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More safeguards needed for Cuadrilla’s well-testing at Balcombe – Public Health England

Public Health England (PHE) has called for more controls on testing Cuadrilla’s oil exploration well at Balcombe to protect people from possible pollution threats.

Responding to the company’s latest planning application, the organisation (established last year to protect and improve the nation’s health) recommended:

  • Further checks on the proposed testing operation
  • Greater monitoring of its impacts
  • Wider consultation about possible effects on public health

Dr Sohel Saikat, the organisation’s principal environmental public health scientist, said PHE’s response was based solely on the information in the application.

“PHE has no significant concerns regarding risk to health of the local population from potential emissions associated with the proposed activity, providing that the applicant takes all appropriate measures to prevent or control pollution, in accordance with relevant technical guidance or industry best practice”.

However, Dr Saikat identified areas in the application where there was:

  • Missing data
  • Lack of detail
  • Unjustified statements

She asked to see any further information about the application that was received by West Sussex County Council because this could affect PHE’s response.

Emissions from flaring

Cuadrilla’s application includes a 13.7m flare which will burn off gas released during well testing. PHE noted that the application considering only emissions from the flare of oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide. It said the application “did not appear to provide a clear justification” for their selection. And it commented: “The planning authority may wish to seek the assessment of sulphur dioxide emissions from flaring activities”. (Exposure to sulphur dioxide can cause irritation and, in high concentrations, vomiting and stomach pain).

PHE also drew attention to what it called the application’s “limited consideration” of the fugitive release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) as a result of incomplete combustion during flaring. Exposure to VOCs can cause irritation, headaches, nausea and more serious damage to organs. PHE suggested West Sussex County Council “may wish to request that the applicant considers the potential impacts from fugitive VOC emissions” and undertake air quality monitoring.


PHE noted that the application had included no figures for the potential emissions from traffic. Cuadrilla estimated the testing operation would need a total of 212 heavy goods vehicle movements which, it said were “unlikely to have a significant impact on the local highway network”. However, figures in the application show that movements would be concentrated in the first and final phases. During mobilisation and demobilisation, for example, were scheduled to generate nine or 10 lorry movements a day.


The application described well-testing as a “relatively low noise activity that is generally not audible in the immediate locality of the site”. It said noise would be “a fraction of that generated by the exploration well drilling operation” and so would comply with the conditions under the previous planning consent. However, PHE commented: “in the light of the 24-hour nature of the operations, the planning authority may wish to consider whether the existing noise limits remain suitable.”


Cuadrilla has said by flaring gas produced from the test it would reduce the risk of odours. But PHE said there was potential for venting of raw gases and the issue should be discussed with the environmental health department at Mid Sussex District Council.

Air quality

PHE noted that Cuadrilla had not included air quality monitoring data that was undertaken before well-testing began.

Water quality

Cuadrilla said well testing had “minimal risk to ground and surface water”. But PHE recommended further checks should be carried out to ensure the proposed control measures and site management plans were adequate.

More action

PHE called for

  • Wider monitoring of emissions to assess the impact on the environment
  • Consultation with Mid Sussex District Council’s environmental health department on nuisances and emissions
  • Consultation with the region’s Director of Public Health on the wider public health impacts.

Public Health England’s response

Cuadrilla’s planning application

The deadline for public comments on the application is March 13th 2014

3 replies »

  1. I would like to comment on the state of a road used by the Balcombe drilling traffic in the summer of 2013.
    On 9 February, during the heavy rains, I drove at 9.30pm in an easterly direction along the B2110 between the turning from Balcombe and Handcross. I was going towards the Pease Pottage junction with the A23. This level road should not have presented any problem, but I came to a place where rainwater stretched right across the road for some 20 metres. I entered the water, keeping to the right where the flooding appeared less deep. After 2 meters, my right wheels dropped off the roadway into a deeper trench. What was I entering, I wondered with horror. After 2 more metres my wheels went up a ledge back on to the road surface, and I got out of the water, but it had been a nasty shock.
    I reflected on why this road could be in such a bad state, and my conclusion is that the drilling traffic has caused excessive damage to this road.
    This is one example of the kind of disruption we will be experiencing while the drilling occurs in our area: an examp-le of insufficient care by Cuadrilla to put right what damage they cause.

    • Dear Vanessa
      Thanks for your comment. It’s very interesting to read about your experience. I wondered if you’d been in touch with the County Council. Your experience could be relevant to the planning committee when it considers Cuadrilla’s planning application to flow test its well at Balcombe. Best wishes, Ruth

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