Conservative-led Portsmouth City Council has voted unanimously to object to 20-year plans to drill for oil in the South Downs National Park.
The council joins growing opposition to the application by UK Oil & Gas, mainly because of concerns about risks to groundwater.
Other objectors include Portsmouth Water, which takes supplies from the South Downs chalk aquifer, the Environment Agency, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Chichester City Council, eight parish councils and (currently) more than 1,300 people.
Yesterday Portsmouth Water and the Environment Agency said UK Oil & Gas must revise its assessment of the risks to groundwater. More details on this in the section headed Portsmouth Water meets UKOG.
The Portsmouth Council objection was discussed at a meeting on Tuesday (15 November 2016). All 42 councillors opposed the plans for four oil wells and a water injection well at Markwells Wood, near Forestside, on the West Sussex/Hampshire border.
The council said today the Chief Executive had written to the South Downs National Park Authority, which will decide the application. The letter said:
“Such drilling has an unacceptable risk of potentially contaminating our water supply and surrounding conurbations and as such this Council very strongly objects to the UKOG application.”
The author of the council motion, Lib Dem resources spokesperson, Hugh Mason, said:
“I believe, that as the end users of the underground water, this council, on behalf of the citizens of our city, should communicate our concern and support those objections [from Portsmouth Water and the Environment Agency].”
He said there were risks to the groundwater from:
- The drilling process
- Failure of the well
- Surface spills of crude oil or produced water
He was also concerned that water used in the proposed injection well had to be de-oxygenated to prevent rusting of equipment or the borehole. He said this could be achieved by specialised equipment (which had not been included in the planning application) or by adding sodium bisulphite or ammonium bisulphite to the water, which extracts the oxygen from water.
But he said adding chemicals left a residue and that left by ammonium bisulphite had been classed as hazardous to human health by US authorities.
Cllr Alicia Denny (UK Independence Party), who had submitted a similar motion, said:
“I think we should very strongly object because if the South Downs National Park Authority refuses the application and UKOG goes to appeal, this is likely to go to the government.
“We would hope it would have a little more weight up in Whitehall than just saying that we’re concerned”.
The motion added:
“The applicant [UKOG] should be required to take all necessary steps to ensure the continued security of pure water from its aquifers in the South Downs.”
The council is to send its views to both Portsmouth MPs, Conservatives Flick Drummond and Penny Mordaunt, and the MPs for neighbouring constituencies of Havant (Alan Mak) and Chichester (Andrew Tyrie).
Portsmouth Water and the Environment Agency met UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) yesterday to discuss concerns about the application.
UKOG had concluded that the potential impact of its planned operations at Markwells Wood on groundwater in the chalk aquifer would be negligible.
But the Environment Agency (EA) said:
“We consider that any pollution from the development could have the potential to cause very significant consequences.”
Both it and Portsmouth Water said the risk assessment in the application was not sufficiently detailed to assess the likely impact and level of protection needed.
In a statement issued this afternoon, Portsmouth Water, said:
“The Developer and their consultants are now fully aware of our concerns.
“We are currently supporting the Environment Agency in outlining the requirements of a revised hydrogeological risk assessment. This is a crucial piece of work that will assess the potential risks presented by the proposed development, the sensitivity of the chalk aquifer and surrounding environment, and the likelihood of the risks being realised.
“Together with the Environment Agency, we will review this work on completion and provide our feedback to the South Downs National Park Authority. We will continue to work with the Developer and the Environment Agency, addressing concerns raised, to the South Downs National Park Authority regarding the Markwell’s Wood planning application.
Members of the public will also have opportunity to review and comment on the assessment.”
A spokesperson for UKOG said this afternoon:
“A technical meeting is planned before the end of December when a way forward will be discussed.”
In its objection, the EA had said:
“The applicant has not supplied adequate information to demonstrate that the risks posed to groundwater resources from which supplies of potable water [suitable for drinking] are obtained can be satisfactorily managed.
“Without a risk assessment showing the contrary, the risk to groundwater from the development are considered unacceptable. We recommend the planning permission be refused on this basis.”
Portsmouth Water’s objection said:
“The application in its current format does not identify all potentially significant effects that the proposed works may have on groundwater or, how adverse effects will be mitigated.”
Today is the deadline for comments to the South Downs National Park Authority on the application. But DrillOrDrop understands that the authority will take responses up to the date of the decision meeting, which is not expected to be until at least January 2017.
At the time of writing, there had been more than 1,300 individual responses, almost all of them objections.
Parish councils representing Elsted, Rogate, Harting, Compton, Stoughton, Rowlands Castle, Westbourne and Chidham and Hambrook Parish Councils together with Chichester City Council have also objected.