend the rest of their lives hanging out before their stalk segments eventually form disc imprints in the consolidated rock of their ancestral brethren.

So how did these ‘first foresters’ get here?

As Laurussia (including Britain and Ireland) heads towards the gigantic Africa-South America-Australia conglomerate continent Gondwana, it causes the sea levels to steadily rise so much of the Forest of Dean, South Wales, Bristol and Somerset, and Ireland, lies on a shelf under the warm, shallow, clear Euramerica Seaway – this marine band which encompasses most of Ireland and Britain and stretches to Belgium and across northern Europe. We’re now almost on the Equator (four degrees south) – the environment’s like the Bahamas, with no change in seasons and shellfish abound. There are few, if any, rivers flowing into this sea, the mud is made of lime.

 

Dean levels L Carboniferous

limestonepavement

From about 354ma the Dinaric crinoidal limestone pavement stretches from just east of Newport and also south towards Bristol and west to form the islands Steep and Flat Holm, forming a broad band across St Briavels and Bream to East Dean, and as far north as Symonds Yat and Ruardean and reaches thicknesses of 1,500 metres. The coast to the north starts beyond Coppet Hill, at Goodrich, and eastwards to Hope Mansell and Longhope.

While the limestone doesn’t crumble like sandstone, it is porous and weak-acid water dissolves parts of the rock to form subterranean rivers and cave systems – a landscape feature peculiar to limestone, known as karst.

At the same time, there is a massive expansion of four-legged stem tetrapods, proto amphibians, and lizard-like amniotes became the first animals to be born on land. The climate on and near the Equator becomes warmer, while an ice age freezes much of Gondwana further south, and also the Siberia continent to the north of Laurussia.

The sea levels dropped within 25 to 30 million years, and a band of land stretching from Pennsylvania to Germany became a tropical swamp, populated by giant flora and fauna.

The transition and shrinking sea is marked by a series of folded limestone rocks which circle the inner Forest of Dean coalfield and areas to the southwest of it. Perhaps the best way of seeing the sequence is to follow the Soudley Geology Trail from the Dean Heritage Museum.

The youngest in the sequence is the Cromhall Sandstone, a mash-up of limestone and sandstone, which marks the transitionary period when the sea came and went, leaving a very salty and sandy area of swampland, a plain intermittently flooded, and populated by worm-like creatures which imprinted themselves in fossils.

AvonLimestone

354-352ma Avon Group (mudstone/limestone): outcrops on the hill between Cinderford and Littledean inc Ruffit, Collafield, above Green Bottom, W of Plump Hill, Stenders, N of Wigpool, N of Ruardean, Deep Dean, outer parts of Howle Hill, Bishopswood, Welsh Bicknor, Lower Lydbrook. Eastbach, Symonds Yat Rock, SE of Ganarew, Upper Redbrook, Whitecliff, Clearwell, Bream Avenue, NW of Lydney, plus parts of Stowe, Hewelsfield (and west of Chepstow and Tintern). Comprised mainly of crinoids (a sea animal known as a stone lily which lived in large densities on the sea floor) and shales, average 200ft.

Black-Rock-Limestone03

352-344ma Black Rock Limestone (dolostone): adjacent band, inside Avon Group around the coalfield, and in blobs inside Avon Group areas west and southwest of it. Pinkish-grey lower dolomite, average 300ft thick.

gullyoolite

344-343ma Gully Oolite (crease limestone) adjacent, inside Black Rock group, narrow band from between Mallards Pike and Bradley Hill, to N of Morse Lane, then W of Joys Green, then Hillersland, Doward, wider on W side, E of Staunton, Scowles, Milkwall, NW of Lydney. Average 100ft thick.

whitehead2

340-339ma Llanelly Formation (Whitehead limestone) – Limestone and Argillaceous Rocks (limestones with a lesser amount of clay minerals) interbedded. Adjacent, inside the band of crease limestone, average 100ft thick.

huntsbayoolite

339-335ma Hunts Bay Oolite Subgroup – Limestone, Ooidal – N of Lydney, W Bream, W of Ellwood.

drybrooksandstone

337-327ma Cromhall Sandstone, aka Drybrook Sandstone – Hangerberry, central Lydbrook, E Morse Lane, Drybrook, Puddlebrook, Wigpool, then adjacent, inside E side of Whitehead limestone to Staplehill (youngest section Edgehills Sandstone). Average thickness, 300ft.

310,000,000 years ago [310ma]

The rise and fall of the coal forest

Eon: Protoerozoic (2500-541ma) Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Neoproterozoic (1000541ma) Paleozoic (541-252.17ma) Mesozoic (252-66ma)

Period: Devonian (419.2-358.9ma)Carboniferous (358.9298.9ma) Permian (298.9-252.17ma)
Series: Mississippian (358.9323.2ma) Pennsylvanian (323.2298.9ma) Cisuralian (298.9272.3ma)
Stage: Bashkirian (323.2315.2ma) Moscovian (315.2307ma) Kasimovian (307303.7ma) Gzhelian (303.7298.9ma)

A tropical forest straddles the Equatorial band of the continent of Laurussia, rising up from a river delta. The climate conditions are like the Amazonian delta, but the trees very different. The world’s first forest stretches from Pennsylvania to Poland, rising up as the Euramerican Seaway retreats from the area from about 325 million years ago.

Wish you were here… in the proto-Forest of Dean?

deancarboniferous0

Carboniferous forest in afternoon light

A Carboniferous forest featuring Lepidodendron aculeatum (resembling feather dusters on long sticks), Sigillaria scutellata (resembling toilet bowl brushes), Asteroxylon mackiei (at this scale may be mistaken for grass), and ferns. Some Lepidodendron grew as tall as 150 feet.

This tropical paradise would actually be quite frightening for humans. The sky is dark yellow from all the wildfires that erupt and blaze here, there and everywhere, caused by constant electrical storms. There has never been so much oxygen in the atmosphere as there is now, and this means everything grows rapidly and huge. Dragonflies with wings spanning more than six feet, millipedes the size of articulated lorries, ferns 30 metres high and 1.5 metres wide with incredibly thick bark, ginormous spiders… it’s all gone a bit Carboniferous Alice in Wonderland. The oldest-known moss species in the world, Muscites plumatus, from this time has been discovered in fossil form at Puddlebrook Quarry.

But nature’s a bit messed up: the incredibly thick bark protects the plants but is poisonous to many of the vegetarian animals, and so the trees are no good as a food source. Although it’s warm here, the Earth is in the grip of an ice age, to be followed by a rapid period of global warming. The ecosystem is fragile at best. A continuous equatorial belt of humid rainforests is reduced to islands – the Forest of Dean is one of these.

For the first 10 million or so years of the carboniferous forests, they were continuous and the same species of fauna and flora – particularly giant 100-feet-plus-high club mosses called Lycopods, horse tail trees and fern-like plants called Pteridosperms, the latter growing on high mud banks – could be found throughout. But by about 309ma and a few million years earlier elsewhere (the process began from 320ma), some swamps had dried up and become barren. The largest nearby forest then covered the middle of South Wales, from Carmarthenshire to Blaenavon; the Forest of Dean’s extent was almost precisely that of the post-1830s Statutory Forest – 90 square kilometres, with a smaller area (19 square km) of coal forest immediately west of Newent, stretching up to Dymock. South, parts of what became the Bristol Channel south of Chepstow were covered with carboniferous flora, as was an area from north of Bristol to Somerset.

The trees didn’t die in the same way as modern ones do: they rotted on the spot, with anaerobic bacteria converting the oxygen from the plant tissue and releasing it as sulphuretted hydrogen. This toxic gas destroyed life, and also combined with iron to form iron sulphide, a key ingredient of coal. But coal took millions and millions of years to form.

After the bacteria has done its worst, the vegetation is a putrefying jelly-like mass.

The toxic, rotted forests are buried by a succession of landslides and swamp subsidence – the turbulence happens in other forests than the Dean at first, but the environmental chaos starts here around 308ma. There’s a see-saw effect as an area from Wales to Belgium (known as the Wales-Brabant High) rises and rivers drag down vast quantities of sand at a rapid rate, while the sea washes in periodically turning the central Forest area into a lagoon.

Eventually all that was left of the forest was peat, thousands of feet deep – which eventually compressed to become more than 800 metres of sandstones embedded with coal.

This coal and Forest Pennant sandstone would, from 2,000 years ago, make the Forest of Dean a hub of industry. The immediate effect of the climate chaos and landscape upheaval was to pave the way for the domination of dinosaurs. The amphibians’ and floras’ loss proved the reptiles’ gain, as the latter could adapt to the oncoming desert conditions.

There are basically three waves of coal forests resulting from massive burials of sand brought from what is now Herefordshire by rivers. Within them can be found 19 seams:

fodcoal

From 308ma: Trenchard – pinkish-grey quartzite mudstone and sandstone with a few coal seams, up to 300ft thick.

From 307ma: Coleford – a coarse-grained Pennant-type sandstone interbedded with grey and green mudstone, ironstone and coal, featuring the most productive coal seam, the Coleford High Delf, which is up to 5ft thick. The rock is 180m thick in the north, and rises to 300m in the south. Found at Steam Mills, Harrow Hill, Ruardean Hill, Brierley, The Pludds, Edge End, Mile End, Five Acres, Joyford, Berry Hill, Broadwell, Coleford, Coalway, Ellwood, Bream, Whitecroft, Pillowell, Yorkley, W of Ruspidge, and Church Rd, Cinderford.

306-299ma: Cinderford – containing quite thick coal seams, a mix of mudstone, siltstone and sandstone, grey to red, in places containing clay, parts – such as the Serridge Sandstone – wholly sandstone in the north to shales in the south. Again, from 180m in the north to 300m thick to the south. This occupies the centre of the Forest of Dean, including Drybrook, Cinderford, Hawkwell, Cannop, Speech House, Parkend and Moseley Green.

The Newent coal was formed at the same time as the Trenchard and Coleford layers, as was the Severn Coalfield, while coal in Somerset ceased being formed at the same time as in the Dean. In South Wales, Nailsea, Somerset and Bristol, the chaotic landscape collapse which gave the world coal started a few million years earlier – from 311ma – although there is a chance they could have been swept away from the Dean and Newent by earth movements, from the aftermath of a collision with Armorica, aka Cadomia (France, Spain and Germany’s Black Forest), which may have triggered volcanic activity in the Severn area and helped fold limestone rings around the Dean. Aside from the Forest of Dean, only in two tiny areas near Dymock, and a fraction of the much larger coalfield north of Bristol, Nailsea and north Somerset, have the coal measures remained close to the surface.

310ma

280,000,000 years ago [280ma]

Pangaea and the plateau of Forest independence

Eon: Protoerozoic (2500-541ma) Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Neoproterozoic (1000541ma) Paleozoic (541-252.17ma) Mesozoic (252-66ma)

Period: Carboniferous (358.9298.9ma) Permian (298.9-252.17ma) Triassic (252.17-201.3ma)
Series: Pennsylvanian (323.2298.9ma) Cisuralian (298.9272.3ma) Guadalupian (272.3-259.8ma)
Stage: Asselian (298.9295.0ma) Sakmarian (295.0290.1ma) Artinskian (290.1283.5ma) Kungurian (283.5272.3ma) Rodian (272.3268.8ma)

AFRICA and the glaciated continent of Gondwana collides with southern Europe somewhere in the Mediterranean or perhaps further north, producing a ripple effect which eventually creates mountain ranges across central France, Brittany, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Wales – and uplifts the basin of the Forest of Dean, making it a plateau fortress with a heart-shaped limestone rim, containing three main north-south rock folds.

The process of the formation of the supercontinent Pangaea forming took almost 200 million years. This final event – or orogeny – sealed the Forest of Dean’s geographical independence, and made it a little country all on its own (the two rivers which frame it, the Severn and Wye, would only take shape between 2 million and a few thousand years ago).

The landscape was transformed from a low-lying swamp to a plateau of Alpine proportions.

The so-called Variscan orogeny which formed a much more extreme version of the landscape we enjoy today, was the culmination of three big tectonic plates converging. So, having already surviving collisions with Baltica, Laurentia and Armorica/Cadomia, the final event was when the gargantuan continent of Gondwana smashed into the accumulated landmasses, including at the south of Spain. While the earlier events may have ‘deformed’ this area, this was the big one that triggered new mountain chains from the Atlas to the Mendips, and also May Hill and the Malverns.

 

wider dean picture blank.png

The Malvern fault line, created between 700 and 540 million years ago, when the Wrekin terrane crust and the Charnwood terrane crust soldered together, was reactivated. This caused the eastern Charnwood terrane to slide under the western Wrekin terrane, rising up and folding rock layers westwards of May Hill and the Malverns, and immediately to the east produced the Worcester graben – a dramatic drop of up to 2,500m. (now the Severn, Avon and Leadon Vales). The triangular block of hills around May Hill was shaped by the Blaisdon fault, while the remains of parallel north-south ridges stretch northwards to the amphitheatre-shaped Woolhope Dome in Herefordshire, and westwards as far as the Usk valley.

Rock formed hundreds of millions of years previously was thrown up, including the Malvern Hills, May Hill, Brights Hill, Huntley Hill, Popes Hill, and across what is now the Severn between Blakeney and Newnham to Tortworth. The Blaisdon fault line not only gave the May Hill triangle its shape but bordered a steep red sandstone wall at Longhope. From the south, the Severn axis and Clanna faultline, northwest of Lydney, brought the limestone pavement up on to a high plateau (perhaps not for the first time) which continues to Newport, and southwards to the Avon Gorge near Bristol and to the Mendips. A fault-line running through the Usk valley separates the Forest of Dean and western plateau from the Welsh hills further west, but resulted in a gentler slope than the Malvern line boundary.

To the northwest of the Dean, beyond Howle Hill, a now-dry proto-Wye river valley began to cut through, separating Chase and Penyard Hills from the rest of the plateau. At Coppet Hill the plateau continued across the current Wye, encompassing Little and Great Doward, Ganarew, Buckholt and, south of Monmouth, Penallt, Trellech, Devauden, and west and northwest of Chepstow.

While the eastern, southern and northern edges are easily traced, in many places defining the western edge of the plateau is arguable – at the most generous estimation its foothills stretch as far as the Usk valley. West of this rises the South Wales coalfield, a similar structure to the Dean area but about a dozen times the size. And the Welsh valleys have an often parallel and overlapping history to the Dean, more so than the rest of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire have.

The scenery we enjoy today west of the Malvern Line is the stumps of the mountain range, raised basin and plateau – May Hill the highest point at 295 metres, the eastern boundary ridges of Breakheart Hill – where the incredible forces behind the rock-folding can be witnessed at the Wilderness Quarry, with old red sandstone rocks heaved up to an angle of 60 degrees – the higher Edge Hill, Littledean Ridge, and Allaston Ridge and the Forest of Dean plateau at various points between 150 and 280 metres – perhaps one-tenth of the height they are when formed. River valleys cut through in changing patterns during the next 280 million years. Dean’s landscape in its early days has been compared by geologist William Dreghorn as similar to the Dinaric Alps of Slovenia and the Balkans look now, the interior filled with piles of peat thousands of metres deep. Miners will encounter places where coal seams unexpectedly run out – these ‘wash outs’ are due to the courses of ancient rivers. The landscape eroded at an accelerated pace from the off, the original rugged peaks becoming smooth domes in the first 50 million years after the uplift.

It’s the asymmetry of the central Forest which has made it both a boon for life – plenty of freshwater collects in its basin – and hazardous for industry – the one per cent of the coal measures which contain coal is frequently waterlogged (but at least mines were methane-free).

Now Pangaea was complete, within 30 million years Newent became a sandy lowland bog, while hot desert sands were carried north – by water and in more arid times, wind – from Paris and south Devon to cover Newnham, Broadoak, Elton, Birdwood, Rudford, and Taynton through the basin that will eventually become the Bristol Channel and Severn. This channel is known by geologists as the Budleighensis River. Much of the area would have been dunes, with an inland sea or lake forming at Wesbury-on-Severn.

237ma

We are now in the centre of the Pacman-shaped supercontinent of Pangaea (or ‘All Earth’). Most of north and central Europe is covered in a salty sea within a desert basin, beginning at a point not far off the coast from Hull and Grimsby. As we’ve only just left an ice age (though we didn’t feel it, as we were near the Equator), the melting of the ice caps will eventually submerge most or perhaps all of Britain, receding to leave much of it a flat desert with salt pans.

In the uplifted Forest of Dean and the areas to the north and west of it, no new rock layers can be found. Dreghorn noted in the late-1960s: “In its structure the Forest of Dean is a unique region, an interior plateau in the form of an oval-shaped saucer… Plateau areas throughout the world tend to be rather isolated regions in which the inhabitants develop customs and dialects of their own. The Forest is no exception and although its isolation is being broken down by motorways and bus services, the inhabitants still preserve clannish characteristics.”

And yet anyone who has spent enough time in the ‘Forest of Dean syncline’ – preferably nowhere near a TV – will feel remote from the rest of the world. East of the several ridges which frame Mitcheldean and Longhope, by the time you’ve hit the A40 or gone south to the A48, you’ve left this otherworld behind and entered land a few miles or more above the Charnwood terrane, which stretches all the way to London. Those hills in the distance – the Cotswolds – are only about three million years old.

Behind, the Forest of Dean and Welsh hills are almost one hundred times as old. They have spent much of their time under water, as well as weathering desert conditions and sheets of ice down the eras, and moved steadily northwards up the globe.

About 250 million years ago conditions are barren – 96% of all plant, animal and microbe life becomes extinct worldwide (there are numerous theories why, but none have consensus – the most likely is due to lack of oxygen in water, and perhaps lack of water in a vast desert). Ocean reefs and forests are destroyed. Gone are rhinoceros-sized plant-eating mammalian reptiles and sabre-toothed gorgonopsians that preyed on them.

DeanPermian

This wipe-out happened over 500,000 years – the most severe of the Earth’s ‘Big Five’ extinction events. The remnants of amphibians and reptiles species evolved into dinosaurs and mammals within 20 million years. One of the earliest mammals, dating from 225ma, was a rat-sized animal found in the Mendips of Somerset.

 

150,000,000 years ago [150ma]

Scowles

Eon: Protoerozoic (2500-541ma) Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Paleozoic (541-252.17ma) Mesozoic (252-66ma) Cenozoic (66ma-now)

Period: Triassic (252.17-201.3ma) Jurassic (201.3145ma) Cretaceous (14566ma)
Series: Middle Jurassic (174.1163.5ma) Upper Jurassic (163.5145ma) Lower Cretaceous (145100.5ma)
Stage: Kimmeridgian (157.3152.1ma) Tithonian (152.1145ma) Berriasian (145139.8ma)

THE youngest solid rock layer to be found anywhere in the area covered in this book, known as Blue Lias, is below the plateau, on the edge of the Severn, some east of Sedbury, others east of the Malvern line from Westbury up to Over and Gloucester.

199ma

From 208 million years ago, the area that had been raised up by continental collision less than 100 million years earlier was now low-lying and covered in a shallow sea, at roughly the same latitude as southern Spain is in 2015, and a couple of thousand miles further east. Rock fragments found near Bristol indicate we may have been showered with debris from an asteroid crash in Canada.

The Jurassic limestone is rich for fossil-hunting and the far eastern end of Garden Cliff, Westbury beyond the fossil-free but gorgeous red marl at this Severnside rockface, are nirvana for ‘rockers’.

gardencliffwestbury

Ammonites, snails, sea cucumbers, sea urchins and worms are everywhere. They, and sharks and rays, are gobbled up by the largest animals in the sea, reptiles such as crocodiles.

By 150ma the sea has retreated but is still at a high level worldwide, Pangaea is no longer in one piece, and a rift has started between Ireland and North America, although both Greenland and Canada are still close and the Atlantic Ocean doesn’t yet exist. There are lots of dinosaurs around: they leave footprints at Barry Island and many other locations… the best evidence of Jurassic life offered locally is the Ichthyosaurus – a six-feet-long marine animal found at Awre embedded in the 170ma-old lias clays. Like mammals, they give birth to live young in the water, tail-first so their babies don’t drown.

The subterranean cave system within the limestone of the Dean and the western plateau (created by water seeping through the newly-formed rock), becomes exposed at the surface following prolonged heavy rainfall.

IMGP0123.JPG

These hollows, portals into the underworld, are unique to the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley, and are known as scowles (probably derived from an Old Welsh word crowll, meaning a hollow, or the Welsh word ysgil meaning a recess, the hamlet Scowles, near Coleford, is first recorded in 1287 as Scwelle). They are said to have inspired the landscapes in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, as the author JRR Tolkien explored them during his time as an archaeologist near Lydney in the 1920s. The classic form (one of three types) appear as deep irregular, linear quarries.

voltairine

[Scowles marked in brown]

A recent survey has found 694 scowles on limestone outcrops around the edge of the Dean rim, including across the Wye at the Doward. The best known ones are Devil’s Chapel, Puzzle Wood and Stockwood, between Lydney and Coleford, and near Wigpool on the opposite side of the Forest.

Until recently they were believed to be manmade, by primitive miners digging for iron ore. Now there is a general consensus they are a natural phenomenon. As well as iron mines, they have been dwellings and rubbish tips.

Rainfall pushes a slurry of only half-formed coal as well as shales, dripping through the gaps, leaving the iron ore solutions in cracks and crevices nearest the top, and chemical processes fuse the ferric with the calcium and magnesium carbonate cave walls and ceilings. Iron came from the coal measures, the soils and the water which filled the cavities at times when the sea levels drowned the entire area.

The ores include ochre, and a brush ore which required little preparation before smelting. At New Dunn iron mine in Clearwell, a massive churn running down from a hole in the roof was made entirely of brush iron, providing miners with an 18-month-long ready supply.

Scowles develop most often in the crease limestone, and to a lesser extent in Lower Dolomite, Drybrook Limestone and Drybvrook Sandstone. The ochre and ore-bearing scowles, as well as coal and stone, are as essential to the making of the Forest of Dean as trees and topography, in both political and social terms.

Last 150 million years [150ma-1ma]

Recently in deep time

Eon: Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Mesozoic (252-66ma) Cenozoic (66ma-now)

Period: Jurassic (201.3-145ma)Cretaceous (14566ma) Paleogene (66ma23.3ma) Neogene (23.32.58ma) Quaternary (2.58ma-now)
Epoch: Upper Triassic (163.5-145ma) Lower Cretaceous (145.3-100.5ma) Upper Cretaceous (100.5-66ma) Paleocene (66-56ma) Eocene (56-33.9ma) Oligocene (33.9-23.03ma) Miocene (23.03-5.333ma) Pliocene (5.3332.58ma) Pleistocene (2.58ma11.7ka) Holocene (11.7kanow)
Stage: Kimmeridgian (157.3-152.1ma) Tithonian (152.1-145ma) Berrasian (145-139.8ma) Valangian (139.8-132.9ma) Hauterivian (132.9-129.4ma) Barrernian (129.4-125ma) Aptian (125-113ma) Albian (113-100.5ma) Cenomanian (100.5-93.9ma) Turonian (93.9-89.8ma) Coniacian (89.8-86.3ma) Santonian (86.3-83.6) Campanian (83.6-72.1ma) Maastrictian (72.1-66ma) Danian (66-61.6) Selandian (61.6-59.2) Thanetian (59.2-56ma) Ypresian (56-47.8ma) Lutetian (47.8-41.3ma) Bartonian (41.3-38ma) Priabonian (38-33.9ma) Rupelian (33.9-28.1ma) Chattian (28.1-23.03) Aquitanian (23.03-20.44ma) Burdigalian (20.44-15.97ma) Langhian (15.97-13.82ma) Serravallian (13.82-11.62ma) Tortonian (11.62-7.246ma) Messinian (7.246-5.333ma) Zanclean (5.333-3.6ma) Piacenzian (3.6-2.58ma) Gelasian (2.58-1.8ma) Calabrian (1.8ma781ka) Middle Pleistocene (781126ka)

Although the raised basin, rim and limestone plateau structure of the Forest of Dean was completed 280 million years ago, the landscape since has changed in innumerable ways; hills have risen and eroded, the vegetation has been tropical and permafrost-covered tundra, dominant lifeforms ranging from plankton to mammoths.

Geology has not left a discernible record in the Forest of Dean during the past 150 million years – but much happened… the tumultuous rifting apart of land west of Ireland, Greenland and North America and the creation of Iceland from a volcanic plume, causing tsunamis, major earthquakes and land masses to sink, rapidly erode, then uplift, and England and Wales as a whole to tilt to the east and south. The White Cliffs of Dover and the chalk laid down when the land was underwater – consisting almost wholly of sedimentary plankton – and flint covers large parts of the south-east, Weald and southern Downs as far west as Salisbury Plain, but is nowhere to be found in the rest of the country. Africa sheared along and under-rode the southern edge of Europe from about 70ma to 30ma, which eventually produced the Alps, the Mediterranean Sea, and the uplands of southern England, from Kent to the Chilterns, the South Downs to the Isle of Wight and Dorset hills.

The Earth survived several dramatic and violent biological and chemical crises, while the landscape spent long periods of time submerged in a shallow sea.

201-174ma shallow sea covers whole of Britain, or at least most of it (some geologists believe the former Midland Platform was again an upland island)
170-152ma shallow sea covers south and east of Dean (coastline a couple of miles north of Severn)
152-145ma sea retreats to south of Bristol Channel
145-110ma intermittent flooding, area mostly land
110-80ma highest sea levels in 600 million years, one-third of world’s land masses underwater (including whole of southern Britain throughout)
80-70ma some land (including Wrekin terrane) dry, but with occasional flooding (in 72ma)
65ma Britain an island shaped much like now
59-14ma further drops in sea level (also rises in 56ma, 23-20ma) : dry land between Ireland, Britain and continent
14ma-now Periods of glaciation interspersed with shorter, warmer periods, sea levels low.

About 100 million years ago, thanks to a complete lack of ice, and bulging ocean basins, a ‘super plume’ of volcanic action in the fledgling North Atlantic which created vast mountain ranges, sea levels rise 200 metres and spill over one-third of current land on the planet, including most of Europe. At the same time, highlands are at an all-time low. The sea is incredibly salty, with a consistency of light maple syrup. Sea-surface temperatures frequently reach 100-degrees Fahrenheit and the climate is mild and constant the world over, with little seasonal difference.

deanCretaceous

Dinosaurs roamed land near the North Pole, pine woods and “weird monkey puzzle forests” with a climate similar to temperate Britain in 2015, while patches of land further south were occupied by cypress woodlands. Carbon dioxide levels were quadruple compared to now, ensuring polar regions and continental interiors didn’t have winters. If the trajectory towards climate change and greenhouse conditions continues on its current course, this could be the scenario – without the dinosaurs – in less than 250 years in the future (by the year 2264).

The first of a series of planet-wide crises happens in 93ma. Large stretches of water become stagnant, and deep ocean life is starved of oxygen. The perished fish, crabs and marine worms are consolidated into organic carbon within dark mudstones. While the seas covering the Forest of Dean remain shallow and oxygenated, bands of the black shale cover Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, under deep North Sea ocean, with more in the Atlantic. These extreme conditions last for 400,000 to 800,000 years, and the oxygen crisis reoccurs at least once, nine million years later. The shales’ trapping of carbon dioxide gradually causes the planet to cool down.

By 70 million years ago, the sea levels and temperatures have dropped, the climate of re-emerged Britain and Europe becoming arid. Bees, other insects, ants and a prototype of butterflies, as well as flowering plants and leafy trees develop, including magnolia-type blossoms which grow at twice the rate of modern trees. Early marsupial mammals make up but a small proportion of the animal kingdom at first – these become confined to Australia as Gondwana fractures.

Dinosaurs were all the rage until 65ma: Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptor and Triceratops among the last generation, before a meteorite or comet strike in Mexico (the most likely explanation out there right now) caused their extinction. It was a fair distance away from the Forest of Dean, but the impact of the extraterrestrial collision into a bed of gypsum ejected huge amounts of sulfur trioxide which combined with water to block the sunlight. Anything which relied on photosynthesis was destroyed, and the planet also endured several days of extreme acid rain.

The end result was that ferns and deep-sea species survived, but three-quarters of vegetation and animal species were wiped out. However, the extinction of the gargantuan predators and monstrous herbivores (those not able to fly) allowed new mammal species such as horses, whales, bats and primates to diversify massively, as well as birds, fish and lizards.

At this time, there are two continents, with an oceanic equator: Laurasia in the northern hemisphere and Gondwanaland in the south, North America, Greenland and Eurasia drift – or rift – apart, while Africa, freed from Gondwanaland, pushes in from the south.

The volcanic activity between 60 and 52ma forms many of Scotland’s western islands, the Giant’s Causeway of Antrim on Ireland’s northeast coast, and also Lundy in the Bristol Channel. Dikes left by runny lava flowing through rock fissures, presumably from this event have been recognised north of Chepstow (on its way to Lundy?). The land is uplifted mostly on the same fault lines which had shaped the Dean from a sunken swamp to a raised assymetrical basin up to 280 million years ago, with the Bristol Channel consolidated as a wide valley plain. Some geologists believe the same volcanic chain causes Wales and the west to be lifted up by 2km and for England and Wales as a whole to tilt towards the east and south, while a push-pull effect from the African collision uplifts the southeast and southern edges of England, and forms the topography of London and the Thames estuary.

At about this time, Britain became recognisable as an island for the first time – though within 10 million years rejoined Continental Europe (and mostly since then has remained a large peninsula, rather than island).

Temperatures peaked 55.8ma – conditions have been described as “dense mega-thermal rainforest”. Crocodiles swam off the Greenland coast, while the first primates evolved in the tropical palm forests of northern Wyoming (in the US). India began migrating from Gondwana to Asia – the collision formed the Himalayas (and India continues to press northwards into Eurasia, making the Himalayas a work in progress).

By 35ma, the climate starts to get cooler – beech, oak, redwood, sycamore, chestnut and palm trees thrive, along with grassland, as conditions shift from sub-tropical to temperate. The grass begins to take over and forests thin out to mostly flourish at the Equator after the first ice caps appear in Antarctica. Eventually by about 20ma, all that’s left of the Tethys Ocean between Africa and Europe becomes hemmed in as the Mediterranean Sea. Continents find their modern locations (although they remain constantly moving at about the speed our fingernails grow).

After spending tens of millions of years underwater and then experiencing desert conditions, it’s likely that by 20ma the plateau to the west of the Dean was a low, weathered plain covered in the same chalk found today in south and southeast England, and below that Jurassic mudstones. However as no evidence of a chalk covering has been found whatsoever, not even in rock pockets, some geologists are looking for another explanation. Perhaps the area was devoid of life or remained barren, weather-less and above water?

Climatic conditions caused the land to uplift on more than one occasion, and the absence of chalk and Jurassic rocks has so far been explained by them being washed away in a general downward land tilt to the southeast (the Jurassic layer to the Bristol Channel, Severn Vale and Cotswolds, the chalk and flint further south east).

There was no, or not much of, a Wye valley or gorge, but a river with a similar course similar to the Wye running south of Hereford, probably joined on to the Lugg at the north. The landscape retains traces of its ancient meanders – to the south of Ross-on-Wye, and near Newland, Redbrook, Mork and St Briavels.

 

The river cut through layers of older sandstone and limestone in increments, especially during periods when colossal amounts of ice melted. The proto-Severn was probably joined to the Thames, which then stretched to Belgium, connecting with the Rhine to form a wider river between England and France, with its estuary south of Kent.

As the climate continued to get colder, the Mediterranean dried up, grasslands spread from river banks to colonise vast plains, as did large mammals. Temperatures warmed up from about five million years ago. By this time familiar wildlife – such as dogs, deer and beavers – evolved, as well as modern plant life.

The Forest of Dean as we know it today was still a long way off… humans would eventually make the trip from Africa, where they began to evolve.

Last 1 million years [1ma-0ma / CE2014]

Living through the ice age

Eon: Phanerozoic (540ma-now)
Era: Cenozoic (66ma-now)

Period: Neogene (23.32.58ma) Quaternary (2.58ma-now)
Epoch: Pliocene (5.3332.58ma) Pleistocene (2.58ma11.7ka) Holocene (11.7kanow)
Stage: Gelasian (2.58-1.8ma) Calabrian (1.8ma781ka) Middle Pleistocene (781126ka) Upper Pleistocene (126-11.7ka) Pleistocene (781126ka)

Glacial stage: ISOs 28… Beestonian ISO 16 (676621ka) Cromerian Inter ISO 13-15 (563478ka) Anglian ISO 12 (478-424ka) Hoxnian Inter ISO 11 (424-374) Wolstonian/Gipping ISO 6 (374130ka) Ipswichian Inter ISO 5E(124-119ka) Lower Devensian ISO 5A-D (130115ka) Upper Devensian ISO 2-4 (7129ka) Flandrian ISO 1 (14ka-now)

Marine Isotope stages
Warmer periods: 866-814, 790-761, 712-676, 621-563, 533-478, 424-374 (Hoxnian), 337-300 (Purfleet), 243-191 (Aveley), 130-71 (Ipswichian),

AFRICA is our ancestral home: not only – arguably – does the deepest bedrock of the land we stand on (England and Wales) originate from the west of the continent, but we as a species originated there (the earliest clues are found on the east of the continent, in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia). Beyond the scope of this book, in the past 100 years much of our popular music culture has derived from West Africa; cities such as Bristol were built on the backs of African slaves, from the coffee, sugar, cotton and tobacco Africans were forced to harvest on Europeans’ behalf – as was Piercefield Park on the edge of Chepstow.

Western interests continue to ruthlessly exploit Africa: displacing populations and the environment in a quest for oil, gold, diamonds and foodstuffs all in the name of ‘free trade’. In times past, Africans were the bogeymen – barbarians and savages who had to be ‘civilised’ with European Christianity. Now Africa is the prime source for grief tourism. The continent barely exists in the media except as a font for mass abductions by religious and power-hungry zealots, genocides, disease outbreaks, rampaging dictators and famine. Never mind that all these afflictions have occurred in all parts of the world, and never mind that Africa is the cradle of human endeavour, which includes tool-making and art.

The image of savagery which has been synonymous with not just Africa, but anywhere Europeans have colonised, has also extended to anything ‘primitive’. Thus, archaeologists and historians have interpreted according to their world view – they have twisted the Darwinian principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ to mean survival of the most brutal, selfish and ruthless, rather than merely survival of those most suited to their environment. Social anthropology has in many ways acted to negate this temporal chauvinism.

Common chimpanzees to the north of the Congo river may show many signs of altruism and community cohesion, and have their own toolkits which they use for food-sourcing and nest-building. But each community is ruled by an alpha male dictator, who subjugates females. He and his retinue patrol the prescribed limits of their territory, often murdering any other chimp who strays into it.

To the south of the Congo river live the other extant form of chimpanzees, bonobos. They live in larger communities and females collectively manage their society. They are almost wholly peaceful, resolving any potential conflicts with sex (which they perform openly – unlike common chimps who prefer secrecy). Perhaps our close primate relatives – we share more than 98% of the same DNA, making common chimps and bonobos our closest species kin, closer than chimps and gorillas are to each other – demonstrate human traits in the raw. However, the neo-Darwinist Establishment usually falls back on the patriarchal, proprietorial tendencies of the common chimps to explain ‘human nature’ and the course of evolution. However, a great many ‘primal’ peoples studied by anthropologists – those who live hunter-gatherer existences – also practice some kind of sport to avoid violent conflict; many don’t practice patriarchy. It seems that for the vast majority of human existence, violence or male-domination has not played a role, and nor has the obsession with territory, and later empire and nation. In the almost two million years since humans began to evolve, these traits seem to have only emerged in the past 6,000 years to any extent.

Common chimps and bonobos developed independently when the Congo divided them about one million years ago. It is believed that the egalitarian, peaceful and joyful bonobo lifestyle may have flourished due to the ready availability of food sources. Now bonobos are endangered by human hunters and their habitat threatened by the unquenchable thirst for human resources – there are believed to be only 11,000 left.

Humans’ transition from peaceful existence to interminable war, matriarchy to patriarchy, moon-worship to solar sky-god worship, respect for the planet to the ravaging of it, correlates with Saharan desert conditions spreading across the Middle East and western Asia, and the desperate battle for survival and westward push to the more fertile climes of Europe which resulted from the land and resources drying up.

And yet this widening gap between haves and have-nots, where brute strength and technological mass-murder hold sway, is a blip in the scope of one million years of human history. Humans have not only been the only primate species to evolve wholly on two feet, but also the only species to walk away from the trees. Surely the definition of a Forester is someone who connects with an environment dominated by trees?

Variations in the Earth’s orbit are believed to be the cause of the current ice age, which began 2.58 million years ago. Since the first foundation stone of the Forest of Dean was created, there have been two ‘snowball earth’ episodes – in about 710ma and 640ma, when the land was close or in the current position of Antarctica. Then it’s envisaged the planet was covered in ice, except for an equatorial band which may have been slush.

Since then, our land has spent most of its existence in tropical climes. Ice ages of antiquity – between 460 and 430ma, and 360 to 260ma – have not affected England and Wales (but did cover parts of Africa). All the Dean’s resources – limestone, coal and hematite (iron ores), as well as the flint and chalk found elsewhere in the country – have been the result of a balmy climate.

The oscillating glacial episodes of the past couple of million years have wreaked havoc. In one teaspoon of soil you can find more organisms than the global human population. Soil has been essential for terrestrial life throughout its evolution over the past 400 million years. Ice sheets and the polar desert south of the ice has repeatedly scalped the land of all its soil and nutrients, and torrents of meltwater have carved great gashes in the bedrock and washed away layers of geological, as well as plant, fauna and human history. The extent of glaciers messing with landforms is often hard to measure – the Black Mountains bordering Herefordshire and Wales would not be there, or in their location, had it not been for the ice pushing it there – while craggy peaks from Scandinavia were dumped by glaciers on the coast of Yorkshire. ]

The Wye Valley owes its existence to successive glacial periods, as does the Severn and Bristol Channel, and quite probably the valleys cut through the centre of the Forest of Dean, almost bisecting it from Lydbrook to Lydney.

The Earth has possessed the same finite amount of water since whenever it got there (right from the start or soon after forming). The H2O merely cycles from sea to vapour, to rain, to sea again (while there is probably a cycle between the ocean crust and water stored within the mantle, a mystery which we have yet to unravel). When one-third of the planet is iced up, the frozen water means sea levels must be much lower. The ice also planes down the land, and when it melts results in the land springing up, free of its heavy weight. As the ice sheets are thickest in the north of Britain and will generally melt to the south, England and Wales is now sinking at a rate of 5mm per year (the eastern side more than in the west, although the Bristol Channel is one of the most rapidly sinking areas), while Scotland is on the up. This general trend of the south-east pushing down and northwest rising up translates to the entire Eurasian landmass, with the nearest volcanic areas to us – Iceland and Italy – remaining active as we continue to rift away from North America in the mid-Atlantic, and the African plate continues to subduct in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, India continues to push into Asia, while out in Japan, the Philippines and Pacific Eurasia causes friction with that end of the Americas. The ongoing tectonic plate jostling can only be exasperated by the periodical predominance of ice.

Between 814ka and now we have experienced 10 glacial periods in Northern Europe. Animals and plants seized any window of warming climate to colonise the nascent Forest of Dean and Britain, only to perish or emigrate south each time the ice returned.

Humans (and many other mammals) could be seen as a product of the ice age, although their roots are in a warm climate. The tall, thin figures of the first human incarnation, Homo Erectus, most closely resemble the bodies of those who live in hot Africa, while the thick-set form of the Neanderthal, which originated in ice-house Europe, is closest to that of Inuit Eskimos of Greenland.

Debate over the succession of Homo species and their evolutionary paths continues – but at the time of writing it does seem that anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens – translating as wise, wise man) originated in East Africa about 200,000 years ago. While Mitochrondrial Eve, our matrilineal most recent common ancestor (from whom all living humans descend, in an unbroken line, on their mother’s side, and their mother’s mother and so on). Is said to have lived between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago somewhere in East Africa, our paternal common ancestor Y-chromosomal Adam lived somewhere between 120,000 and 338,000 years ago, depending on conflicting studies (and if we accept the earliest date, he came from Cameroon, in West Africa, and there is upwards of nine evolutionary mutational steps between ‘Adam’ and us today).

Archaic human species made it out of Africa as long ago as 1.8ma, to Dmanisi in Georgia. New discoveries in Happisburgh, Norfolk have pushed back their reaching England to as far back as 950ka. Then they encountered a climate between one and four degrees Celsius cooler than now, populated by grassland and pine trees. Signs of humans have also been found at Happisburgh between glacial periods (known as interglacial) 850ka, 780ka and 712ka, and in Pakefield, Suffolk, for the latter two periods. It’s likely that between 814 and 790ka, and 761 to 712ka the climate would have been too cold. In 790ka, Happisburgh settlers were on the edge of a proto-Thames river, while in 712ka the climate was up to a couple of degrees warmer in summer (similar to the Mediterranean today) and a couple of degrees colder in winter. They lived among oak, elm, hornbeam, hazel and lime trees.

It isn’t until 533ka that excavations reveal humans got anywhere close to the Forest of Dean – they left signs behind at Westbury-sub-Mendip in Somerset. These meagre findings were eclipsed by the array of tools and bones found at Boxgrove, Sussex. By about 500ka humans and other flora and fauna would have been long gone, as perhaps the most severe glaciation of this ice age, known as the Anglian, saw ice sheets cover everywhere north of and including Bristol and London. The Thames was diverted to its present course once the ice melted, and for at least 20,000 years from about 400ka, southern England (at least) was inhabited by people. During this time the English Channel repeatedly opened and closed, meaning Britain assumed different island forms.

From about 300ka Neanderthals began to proliferate in Northwestern Europe, following mammal herds to southern Britain, particularly the London area, but also near what is now the southern English coast. Tools had diversified from being mainly hand axes to a variety of forms for all kinds of purposes – although Pontnewydd in north Wales was a centre for hand axe manufacturing. Although a glacial period, high levels of solar radiation prevented extensive ice sheets from forming – a small one in the north melted very slowly. Materials for tools travelled a maximum distance of 30km. Paul Pettitt and Mark White, in their book The British Palaeolithic: Hominin Societies at the Edge of the Pleistocene World report: “Recent work (Clinnick, 2010), suggests that maximum raw material transfers do not reflect cognitive clout but the minimum predatory range needed to sustain healthy bodies and healthy social relationships amongst large-brained, carnivorous hominins [humans] living in fission-fusion societies [where social groups change according to circumstance, gathering to sleep together and splitting into smaller groups to forage].”

Then, from 250ka, for the next 200,000 years, there is no human record in Britain. While for all we know there may have been a thriving Neanderthal civilisation in the Forest of Dean and elsewhere in the country at times during that long period, the tumultuous climate changes have so far frustrated any evidence. What we do know is that there were high sea levels around the south coast from Cornwall to Essex from about 250ka, and it’s probable that Britain was cut off from continental Europe. During this time oak, hazel, birch, pine, maple, alder, lime, spruce, ash, ivy, grasses and sedges thrived.

There’s also no sign of humans during an especially warm stage between 130 and 115ka, known as the Ipswichian. It seems hippopotamuses may have been at the top of the food chain – one dating from about this time roamed London and met his demise under Trafalgar Square, another wallowed as far north as Leeds. The bones of Arctic hares, wolves, brown bears, badgers, spotted hyaenas, wild cats, lions, straight-tusked elephants, narrow-nosed rhinoceroses, wild boar, red deer, fallow deer, giant deer and bison dating from this time were found in a cave in Buckfastleigh, Devon.

Most of these mammals disappeared during a major cold snap about 90ka, to reappear less than 40,000 years later. Humans also returned to Britain when it again ceased to be an island.

And within several thousand years we have the first possible evidence of a human presence on the edge of the Forest of Dean, leading us out of geologic and ice-age deep time and the end of Part 1.

Part 2 coming… whenever