Below is a timeline of communications between Surrey County Council and Angus Energy, and site visit/meeting notes in the period leading up to and following the drilling of unauthorised sidetrack BRX4Z in January 2017*. All referenced documents can be accessed via online links.
The timeline shows a change in messaging by Angus from planned drilling to a maintenance workover, following a letter from SCC in Sept 2016 stating that drilling was not permitted under existing planning. It also highlights the confusion around well numbering created by Angus Energy (who told SCC on different occasions that they would be doing maintenance on Brockham-1 or well No. 2., but actually drilled from BRX4) and an urgent health and safety situation that might have been engineered to disguise the drilling from SCC officers.
Following the drilling, Angus maintained that they had all required permissions for the drilling of sidetrack BRX4Z, disputing SCC’s position for months and threatening the Council with legal action. Angus continue to maintain that sidetrack BRX4Z was fully authorised, but they have now applied for retrospective planning for its drilling.
*All regulators other than the planning authority issued permits/consents for the drilling of BRX4Z: Environment Agency (14 Oct 2016), Oil & Gas Authority (14 Dec 2016) and Health and Safety Executive (9 Nov 2016). According to OGA’s website sidetrack BRX4Z was officially spudded on 20th January 2017.
According to a 2015 government document: Oil and gas exploration in the UK: regulation and best practice, OGA should only issue consent to drill when planning permission is in place. It wasn’t at Brockham but the OGA issued a consent to drill. This is an example of how things fall through the cracks of the ‘gold standard’ regulatory regime for oil and gas operations. It is certainly not an isolated incident – this peer-reviewed paper describes a series of failures at sites across the country.
Angus Energy are advised by a specialist planning consultant commissioned by Angus themselves that any works at Brockham would need a fresh planning permission (Ref: Private Eye No. 1466, 23 March – 5 April 2018). (link to transcript)
8 August 2016
Letter from Angus dated 8 August 2016 indicating the intention to drill a “side track” under the provision of existing planning consent MO08/0894. (link)
14 September 2016
SCC says that Angus Energy do not have planning permission to undertake drilling operations at Brockham under any of the existing permissions and that should they “wish to carry out a ‘side track’ a fresh new planning application seeking planning permission will be required.” (link)
28 September & 24 November 2016
Meetings between SCC and Angus. On 28 Sept Angus say they wish to do a workover programme, and on 24 Nov that they wish for “the workover rig to be placed on Brockham 1 to mirror that borehole to the same depth and log the data.” There is no mention of drilling in records from either of the meetings. (link here and here)
2, 9 & 9 December 2016
Email from from Mark G. Oldridge on behalf of Angus Energy to SCC describing the work to be done as “abandon several open hole sidetracks” and “to mirror the existing well to gather geological information that was not acquired when originally drilled. No formation deeper than the original wellbore is to be evaluated.” Emails on 6 and 9 Dec clarify that works will be undertaken at Brockham Number 2 well. (link)
12 December 2016
SCC agrees confirms that Angus Energy can carry out maintenance activities on Brockham No.2 (as set out by Angus in email on 2 December) under an existing planning permission (later clarified to residents as MO 06/1294), and that if Angus wish to drill any new boreholes or sidetracks, then fresh planning permission would be required. (link)
13 December 2016
Jonathan Tidswell, CEO of Angus Energy, explains in an email to SCC that Angus Energy plans to “re-enter the original Brockham well that BP drilled in 1987 down to the great Oolite formation (…) to geologically assess these formations before running liner and cementing in place.” [note: the original wellbore that went down to the Oolite formation is Brockham 1] (link)
16 January 2017
SCC visit to the well site. Workover rig was installed. A relevant note from the CPA to a local resident said: “When the three County Planning Authority (CPA) Officers visited the site on Monday 16th January 2017, there was nothing out of the ordinary at the surface that indicated a new sidetrack well was about to be drilled. The equipment in place on site was to be expected as part of a work-over, and the drilling took place from an existing well head.” (link to site visit notes)
17 January 2017
Email from Jonathan Tidswell (CEO of Angus Energy) that the day before at 16:00 they opened the well and “found the well to be live and decided to run in hole a kill/cementing string straight away and displace the well to heavy fluid.” They anticipated to have completed this process within seven days. This issue was passed onto the HSE, who allowed work to continue on safety grounds. (link to J Tidswell email and to correspondence between SCC and HSE)
18 January 2017
Angus reports in RNS announcement that well intervention on Brockham-1 was underway and that re-entry was expected to be completed within the week. (link)
26 January 2017
Angus reports in RNS announcement that “further to the 18 January 2017 announcement, work to complete, log, case and cement the well at the Brockham oilfield has now been successfully completed” and that the well would, upon OGA confirmation, be renamed BR-X4Z. (link) Later on, OGA confirmed in response to an FOIA request (reference FOI-2017-0019) that they do not have any documents relating to renaming of Brockham-X1 well to BR-X4Z. (link)
26 January 2017
During a joint site visit from the EA, HSE and SCC, Angus confirmed they drilled a sidetrack from BRX4. (link)
15 February 2017
Meeting between Angus Energy and SCC including legal representatives on both sides to discuss the unauthorized drilling and well confusion. SCC asked Angus to regularize the situation and said that Angus must address retrospective planning application for the sidetrack. (link)
8 March 2017
Meeting between Angus Energy and SCC including legal representatives on both sides following Angus announcing the drilling results via RNS on 3.3.2017 and the story breaking in the news. SCC says that there is no planning permission to produce from the unauthorised sidetrack either. (link)
3 April 2017
9-page letter from Angus Energy’s legal representative setting out their position and explanation as to why sidetrack BRX4Z was authorised. (link)
5 April 2017
Letter from SCC to Angus again restating SCC’s position that the sidetrack and production from it is unauthorised and that the Planning Authority is also seeking Counsel’s advice. (link)
20 April 2017
Site visit report highlights unauthorized drilling and the need for retrospective planning in “Actions and information for the operator.” (link)
28 April 2017
Angus’s legal representative restates the operator’s position and threatens legal action. The letter asks “that the County Council will not issue any further public statements or other documents which wrongly assert that the current Brockham operation is unlawful, failing which Angus Energy will take whatever legal steps are necessary in order to protect its position” (the highlight is ours). (link)
28 April 2017
Letter from SCC’s Principal Lawyer that SCC does not accept Angus’s position and that the County Council is seeking advice from Queen’s Counsel. (link)
21 July 2018
Another email from SCC to Angus Energy again restating the Planning Authority’s position in response to Angus’s “Investor call” on 12 July 2017, where it was stated that production from both of the production wells at Brockham would commence in the summer of 2017. (link)
19 October 2017
Letter from SCC to Angus confirming the planning authority’s position following the receipt of Counsel’s advice with respect to drilling of BRX4Z and production from it. The letter also highlights that BRX4 (the mother well to sidetrack BRX4Z) “is now in breach of planning control with an outstanding requirement to close the well and restore the land”. (link)
20 December 2017
Angus submits retrospective planning application for BRX4Z. The initial application was deemed invalid and needed to be amended before it was published online on 6th March. It is for a retrospective permission for drilling BRX4Z and retaining the parent borehole, BRX4, for which consent expired in 2008, as well as for appraisal of BRX4Z (changed from ‘production evaluation’ in the initial screening opinion request related to this application). (links here, here and here).
7 March 2018
In their annual report, Angus restate a claim they have made to investors on numerous occasions, i.e. that they will achieve “the first commercial production from the Kimmeridge layers at Brockham (Brockham -X4Z) in 2018.”
They also maintain that sidetrack BRX4Z was fully authorised: “The Queen’s Counsel has confirmed her considered view that well BR-X4 (the donor well of the X4Z sidetrack, also known as well no. 3) has planning permission until 2036. Similarly, the QC confirms that the sidetrack to Well BR-X4, drilled in January 2017, is authorised by the 2006 planning permission” (highlight is ours). This is also stated on their website.
8 August 2018
After delaying deliberation on this application three times (we understand due to insufficient information provided by the operator), the SCC’s Planning and Regulatory Committee decided to grant permission without imposing any meaningful conditions in response to the main objections about lack of up-to-date environmental permit, ongoing investigation into seismic activity, and operator competence (SCC Ref 2017-0215_planning_Decision Notice)
Link to Applications on SCC Planning Register
The retention of the BRX4 well, the regularisation of the BRX4Z sidetrack, and the appraisal of BRX4Z using production plant and equipment within the existing site, for a temporary period of three years (part retrospective).
- Details of a Scheme of work in respect of a workover rig pursuant to Condition 8 of planning permission ref: MO/2018/0444 dated 15 August 2018.
- Details of linear rod pump pursuant to Condition 7 of planning permission ref: MO/2018/0444 dated 15 August 2018