Villagers oppose UKOG’s 20-year oil plans for South Downs


People living near a proposed oil production site in the South Downs National Park voted almost unanimously last night against the scheme.

At what was described as one of the best attended meetings for years, Stoughton Parish Council said it would object to an application by UK Oil & Gas Investments for its site at Markwells Wood in West Sussex.

The company is seeking permission to drill a 1km sidetrack to the existing well and test the flow rate of any oil. It also wants to drill three extra production wells and a water injection well. It has forecast that production would continue for 20 years,

The decision on the application will be made by the South Downs National Park Authority. A public consultation is now underway and ends on Friday 28 October 2016.

Letter of objection

More than 100 people attended last night’s meeting in the hamlet of Forestside. The parish council chairman, Andrew Elms, said:

“We have never had such a large turn-out for years”

In a vote on the application, just one person raised his hand in favour and he said he neither opposed nor supported. A small number abstained.

After the vote, Mr Elms told the meeting:

“The council’s planning committee will meet in the next couple of weeks. We will write a letter of objection to the South Downs National Park Authority.”

He agreed to share the parish’s objection letter with neighbouring villages.

Local people opposed to the application have formed a group, Markwells Wood Watch, to fight the proposals.

Comments and concerns

The National Park

Michael Harbour, who has lived in Forestside for more than 30 years, said he believed the application failed on two key points:

  • It had not made the case that there were exceptional circumstances to justify the development in the National Park
  • It had not explained why oil production could not be done outside the National Park boundary.

UKOG proposes to drill the sidetrack west of the Markwell’s Wood site, towards the Horndean oil field, outside the National Park. This prompted calls from some in the audience for the development to be sited beyond the park boundary.


Part of the Markwells Wood site, near Forestside

Need versus impact

One man said:

“We need oil. We all drove here tonight. We have to look at it from that point of view. It is here.”

“Are they paying you?” one person asked. Another said: “It sounds like it”.

One person added:

“We start from the fact that we do need oil. Are we willing to sacrifice something for ourselves and other people?”


Several people questioned whether the development could be cost-effective with low oil prices. But one person reported that UKOG had said it could make money at $40 a barrel. Another responded:

“We are being asked to sell the National Park for $40 a barrel. “

Another added:

“My concern is that they are using such a lot of energy to get this oil that the end gain is really quite small. The oil will still be there in 20 years when we have better ways of getting it out.”

Noise and light

One person said the drilling of the existing well six years ago had not been a problem for his family:

“We live 600m away. We were not affected by noise at all. We didn’t hear a thing. Neither did we see any lights or flare.”

But another said:

“We lived here six years ago. There were times at night when you could hear quite clearly and the light pollution was an issue.”

One person said:

“We felt vibrations. You could see the light quite clearly through the trees.”

And another added:

“My building had to be repaired when they were looking for oil.”


Woodland surrounding the wellsite at Markwells Wood

“Lack of information”

Several people complained that the application did not give them all the information they needed. There were particular concerns about proposals to use acidisation, the process where a 10-15% concentration of hydrochloric acid would be used to stimulate the flow of oil into the well.

One person asked:

“How are they going to produce the oil? It was very difficult to get a straight answer.”

Another said:

“We don’t know what we don’t know. We know that fracking has caused some big problems but we know a lot less about this [acidisation].”

Emily Mott, one of the founders of Markwells Wood Watch, said villagers had put together a list of questions last year for the parish council to put to UKOG.

“You invited them [to answer our questions]. They didn’t reply for quite a long time and they invited you to lunch. They did not want to meet with us. In the middle of July they had their consultation [drop-in meeting]. We have been try to have a face to face meeting with our questions.”

Veto on private meeting

The council chairman, Andrew Elms, said UKOG knew about last night’s meeting but had not been invited, although there was nothing to prevent representatives from attending. He said:

“They wanted to have a meeting with myself and the vice chair – something like that – an informal chat.

“But I vetoed that. I said ‘If you have something to say you come and say it in public to one and all. We have nothing to hide.’”

Water pollution

One of the biggest concerns expressed last night was the threat of the well to the local chalk aquifer which supplied water to local people and the city of Portsmouth.

Some in the audience said they didn’t trust the membrane on the site to protect groundwater from pollution. One person said a spillage at the nearby Horndean oilfield had been detected in measurements of water quality in Bedhampton.

Michael Harbour, who had summarised the application for the meeting, said:

“Each of us has to make a judgement about the advantages and the risks and whether the risks are tolerable to us as residents and then make our statements.

“For me, this represents an incalculable risk to our environment because the technologies are unproven in this context.

“Should anything go wrong it would be long term, not just for us but for 300,000 residents who take water from these aquifers.”


Another big concern was the impact that heavy goods vehicles visiting the site would have on narrow local roads.

One person asked: “How can it be safe for horse riders?”

Another said:

“We use that road. How can we use that road with these bloody great things?”

Another said:

“This is an accident waiting to happen. There are so many horses round here.”

There were also concerns that cyclists would be put in danger.

One person quoted from an interview by UKOG executive chairman, Stephen Sanderson, to DrillOrDrop, in which he said: “It does not pay to put heavy vehicles on small roads.”

Empowering communities

The local county councillor, Sandra James (UKIP), told the meeting that local people won planning battles only when they empowered themselves by using specialist consultants and even barristers to defeat developers. She urged residents to organise themselves and raise money for specialist help.


Link to application

Markwells Wood Watch

DrillOrDrop report on the application

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here

26 replies »

  1. After Andrea Leadsom said yesterday that the UK would honor the Paris agreement and that future generations had the right to enjoy the countryside , how can anyone be thinking of starting more fossil fool extraction? As for locals having to fund barristers and legal teams to fight this, its a joke, why should locals suffer in any way shape or form for the greed of the few?
    Think again UKOG, there will be no easy path for you or your toxic industry , that’s a guarantee .

    • Sad case that people don’t understand where they get there energy from what is wrong about being self reliant Britain needs this stop being selfish most of you are elderly when your gone who is going to pick up the pieces ?

      • Excuse me, I’m in my late 60’s and very much in favour of shale exploration. Don’t you think older people have some concerns for their grandchildren or the next generation. As a matter of fact if the energy situation in this country gets really grim then it will be the frail elderly who will suffer so they have a good reason to support shale now.

      • “Stop being selfish”! “Most of you are elderly when your (sic) gone who is going to pick up the pieces?”! The whole point (wasted on you clearly) is that we are thinking about future generations. You’re right on one thing, we will be long gone before this filthy industry ever got into production (if it ever could with the determined resistance growing by the minute!). It’s you and your kind that are being selfish, shale gas “keeping the lights on” just doesn’t wash! Britain should be going full speed ahead for every renewable alternative available to us! Others are doing it, why not us? Let me answer that myself; no political will is the answer! We have a government that refuses to listen to communities on this subject (but chooses to give communities a veto on clean onshore wind) and instead listens only to the prospective industry and what it wants!

    • That’ll be the countryside covered in wind turbines and solar farms is it? it’s all about costs versus benefits surely.

      • No, it’s about making sure everyone has power in the future that doesn’t trash the planet and kill us all….

  2. Yes. Paris agreement and Fracking approval are a contradiction. Sadly local voices will be ignored (most probably) and PR from the regulating authorities will be just window dressing

  3. Actually fracking and the Paris agreement are in perfect accord in our present energy situation. 80% of households heat with gas, and 50% of our electricity is generated from Gas. Until that changes (at least 20 years is my guess) we will need gas. At present about 20% and rising of our gas is imported in the form of LNG which has a higher CO2 profile than shale gas. In other words all the time shale gas is replacing imported LNG (or coal for that matter) it will be contributing to reducing CO2. I

    • ‘Until that changes (at least 20 years is my guess)’

      I think you will need to explain yourself on this. Renewable energy is working here and now. Many countries are investing heavily in this industry and divestment from fossil fuels is growing fast. If you support renewable energy but believe it not viable at present please state your factual case (I think you will find renewable giants like Dong Energy will disagree with anything you say)

      Still 20 billion plus barrels of home grown North Sea oil and gas you know. Proven and secure. No lights going out anytime soon and no one getting cold. Name all the times in your life when the North Sea has left you in the dark or freezing.

      • John, that’ll be “20 billion plus barrels of home grown North Sea oil” minus the 90 tons of oil that BP have just accidentally dropped in the sea close by the Clair field. Just joking – but it reminds me that no-one in the media takes a blind bit of notice of this accident but the opposition to fracking produces a furore over much smaller risks. I guess N Sea oil is just out of sight, out of mind. Maybe BP should put some money into a safer industry like shale gas.

        • ‘Maybe BP should put some money into a safer industry like shale gas’

          BP have already drilled onshore down the road from the Becconsall site. Why do you suppose they have never got on board the shale train. They know exactly where and how much shale there is. Do you seriously think they need someone like Cuadrilla to explain it to them. They have known about the Bowland Basin for decades. They know it won’t work out in the long run otherwise they would have been there years ago.

    • Mark – fracked shale-gas (Unconventional Natural Gas) and coal seam gas (CSG) are proving themselves to have the highest carbon footprint of all fossil fuel industries. Parallel studies from ground-based, airborne and remote sensing (satellite telemetry) are proving this to be the case. This was predicted several years ago by Dr Ingraffia of Cornell University and with the industry itself having failed to do its own base-line studies and diligent self monitoring it is only becoming established knowledge now. Methane leakage from rogue emissions and migration, from beginning to end of the the entire industrial process, is the main culprit – and it doesn’t get better over time, it gets worse.

      If the UK is binding itself to the Paris guidelines this factor has to be considered.

  4. I think it unlikely that fracking the UK shale will be viable, at scale, and it is only at scale i.e. at high volumes, with bore holes saturating the shale layer, when it becomes commercially viable. But one area of Britain may have to be sacrificed before people wake up to its ugly reality: big (frequent) trucks vs narrow roads through highly populated areas, an increasingly industrialised landscape outside of the villages, with pad sites with 10 or more wells (per pad) every couple of miles, then there’s the increasingly contaminated groundwater and polluted air into the bargain. The vested interests, politicians and and other promoters are either lying through their teeth or completely deluded in denying that this is the case.

    I pity the area(s) that may have to get sacrificed. I know how the British love their rural landscape … but inevitably it will be like the old ‘third rail danger’ – touch it and you die.

    Poland was supposed to be an easier proposition to frack than the UK but two large O&G companies have pulled out of there already.

    • Hate to let a fact get in the way of a good argument but Cuadrilla estimated that there would be less than six lorry movements per day during the exploration phase of the Fylde site. I guess the same as the average supermarket.

      “Bore holes saturating the shale layer” – that’s 5000 feet down, 4000 ft below the water table. No evidence for water contamination except for early cowboy operators in the USA who failed to seal the top of the wells properly. do you think Cuadrilla etc are going to allow that to happen here given what’s at stake, absolutely not.

      They’re won’t be well pads every couple of miles, unless each development goes through the planning process.

      If you want to see an area sacrificed drive up the Northumberland coast from Newcastle and look at the wind turbines. Incidentally I’m not against them, wind will be part of energy supply from now on – again it’s cost versus benefit, every time I walk in the country from my house I bypass a huge string of electricity pylons, unpleasant but necessary.

      • Sorry – the subject of this post was about conventional oil drilling (I think). Can I blame you for changing the subject to shale gas Mark? 🙂 Maybe this discussion should continue elsewhere. Happy to debate.

      • How far behind are you Mark? Are you so upset that you have lost, what is probably your retirement fund in a hoax from I gas to not see the truth? READ, not just oil baron owned media, read REAL information; there are posts on here that blow your waffle out of the water for a start!!

  5. Mark – I have transferred my last big reply to the next post on the site which is about shale-gas (headed ‘Mission Decision Day:…’). Perhaps you can paste your last reply beneath it and we can continue arguing there. Don’t want to confuse any villagers concerned with this case here by mixing shale gas and oil drilling issues – they’re quite different.

    • Mike–I noticed you wrote into the SDNP. Thank you but apparently your comment was counted as neutral. I am curious to know if you could rewrite or amend your note so that it is counted as an objection if that was your intention?

      • Emily – Not knowing enough it would be unfair for me to object or agree honestly. My knowledge of Havant Thicket Reservoir and where the water boreholes are in the SDNP is minimal. I am sure SDNP would rather take honest comments into consideration rather than some which may be other than true. I am sure they are there to protect the park.

  6. I wonder what the “villagers” would say if it was proposed to build wind farms and solar power farms in the Markswell Wood area. My guess would be that they would say there are far better places to site them.
    If forced to take the oil extraction or the renewable option which way would they plump for??.
    My guess is the oil extraction.

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s