Industry

New drilling plans for South Downs National Park

IGas, the company behind controversial gas drilling at Barton Moss in Salford, is planning to expand its operation in the South Downs National Park with two new exploration sites.

A land agent working for IGas told a public meeting last week the company wanted to drill a new well at Graffham, south of Midhurst, and it had plans for another at West Dean, near Goodwood. IGas already operates the Singleton oil field in the National Park.

The meeting, organised by Graffham Parish Council, heard that the Graffham well would be at Baxter’s Copse, on the edge of the village. In the 1980s, Conoco discovered oil at the site but abandoned the well because it was regarded as uncommercial. The land agent, Mr Everett, told villagers: “The results that we picked up from Conoco suggest that it is worth trying again”. He said: “We understand the geology rather better than we did then”.

On the other proposed site, he said: “We have in mind a possible site at West Dean but it is in no way linked to this”.

“No plans to frack”

Mr Everett told the meeting of about 50 people that the Graffham well would be a vertical borehole, with no horizontal extensions. He said IGas had no plans to frack.

When asked to give a guarantee that there would be no fracking if the company discovered gas, Mr Everett said: “We are an oil company, not a gas company, despite the name. If we found gas, rather than oil, we would have to go back to the planning process and start all over again.” [The IGas website describes the company as “a leading onshore oil and gas exploration and production business”. Most planning applications allow exploratory drilling for both oil and gas].

Mr Everett said the company hoped to start ecological surveying “quite soon” but he did not expect a planning application for the new Graffham well would be submitted in under a year. “If we find oil, the appraisal will take six or seven years”, he said. “If that is successful we will submit a new planning application for a permanent well and then it could run for 30 years”.

“No jobs”

Villagers asked about the economic benefits to Graffham if the well went ahead. Mr Everett said: “I am afraid we are not talking about any sort of fracking deal because we are not fracking. It’s small beer.” When pressed on whether the operation would bring jobs he said: “I doubt it because there won’t be any jobs really. Once the thing is working there’ll be a chap on site but he’ll need to be a specialist. But that’s it.”

One villager responded: “If anything of what we’re discussing tonight goes forward then I think we should see a much closer relationship between yourselves and your clients and the Parish Council and that benefits to the village should be shown quite clearly as to what you’re going to get. … I think that it is very important that you also understand that this village will be looking for benefits.

Traffic, vibration and pollution concerns

People with small businesses near the proposed site were concerned about the impact of vibration on glasshouses and livestock, and problems of pollution and traffic along narrow roads. An organic farmer with land within a kilometre of the site asked Mr Everett: “You are going to tell me that there will be no pollutants? You are going to tell me that Defra and the soil society are going to turn round and let me keep my status?” Mr Everett replied: “Certainly. I’m a small farmer myself.”

There were also concerns about the risk of water contamination and the impact on local rivers. One villager, referring to two leaks from wells at the Singleton oil field in the 1990s, asked: “how are you absolutely certain that it [the well] is sealed. Do you pressure test? What do you do?” Mr Everett replied: “I don’t know the answer to that”. Another villager said that the River Lavant dried up when Conoco drilled in the 1980s and that the company had to take water from the hydrant in the village. Other people complained about noise from the Conoco well. “We heard it when we went to bed. That nodding donkey could be heard around the village”, one woman said.

“No relevant information”

Mr Everett was not able to say how much traffic would be generated by the operation, how much oil the company expected to extract and whether the company would be flaring any waste gas.

One villager responded: “No disrespect but why should your company send you here for us lot to ask you questions when you’ve got no relevant information for us here to make a judgement”.

Mr Everett replied: “We haven’t even started preparing the planning application yet. I have got a lot of work to do before we can do that and the points I pick up tonight are very useful in doing that.”

At the close of the meeting, Mr Everett was asked to give people “some good news to go home with”. Mr Everett replied: “I will get an answer to that before we submit a planning application”.

Graffham Parish Council is to set up a steering group to look at IGas’s proposals in more detail.

  • In December last year, West Sussex County Council made this response to questions from a researcher about fracking in the region, suggesting that Conoco may have carried out an early form of fracking at Baxter’s Copse.

Information on our files indicates that a site at Baxter’s Copse may have been fractured in the 1980s as per the attached information but we are uncertain whether the method would be considered ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or whether the method, once approved, was implemented. No other sites have been hydraulically fractured

  • A report by ReFine (Researching Fracking In Europe) published in March this year revealed there were two pollution incidents at the Singleton oil field in the 1990s caused by failure of the cement seal. More details and link to the report

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