Members of the South Downs National Park Authority have called for stricter controls on how oil could be produced in future.
At a meeting on Thursday (10/11/2016), the authority’s planning committee said a proposed policy banning hydraulic fracturing in the national park should be extended to other techniques including acid fracking or acidisation.
The committee was considering new guidance that would be used to decide planning applications for minerals developments in the South Downs National Park from 2018.
The draft joint minerals local plan distinguishes between operations that use hydraulic fracturing – which would not be allowed in the national park – and those that don’t.
But several members were concerned that the use of acid stimulation in oil production was not specifically mentioned in the plan.
A planning application by UK Oil & Gas Investments, currently before the authority, proposes to use acidisation in oil production at Markwells Wood.
Alun Alesbury, a committee member from Stoughton, the parish which includes Markwells Wood, asked:
“Is the absence of that new technique going to cause us any problems? Are we going to be left behind by this technical development because the policy doesn’t say anything about it? I am concerned that this policy does not get overtaken by technical advances.”
Another member, Doug Jones, representing Hampshire parishes, said:
“We want to be sure that we are future-proofing in the words that we use”.
Ian Phillips, a landscape architect on the committee, proposed the minerals plan should have different policies for unconventional and conventional oil operations, rather than distinguishing between those that used hydraulic fracturing and those that did not.
Tim Slaney, the director of planning for the national park, said officers would check whether there was a definition for acidising or acidisation and whether the local plan could refer to oil operations using unconventional means, rather than specifically hydraulic fracturing.
Brenda Pollack, South East Regional Campaigner, for Friends of the Earth welcomed the committee’s move. She said:
“Many people are concerned that acidisation is as worrying as its big brother – fracking. And whilst everyone’s eyes are on fracking in the North, UKOG is pushing forward with its risky fossil fuel exploration under the Home Counties’ feet.”
“The park authority is taking sensible precautions to avoid having unwanted oil extraction operations spreading across our most precious areas of countryside”.
The government has said companies cannot frack wells drilled from the surface of national parks. But operators can frack under national parks from horizontal wells drilled outside the boundaries.
Ministers have defined fracking by the volume of fluid used in the operation: 1,000 cubic meters per frack stage or 10,000 cubic meters in total. There is no specific mention in government policy of other techniques for stimulating oil or gas production, including the use of acid.
UK Oil & Gas Investments has described its acidisation plans as a routine operation to clean out debris from perforations in the well and enable oil to flow more freely into the wellbore.
But people living near the Markwells Wood site are concerned about the lack of information about the process and a potential threat to groundwater.
The public consultation on UKOG’s Markwells Wood planning application ends on 17 November 2016. More than a thousand people have objected to the proposal so far.
- A public consultation on the South Downs draft joint local minerals plan, which is being produced by the national park authority and West Sussex County Council, is expected to begin in January 2017. If approved by a planning inspector, it would come into force in 2018.