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