We have not written for a while but we have been working in the background liaising with the various authorities over why the drilling of side-track BR-X4Z was allowed to happen despite letters from the Council to Angus Energy informing them there was no planning permissions for it, and what this means going forward. Here is an update:
1. The dispute between SCC and AE continues. The Council’s position is that drilling of the side-track was unauthorised whilst AE maintain they had all the required permissions. SCC said they sought the advice of legal Counsel (we have shared this back in March) and that they would not proceed with any formal steps until this has been received. We continue to wait. You can read an excellent summary recently published on DrillOrDrop here and if you’d like to dig deeper, here is a link to the freedom of information request containing letters exchanged between Angus Energy’s legal representative and Surrey County Council.
2. In the meantime, on 11th May, Angus Energy submitted proposals to the Oil and Gas Authority to produce oil from Kimmeridge rocks at Brockham.
We understand that the OGA is well aware of the difference of opinion with the SCC over the side-track. The OGA issued consent to drilling side-track BR-X4Z back in December 2016 even though according to Onshore Oil And Gas Exploration in the UK guidance “OGA grants consent to drill only once all permits are in place and all relevant consultees have been notified”.
The OGA recently said they issued their consent on the basis of this letter sent by the SCC to Angus on 12 December 2016. This letter references the wrong well (no 2 and not 4), uses unclear wording open to interpretation, and we think it should be read in the context of SCC’s earlier letter to Angus Energy, sent in September 2016.
The SCC Head of Planning (Alan Stones) clearly does not accept that the SCC letter of 12 December 2016 materially alters the position in any way. Whether Angus has planning permission or not is a matter of fact in planning law, based on the history of planning permissions granted and their conditions. It cannot be changed by the wrongful interpretation of a letter by the applicant. What is of major concern is that SCC’s actions going forward are now being controlled by their legal department and not their planning department. There is a serious risk that they will take no further enforcement action or will not take Angus to task, despite the fact that the planning department is clearly of the opinion that Angus do not have planning permission to drill a new production well, and did not have permission to drill the BRX4Z sidetrack in the first place.
3. The Environment Agency confirmed last week that Angus Energy have applied for a variation of their production permit to bring it up to standard as part of the re-permitting process. We are awaiting the consultation to go online and will be emailing you about this again when we have more detail.
4. With regards to the Weald-wide risk of potential back-to-back development of oil wells across the Weald of Sussex and Surrey:
New Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations for individual projects were made in April this year, and they weaken the requirements for the assessment of cumulative impacts of oil and gas projects. A cumulative assessment now only has to consider the impact together with other wells that are already consented, whereas previously it had to consider it together with all possible developments.
Furthermore, the Strategic Environmental Assessment Regulations, which came into effect in 2004, assess the environmental impacts of government plans and programmes, and require the continuous monitoring of the environmental impacts of all emerging programmes, only became effective for onshore oil and gas licensing in 2015, and only cover the licence blocks issued since 2015. (That is only 2 out of the 25 license blocks where oil companies are currently active.) In order for it to cover the Brockham Oilfield, which was licensed in 1983, this legislation should be applied retrospectively to all licenses. At present, the Government has no plans to do this, and so the Brockham Oilfield will continue to be omitted from environmental monitoring under SEA.
Brockham Oil Watch
P.S. As the general election approaches, we would like to share a letter written by a fellow campaigner in Balcombe commenting on the Tory proposals regarding oil drilling.
If the Conservatives are re-elected, you’d need no more planning permission to drill an oil well than to put up a modest conservatory or shed. The Conservative manifesto proposes to make any ‘non-fracking’ drilling for oil and gas ‘a permitted development’ – one of those minor works you don’t need to bother the planners about. And that would fire the gun that would pepper the Weald of Sussex and Surrey with oil wells.
‘Non-fracking’ is what is currently proposed across the South East of England. It covers any oil or gas prospecting that does not fall under the new definition of fracking. In the 2015 Infrastructure Act, fracking was strategically redefined by an oil and gas-friendly government according to the amount of water used. (It should be defined as the act of fracturing the rock with pressurised fluid.) 44 per cent of the thousands of wells that have been fracked in the USA would not be counted as fracked under this new UK definition!
If it doesn’t count as fracking, then none of the UK’s fracking regulations and ‘safeguards’ apply. When ‘not fracking’, you can drill shallower wells (as at Balcombe) and, as the government recently confirmed, ‘non-fracking’ activities can take place from wells drilled from the surface of protected areas, such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
One oil company CEO has talked of wells ‘back to back’ across the Weald of Sussex and Surrey, drilled down and out horizontally, over and over again. The targets are an unyielding shale called Kimmeridge limestone, or micrite. Geologists call such rocks ‘tight’ or ‘unconventional’ because the oil can’t flow through them at a worth-while rate. Oil men talk of ‘stimulating’ them – by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), acidising or acid fracking (injecting hydrochloric acid and other chemicals to dissolve passageways through ‘tight’ limestone-rich rock). Acidising the Weald would bring the same negatives as fracking, heavy traffic, air and water pollution risk, a great many wells…
The oil and gas industry wants to call these new wells ‘conventional’ (like the free-flowing Weald wells of old). They feel free to do so, because all limestone and sandstone oil and gas source rocks were incorrectly redefined as ‘conventional’ in the National Minerals Planning Guidance of 2014.
Calling the Kimmeridge limestones of the Weald ‘conventional’ is a ploy to soothe public and media opinion and make this a non-issue for our planners. Although if Teresa May keeps the keys to Downing Street on June 8th, neither we nor the planners shall have any say.