Breaking: SW Energy gives up Forest of Dean and Wiltshire exploration licences


Grey squares show the licence blocks which South Western Energy has not accepted

South Western Energy has confirmed it is pulling out of onshore gas exploration in parts of south west England.

Anti-fracking campaigners have described the decision as a victory for people power.

Speaking to DrillOrDrop this evening, the company said it would not be accepting four licences offered in the 14th round in the Forest of Dean and Wiltshire.

But the company’s chairman, Gerwyn Williams, said he would accept licences offered in north Somerset and Dorset.

He said the reason for giving up the licences was low energy prices.

“We want to cut the exposure of our family business.

“It’s a matter of economics and financial exposure

“If energy prices rise in the future we would certainly re apply for the Forest of Dean licences and possible Wiltshire.”

He added that the company might reapply outside of a formal licensing round.

Mr Williams said:

“The areas we are not accepting are the least prospective areas.”

A spokesperson for the Oil and Gas Authority made this statement:

“The OGA can confirm that some blocks offered under the 14th Onshore Licensing Round have not been accepted by those to whom they were offered.

“This means that the licences pertaining to these blocks will not be awarded.

“The blocks concerned include SO50a, SO51a, SO60a, SO60b, SO61, ST84, ST85, ST94 and ST95, which are near the Forest of Dean and near Wiltshire.”

Last year the OGA said these blocks, which were grouped into four licences, were primarily for exploration of coal bed methane.

Public opposition

Mr Williams denied that  public opposition was a reason for not taking up the licences. He told DrillOrDrop:

“We would not bow to public pressure. There was very little public pressure in the Forest of Dean and Wiltshire.”

But campaigners in the Forest of Dean said they believed local opposition was important.

Owen Adams, of Frack Off Our Forest, said:

“Oliver Taylor [a company director] told a Forest of Dean District Councillor that public feeling was a factor in South Western Energy withdrawing.

“At a meeting brokered by Gloucestershire Police we had informed him face to face there was no way we would allow the company to explore for gas.

“We carried out village-by-village surveys and found up to 85% of residents were opposed to gas exploration – we also had thousands of people signing statements of objection, and several hundred people at each demonstration we held.

“So to tell you that public opposition wasn’t a factor contradicts theirs and our experience, and also contradicts what he told the councillor earlier today!

“Although we have scored a victory our campaign is by no means over. We want to ensure fracking can’t happen in the future, and also we will be helping to stop fracking elsewhere in solidarity with other campaigns.

“South Western Energy pulling out may be partly because they couldn’t raise the funds required – but public pressure was a significant factor, and may also have deterred potential investors. People power and community unity was responsible for beating off the gas explorers, and this will be the case everywhere.”

Successful bidder

South Western was the third most successful companies in last year’s award of exploration licences. It received nine licences, behind only IGas and INEOSs.

Two licences were in the Forest of Dean and two in Wiltshire. The company was also awarded two licences in Dorset and three in Somerset, all of which it plans to keep.

In July, Mr Williams’ companies relinquished licence area in south Wales.

Updated 21.46 on 14/9/2016 to include comment from Frack Off Our Forest

4 replies »

  1. Hard to say much, but as more and more seismics are done nationally we will not doubt start to see the geologically poorer areas given up on. Political pressure could likely be blamed if the geology was looking very promising, but that part of the country isn’t generally considered the most geologically attractive for energy production. Quite possible that the seismics just don’t look very good. However, we should bare in mind that that last couple of years have been dominated by the low oil price. When activists go on about the low activity over the past few years and congratulate themselves (often actually taking credit for it) they never seem to mention that low activity is exactly what is happening across the whole world in conventional and unconventional basins of all productivities right now. The real measure will be what happens once the oil price stabilises.

    • Of course the oil price has influence over investment decisions but so does social licence – no company can operate successfully without it.

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