Surrey County Council has backed plans by IGas to convert an exploration site near Guildford to gas production.
This morning, members of the planning committee voted by eight to two to approve the company’s application to produce compressed natural gas at Albury.
The site, where gas exploration has been carried out intermittently since 1987, is in the Green Belt and the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has nature and landscape protections. More details
Councillors accepted the advice of planning officers that national policy to maximise the exploitation of oil and gas amounted to exceptional or special circumstances and that they outweighed any harm from the development to the surrounding area.
They also dismissed calls by one member to take a leadership role on climate change and reject the application.
20 tonnes of compressed natural gas per day
IGas proposes to spend three to four months preparing the site, including widening the access track to create car parking. Councillors heard that a new parking area would be on land already cleared of trees.
A 31m workover rig would upgrade an existing well for production. This would take about four weeks and would not involve drilling or hydraulic fracturing, the committee heard. A flare would burn off any gas for up to seven days at this stage. Both the flare and rig would be taken off the site before production started.
The well would generate about 20 tonnes of compressed natural gas per day. Gas would be compressed on site and loaded onto two tankers seven days a week. Loading was expected to take 10 hours per tanker, the committee heard.
Leadership role on climate change
Cllr Jonathan Essex (Surrey Opposition Forum, Redhill East), who opposed the application, urged the authority to show leadership on climate change and vote against the proposals. He said:
“The impact of most local planning applications is to increase the sum of fossil fuels around the world, including here in Surrey, which will directly impact the amount of fossil fuels that we bring to market in addition to what’s there already.”
“If we as a country are exploiting all our reserves then we will not be abiding by our commitments … on climate change.
“We need to take a lead and that is why I will be voting against.”
Cllr Essex said compression of gas at Albury and transport by tanker would consume some of the energy produced by the well. He said:
“This does not look like the most efficient way to get oil and gas out of the ground.”
On the report by planning officers, he said:
“There is nothing [in the conclusions] about the consideration of the climate impact of this development”.
He referred to last week’s report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) which said increased emissions from onshore oil and gas production had to be offset by reductions in other parts of the economy.
Cllr Essex said he doubted that this would happen at national government level and so it had to be dealt with by local authorities. On the Albury application, he asked:
“How do we balance the impact of these increased emissions with something else that we’re doing?”
He also pointed to national planning policy. This, he said, required planning authorities to ensure the environment was protected locally and at a global level from issue such as climate change.
In the national interest?
Cllr Marisa Heath (Conservative, Englefield Green) said the National Planning Policy Framework required authorities to demonstrate that minerals developments in AONBs must be shown to be in the national interest.
“This is not in the public interest in relation to the Paris Agreement and what we need to be doing regarding climate change. Leadership is needed but unfortunately I don’t think it can come from this authority.
“Once again it highlights the difficulty of the planning law in that we have got one set of rules which never looks at the wider picture but requires us just to look at the application in front of us, rather than bigger issues.”
Maximising onshore oil and gas
Surrey’s planning and development control team manager, Alan Stones, conceded that the gas produced at Albury would be “very very small” as a proportion of national need. But he said this was not a reason to refuse the application:
“The government approach is that you seek to maximise resources wherever they are and however small they are. They all add up.”
Mr Stone said the council had to apply what he described as “normal controls” over air quality and noise.
“If it ticks the box of those items – and it does from the independent advice we’ve had here from our air quality and noise consultants – then that renders it acceptable.”
On offsetting emissions elsewhere in the economy, he said:
“I think that is dealt with at a macro level of the economy. The idea is that government policy has not changed, notwithstanding the [CCC] report referred to. Hydrocarbon resources onshore are seen as a bridge to going to a low carbon economy in the future. We can’t suddenly turn off our need for gas.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for the authority or the committee to seek to apply those offsetting arguments on an individual basis.”
The committee also heard that IGas has said building a pipeline to transport the gas was not economically viable and would damage the surrounding landscape. It had proposed to compress the gas to reduce the number of tanker journeys, the committee heard.
“Locally it is not seen as a big issue”
The local councillor and a member of the committee, Keith Taylor, said:
“IGas have done a very good local communications job in providing information.
“I can only say that locally it is not seen as a big issue. I am quite happy to go along with it.”
Ernest Mallett (Residents’ Association and Independent, West Molesey) said the CCC report was not relevant to Albury. He described the site as “the cleanest smallest most insignificant site that would be possible in any circumstances”.
“This is one of the easiest applications we are ever likely to have in front of us. There is really nothing that you can pick up.”
DrillOrDrop always welcomes comments on posts. In order to keep the comments area safe and legal, DrillOrDrop has a new commenting policy which you can read here.