Opponents of fracking throughout Sussex have written to the government objecting to any extension of an oil exploration licence recently bought by one of the companies behind the Horse Hill well near Gatwick.
UK Oil & Gas Investments (UKOG) announced on 13 June it had paid £3.5m for the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) 234 in West Sussex, the first term of which is due to expire on Thursday (30 June). DrillorDrop report
A condition of the deal with the operator, Celtique Energie, was that the first term of the licence would be extended for at least a year.
But the UKOG announcement came almost a fortnight after the deadline for requests for licence extensions.
In a letter to the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Oil and Gas Authority, campaigners from four groups opposed to fracking and onshore drilling said it would be inappropriate for UKOG to “be singled out for preferential treatment”.
Frack Free Billingshurst, Frack Free Fernhurst, Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green (KKWG) and Frack Free Sussex said:
“Granting an extension would set a precedent for other licence holders to be free to ignore set deadlines and accepted practices.
“Ad hoc extensions to licence terms would effectively result in licence blocks, including PEDL 234, being taken ‘off the market’ and restrict the ability for open bidding in future licensing rounds. This would have the added effect of reducing the Government’s anticipated income from hydrocarbon licensing.”
In 2014, KKWG succeeded in opposing an application by Celtique Energie to drill in PEDL 234 between Kirdford and Wisborough Green in West Sussex.
But an application by the same company to drill at Broadford Bridge near Billingshurst was approved in 2013.
The site was prepared in 2014 but the well was never drilled because of a legal dispute between Celtique and its partner, Magellan Petroleum. The planning permission expires on 15 September 2017.
The campaign groups argued:
“PEDL 234 has already been granted two licence term extensions and variations to the agreed programme of works, but these were not carried out.
“There has been ample opportunity to complete the works, but failure to do so on the part of the operator should not be a reason to grant yet another licence term extension, particularly after the deadline for doing so.”
UKOG and its subsidiary Kimmeridge Oil and Gas Ltd took ownership of PEDL 234 in full knowledge that the licence is due to expire on 30th June 2016, the campaigners said.
“A change of ownership is not a reason to apply for, nor grant, a further licence term extension.”
Claims of similar geology
UKOG said analysis of wells and seismic data in and surrounding PEDL 234 “strongly suggest that the Licence presents look-alike Kimmeridge Limestone oil potential to that seen at Horse Hill”. There, UKOG described oil flow rates as outstanding. Link
The company said the Broadford Bridge structure was “very similar in UKOG’s view to both the HH-1 [Horse Hill 1] oil discovery and the nearby Balcombe-1 oil discovery, following the same overall structural trends”.
But the campaign groups questioned these similarities. They said the area of the western Weald around Broadford Bridge is very faulted and the proposed well would drill through a known fault. The area is seismically active, with a 2.5 magnitude earthquake 5km west of the site in 2005, they said.
The letter to DECC and the OGA also referred to the British Geological Survey report on shale oil in the Weald basin, published in 2014. This concluded that shales in the western Weald and on the northern and southern flanks were “not considered mature for oil generation”.
“Risks not discussed”
The campaigners also complained that what they describe as other major risks were not discussed by West Sussex County Council’s planning committee when it approved the Broadford Bridge application.
They include: shallow aquifers linked to surface water, implications for water resources and supply, possibility of long-term, permanent detrimental impacts and the requirement for 24-hour supervision.
Local resident and a member of the groups, Emily Anderson, said:
“How can it happen that NONE of the key evidence on geology, transport and water was considered when WSCC Planning Committee made their decision about drilling at Broadford Bridge?”