An oil well in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty could be the fifth biggest onshore producer in UK, according to Europa Oil and Gas.
The company has been giving evidence at a public inquiry in Dorking in support of its plans for exploratory drilling near the Leith Hill beauty spot.
Europa’s planning consultant, Steven Kosky, told the inquiry today: “We think there could 5.6m barrels held there.
“If hydrocarbons are found this would potentially be the fifth largest onshore well in the country.”
The inquiry inspector, Stuart Nixon, asked Mr Kosky to confirm that the site at Bury Hill Wood would be ranked fifth in around 2,000 operational onshore sites in the UK.
“I am advised by my clients if that barrelage were correct it would rank in the top 10, possibly five, it could be six, there or there abouts. A significant find.”
The inquiry had previously heard estimates of between 0.26m and 2.6m barrels for the well. (UK daily oil consumption is about 1.5m barrels).
Mr Kosky said the chance of finding oil was between one in three and one in four. But he said these apparently poor odds were not a reason for refusing planning permission: “That is very good by industry standards. It does not get any better.”
The company has argued since 2008 that even though Bury Hill Wood is in the AONB and the Green Belt it is the only suitable site to explore for oil in the area. The plans have gone before another public inquiry and two court cases since then.
Mr Kosky said government policy supported the development of all potential sites, regardless of the size of the potential resource. If Europa did not get permission following this inquiry the potential oil would be lost, he said.
“Nobody else is going to do any better”.
“Europa have taken this to its logical conclusion and pursued its best endeavours to try to make the case that they are environmentally responsible and this is in the national interest and can be secured and evaluated without permanent harm”.
“If, having gone all the way through this process, Europa can’t achieve that I don’t think anyone else is going to be able to do it better because there are no alternative sites.”
Opponents of the scheme have said it would harm the AONB and it was not appropriate development in the Green Belt. They also argued that traffic to the site would have an adverse impact on people in the area.
Mr Kosky denied the operation could be classed as a major development in planning terms. He said there would not be “significant or demonstrable harm” to the AONB and it was appropriate development in the Green Belt. Any effects would be temporary and reversible, he said.
He described the proposal as the “diet coke” of oil exploration. At the proposed 18 weeks, it would take half the time of an average oil exploration project, he said.
Mr Kosky said the oil well site was sustainable development because, among other reasons, the National Planning Policy Framework gave “great weight” to hydrocarbon exploitation and sustainable development “ran through” the NPPF.
The inquiry has now heard all the evidence but it has run out of time for the closing statements. These are now expected on 11th June.