Newsletter 2 – 6 June 2017

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.

Best wishes,

Brockham Oil Watch

@brockhamwatch

 

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.

Kathryn McWhirter

Balcombe, Sussex

Easter Sunday Meeting

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BOW hosted a public meeting in Brockham Village Hall on Easter Sunday (April 16th) to raise awareness about the recent developments at the Brockham oil well and inform the public about the wider implications of unconventional onshore drilling across the South-East.

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The event was well attended, with speakers coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and speaking on a range of topics, from the Brockham well itself, the proposals for drilling on Leith Hill and at other sites across the Weald basin, the acidisation method, to the more general topics of climate change, renewable energy and government planning, policy and regulation. This was presented with the context of the row about planning permission between Angus Energy and Surrey County Council over the recently drilled side-track well on the Brockham site. There were informative stalls, opportunities for discussion with knowledgeable people and even games for children. A highlight was a superbly crafted version of ‘pin the tail on the nodding donkey’ which could even be made to rise and fall:

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Local artist Karen Pearson put up a display of her work and offered to donate the profits from the sale of a particular painting to protecting Leith Hill.

The overall atmosphere was remarkably warm, friendly and optimistic, considering the troubling nature of a lot of the subject material. The BOW group requested greater public involvement in ‘watching’ the actions and proposals of the oil and gas industries and called for pressure to be put on local and national government for tighter regulation and greater scrutiny on unconventional oil extraction.

See this facebook post for more.

Newsletter 1 – 29 March 2017

Thank you for registering your interest in Brockham Oil Watch.  This is our first update to the group – the good news is that 45 people have signed up so far to receive updates.

As you know Brockham Oil Watch was formed by a group of concerned local residents to find out the facts about the future of the Brockham Oil Well in particular, but also the wider implications for industrial development across the Weald.

We have produced an information leaflet which we are endeavouring to post through the door of every resident in the village.  Hopefully you will have received yours by now, but if not it is attached to this email.

The major event recently is the BBC news item on 9th March which said that Surrey County Council had complained that Angus had drilled a sidetrack against the specific advice of the council who said that no permission for such drilling existed.  Angus have stated that they believe they did have permission for the side-track.

We understand from an email sent by Helyn Clack, County Councilor for Dorking Rural, that SCC are seeking legal advice on this matter and that the Chairman of the Planning and Regulatory committee is writing to Government for assurance that their regulations are supporting the Council’s planning policies. We are waiting for SCC to make a further statement.

You may also have seen on the web site that we’re hosting ‘All About Oil’ on Easter Sunday April 16th, 2-5pm at the Brockham Village Hall.

It’s a chance to find out more about issues raised on our website and the wider picture of oil production in this age of ‘tight oil’, notably:

  • The controversies surrounding oil exploration at Brockham
  • What’s happening at Leith Hill
  • The changing face of oil production in the Weald, including acidisation
  • Other nearby sites such as Horse Hill near Crawley, Albury, Godstone
  • The way forward

There will be knowledgeable speakers, stalls, activities and videos, and entry is free.

We’ll hear from:

  • Jonathan Essex (County and Borough Councillor for Redhill East)
  • Kathryn McWhirter (No Fracking Balcombe Society)
  • Neil Pitcairn (Greenpeace)
  • Rob Basto (Transition Redhill)
  • Clayton Wellman & Claire Malcomson (Councillors for Holmwoods)
  • Pat Smith (Brockham Oil Watch) and others…

If you would like to contact someone to express your concerns then we would advise that you contact your local councilor (https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/mgFindMember.aspx )

We will send out updates to you as and when there are significant developments.  Please feel free to contact us with your thoughts at contact@brockhamoilwatch.org

Brockham Oil Watch