Oil company refuses to rule out production from proposed Leith Hill exploration site

The public inquiry into plans by Europa Oil and Gas to drill in the Surrey Hills heard this morning that the proposed exploration site near Leith Hill could later be used for production.

The company’s drilling consultant, Ian Burgis, said the exploration well would not be used for production. But he refused to rule out that a production well could be drilled on the site if hydrocarbons were found.

“The exploration well is drilled only for the acquisition of information which will be used to determine whether there are economically-recoverable hydrocarbons”, he said. “It would be permanently abandoned at the end of this project.”

“A development well will be drilled into a known formation at a location and orientation designed to maximise production. If economically viable hydrocarbons were identified, there would be a better picture of the structure of the formation.”

“A production well may be on a different site or the same site but it would not use the exploration well”, he said.

Europa Oil and Gas has argued that Bury Hill Wood is the only suitable site to explore two potential oil reservoirs. Opponents of the proposal argue that the site, in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Green Belt, is inappropriate for oil drilling.

Mr Burgis told the inquiry he had reviewed only two possible sites outside the AONB. But he said the alternatives to Bury Hill Wood had been selected for him by Europa.

“The main driver of exploration is to effectively evaluate the reservoir to satisfy themselves that there is something and it is worth developing. They have to report back to DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] that they have evaluated the resource”, he said.

Mr Burgis said the drilling plan for the exploration well aimed to reach targets in the Portland formation, which is nearer the surface, and the deeper Corallion limestone.

The inspector, Stuart Nixon, asked Mr Burgis if technology was likely to change in future that would allow drilling from outside the AONB.

Mr Burgis said “The tools and technology exist to drill a well of that nature”. But he said: “It is not getting there; it is making sure you are in the right place and you acquire the required data”.

Mr Nixon asked about the risk of missing the targets from the Bury Hill site. Mr Burgis said “I have not looked at that.”

Mr Nixon asked if the well did not find anything in the Portland or Corallian would Europa want to drill another well.

Mr Burgis replied: “Provided the execution had followed the plan that would be it”.

The inquiry also heard this morning from geologist Alastair Stuart. More details soon. The inquiry continues this afternoon.

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