4,700+ objections to Celtique Energie’s drilling plans for South Downs National Park

29th May 2014

There have been more than 4,700 public objections to Celtique Energie’s planning application for oil and gas exploration near Fernhurst, according to data from the South Downs National Park Authority. Only a handful of comments to the authority supported the application.

Five parish and town councils have also objected to the plans, as have local and national environmental organisations. The Environment Agency said it would object unless conditions were imposed.

The application (SDNP/13/05896/CM) is for an exploratory well at Nine Acre Copse, next to Vann Road, near Fernhurst. It is due to be considered by the planning committee of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) on 10th July at Midhurst.

The second of two public consultations on the application closed last week. Responses to the consultations have been published on the SDNPA website. Analysis* of this data showed:

  • 4,792 objections were sent to the authority
  • Off these, 1,461 used the online consultation form and 3,331 were by email, letter or postcard
  • 13 comments were classified as support for the application
  • But of these 3 were actually objections
  • 2 comments were classified as neutral but both specifically said they objected

Members of the public who objected included:

  • Residents of Vann Road, the lane to the proposed site
  • Lord Cowdray, a neighbouring landowner
  • Local MP Andrew Tyrie
  • Norma Graves, a district councillor for the Fernhurst area.

Parish and town councils at Fernhurst, Lynchmere, Elsted and Treyford, Milland, and Haslemere all objected. Objections have also been received from RSPB, Sussex Wildlife Trust, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the South Downs and Lynchere Societies and Frack Free Fernhurst. A statement from Frack Free Fernhurst opposing the application was signed by 347 local people.

Reasons given in the objections included:

  • The development is not consistent with the statutory purposes and responsibilities of the South Downs National Park
  • Residents of Fernhurst and people who live on Vann Road would be adversely affected to an unacceptable extent by the routing of vehicles to the site
  • The protection of nearby residents from the effects of development were inadequate
  • Proposals for protecting water supplies and the water environment were inadequate

In its response, the Environment Agency said conditions must be imposed on the development. These included: an approved scheme to dispose of foul and surface water; a statement on the storage of fuel, oil, chemicals, and construction equipment and materials; an assessment of risks to the water environment; and detailed information on how the well would be drilled, cased and tested.

“Without these conditions, the proposed development on this site poses an unacceptable risk to the environment and we would wish to object to the application”, the Environment Agency said.

Chichester District Council raised concerns about noise and air quality issues. But Public Health England said it had no concerns about the development, while Natural England and the Health and Safety Executive, chose to make no comment.

Supporters of the application raised issues such as an industrial history in the area, the country’s dependence on hydrocarbons, the need for new supplies of energy and the National Park’s responsibility to support industry.

The licence to explore for oil and gas in the Fernhurst area was sold by the government in 2008, a year before the South Downs National Park was established. Trevor Beattie, the park’s Chief Executive, said there was no automatic opposition to development. But, he said, major development had to be in the public interest and the applicant had to demonstrate there were exceptional circumstances.

“We are totally committed to ensuring that all development in the National Park respects the landscape, reflects the highest standards of design and sustainability and, above all, is only undertaken on the basis of extensive, top-quality evidence and research. Our precious landscape deserves no less. That is why we have a National Park.”

Celtique Energie applied in December last year for permission to drill a vertical well and an optional horizontal one. In February, the SDNPA halted consideration of the application because it said Celtique Energie had omitted significant details from its environmental statement. At the time, the Authority said it would commission independent specialist advice on noise, hydrogeology and engineering issues associated with borehole integrity, drilling, well casing and testing.

In April, Celtique Energie announced it had dropped plans for the horizontal well and had updated the Environment Statement. The company’s Chief Executive, Geoff Davies, said the SDNPA now had enough information to consider the application.

Celtique Energie 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.

Mr Davies said: “We believe our ES [Environmental Statement] 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 it did not intend to use hydraulic fracturing on the exploratory well. However, last week (May 23rd) Frack Free Fernhurst reported that Mr Davies told the Haslemere Herald: “As part of our planning application we will be drilling through shale formations encountered in the well to confirm what potential these rocks have for commercial production. Should this data prove positive, we may wish to explore these formations further, which could include the use of hydraulic fracturing on this site”.

Details of the planning committee meeting in July can be found here

Frack Free Fernhurst website

Celtique Energie’s information on Fernhurst site

*Methodology: logged all the comments on the SDNPA website on May 27th and 28th. Just over 1,400 comments sent by email, letter or postcard had been batched by the SDNPA into groups and inserted into 18 documents. We recorded each of these comments individually. This is why, at first glance, there appear to fewer comments on the SDNPA website than our analysis found. Any comments added to the website after May 28th are not included in our analysis.

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