The decision finally brings to an end a planning dispute between Europa Oil & Gas, local people and the council dating back to 2008.
This was Europa’s second planning application to explore the Holmwood prospect of the Weald. An earlier application for the surface drilling site at Bury Hill Wood went through two planning inquiries and the issues were aired at two court hearings. The second inquiry found in the company’s favour last month (7th August 2015).
The approval yesterday (23rd September 2015) by the council’s planning committee allows Europa to drill a deviated borehole to 1,450m to reach the Downdip Portland Target.
Europa’s chief executive, Hugh Mackay, said the Holmwood prospect could have 5.6m barrels of oil, which, if recoverable, would make it the UK’s fifth largest onshore field.
One of the partners in the project, Egdon Resources, said drilling was expected to start in late 2016 or 2017. More details
Surrey County Council planning officers had recommended approval of the drilling corridor, which will cover 8.5ha, from Bury Hill Wood to the village of Coldharbour.
But there were objections because the site is in the Metropolitan Green Belt and the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural. Full details here
Sutton and East Surrey Water objected because the well would drill through the lower greensand aquifer. The company told the council:
“We are concerned that, in the event of a leak or a spill, the proposed mitigation measures will not guarantee the aquifer’s protection.”
There were objections from the Woodland Trust, the board of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Campaign to Protect Rural England and the National Trust, which owns land at Coldharbour Common, above the drilling corridor. Capel Parish Council also objected, along with Wescott Village Association, Frack Free and Fossil Free Surrey and the Leith Hill Action Group, which had argued at the most recent inquiry against the above ground development.
The County Council said the drilling corridor was not in a groundwater source protection zone and the Environment Agency was satisfied that the separate environmental permits would adequately deal with any risks to water supply.
Planning officers recommended permission be for three years from the date of the decision notice. Working hours were limited to 7am-6pm on week days and 7am-1pm on Saturdays.
The drilling corridor and above ground wellsite is in PEDL143 and seeks to explore the Holmwood prospect.
Europa has a 40% interest in the PEDL, alongside Egdon Resources (18.4%), Altwood Petroleum (1.6%), Warwick Energy (20%) and UK Oil & Gas Investments (20%).
Report of the planning appeal decision