Fernhurst campaigners condemn Balcombe decision; Celtique Energie revises Fernhurst application

May 5th 2014

The campaign group Frack Free Fernhurst has criticised members of West Sussex County Council planning committee who last week approved Cuadrilla’s planning application to test is oil well at Balcombe.

The campaign group said committee members were “insufficiently informed” to make “sound decisions”. It described the meeting on Tuesday (April 29th) “as a charade” and condemned the planning process as being “unfit for purpose” and “overly-dependent” on the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive.

The planning committee voted by 12-1 to approve the application. It added some extra conditions but many of the controls on Cuadrilla’s operation will be decided during discussions between  planning officers and the company.

Frack Free Fernhurst said of the planning process

It’s clear from listening to the reading of the Planning Officer’s report and subsequent questions that this County Council (one presumes all others) defer to the EA and HSA in all matters pertaining to environmental impact. To quote the Planning Officer “we have no alternative but to take their recommendations”.

“Staggeringly, almost all Councillors questions were to do with which way to route the traffic, and no more than a couple of references to the wishes of the local community – whose articulate, intelligent, and relevant representations were passed over, and seemed not to have any influence come the vote.

“Our take on the whole charade? The planning process is not fit for purpose, elected councillors are insufficiently informed to make sound decisions and finally, even if they were, it looks very much like their hands are tied by over dependence on the equally unfit for purpose EA (who were represented) and the HSE who did not show up – true to form.”

Celtique Energie revises application for Fernhurst well

On the day of the Balcombe vote, Celtique Energie announced it had submitted additional information on its planning application to drill near Fernhurst.

The company is applying for a vertical exploratory well at Nine Acre Copse. Although the site is in West Sussex, it is inside the boundary of the South Downs National Park and so the application will be decided by the National Park Authority (SDNPA).

In February this year, the SDNPA halted consideration of the application because it said “significant details have been omitted from the applicant’s Environmental Statement”. The authority said it was commissioning independent specialist advice on what the application said about noise, hydrogeology, geology, borehole integrity, well drilling and well casing and testing.

On April 29th, Celtique Energie posted an article on its website, saying it had updated its Environmental Statement and addressed feedback provided by the SDNPA following a consultation. It also said it had removed the optional horizontal well from the application.

The company said removing the horizontal well would reduce environmental impacts and also the length of time it would be drilling, by approximately 34 weeks. This would allow it to “explore the geological horizons believed to have the potential to flow hydrocarbons naturally” and to obtain data from the Kimmeridge and Liassic shales.

Celtique Energie now hopes the SDNPA will consider the application at its planning committee meeting on July 10th this year. This is scheduled to be held at the South Downs Centre, North Street, in Midhurst.

Geoff Davies, Chief Executive of Celtique Energie, said: “We believe our ES is one of the most detailed ever submitted for an onshore exploration well in the UK and considers in great detail the range of impacts associated with our proposal and how they will be comprehensively mitigated.”

Celtique Energie said a non-technical summary of the extra information would be made available on the SDNPA’s online planning database. This does not appear to have been added yet.

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