Oil company told to provide more details on National Park oil production plans


Planners in the South Downs have demanded more information on the effects of plans to drill new wells and produce oil for 20 years.

UK Oil and Gas Investments (UKOG) has been told to provide details about its proposed operation at Markwells Wood, including the use of hydrochloric acid, and the effects on the environment and climate change.

It is also being urged to provide the names of chemicals used in drilling fluids after local people said they were being “left in the dark”.

UKOG is seeking permission to drill a sidetrack well, three new oil wells and a water injection well. The application also includes plans to produce from all four oil wells. The site is near the small village of Forestside, on the border of West Sussex and Hampshire.

The proposals have prompted around 2,000 objections so far. Objectors include the Environment Agency, Portsmouth Water, Portsmouth City Council, local towns and parishes, Butterfly Conversation, the Woodland Trust, Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Ramblers .

Friends of the Earth has pushed the South Downs National Park Authority to require UKOG to provide information on greenhouse gas emissions before the application is decided.

Planners request new information on impacts

The authority has now written to UKOG requesting the following details:

  • Assessment of climate impacts from greenhouse gas emissions, including vehicle movements
  • How hydrochloric acid would be used to release oil, the risks and what would happen if the aquifer were polluted
  • Potential impacts of volatile organic compounds
  • Estimated volume of oil likely to be produced
  • How produced oil would be transported
  • Impact of lorry traffic on local roads
  • Revised groundwater risk assessment
  • Revised landscape and visual impact assessment
  • Assessment of impact of noise and vibration on bats
  • Bat activity and possible bat roosting sites in the wider area
  • Potential impact of pollution on surrounding ancient woodland
  • Direction of the new sidetrack well and location of three new wells

The letter from planners said:

“It is the view of the SDNPA that this further information is required in order to enable a proper assessment of the likely environmental effects of this application”.

UKOG said in a statement that Markwells Wood is an existing oilfield site that was drilled in 2010 and tested for six months in 2011.

The statement continued:

“At the request of South Downs National Park Authority, UKOG is preparing a revision of our environmental statement. The chemicals and drilling fluids for Markwells Wood will be included in this. They are the same chemicals and fluids used across the industry and are planned to be utilised for Markwells Wood in the reservoir a mile under the ground.

“The well is completely sealed off from the chalk aquifer by three sets of overlapping heavy gauge steel pipes and waterproof concrete and its integrity is regularly tested. Our method of drilling through the chalk utilises very similar techniques and substances to those used by water companies in drilling their nearby water abstraction wells.

“This system uses only water to lubricate the drill with the occasional flush of a naturally occurring clay, called bentonite, to help bring larger rock chippings to the surface. This is a proven and environmentally safe process. We have also discussed with the EA and Portsmouth Water the use of a technique which utilises air to drill through the chalk and which provides an even more environmentally robust technique.”

Friends of the Earth’s south east campaigner, Brenda Pollack, said:

“Clearly climate change is a key environmental issue that needs to be considered when a major development like this is looked at. We are pleased that the Park Authority has now requested an assessment of the impacts of oil drilling in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.”

A spokesperson for the National Park confirmed today that there would be an additional public consultation period when the new information has been submitted.

Local objectors say they’re being “kept in the dark” on chemicals

People living near Markwells Wood have complained that UKOG has not kept its promise on immediately naming chemicals that would be used at the site.

They said UKOG executive chairman, Stephen Sanderson, promised at a meeting in July the immediate disclosure of the names of chemicals that would be used.

But more than 100 days later, local people say the company has refused to provide the information.

UKOG’s public relations consultant, Brian Alexander, answered a wide range of questions. But on the issue of chemicals he said:

“Details of the drilling fluids: composition and volumes will be included in the EA [Environment Agency permit] application, as required.”

Reed Paget, of Markwells Wood Watch, said:

“Local residents believe this shows that UKOG cannot be trusted. They are also concerned that allowing UKOG to keep the names of their chemicals secret until after the planning permission vote, the South Downs National Park Authority will be lacking critical scientific information and the public will be kept in the dark until it is too late to object.”

One local objector, Ann Stewart, said:

“I find it very worrying that UKOG are trying to attain planning permission in this manner. They promised transparency but are acting like they have something to hide.

“I think that statements by Stephen Sanderson of UKOG can be misleading and I find it impossible to trust them. I do not believe he intends to protect out National Park, I think he just sees it as a resource to be exploited. I find it difficult to believe he can be trusted to protect our drinking water.

“I hope the Park Authority reject this application. It is clear that they and the public have not been given all the facts.”

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust for travel and accommodation. More details here

6 replies »

  1. We just have to make sure that we push for the new West Sussex Joint Minerals Local Plan proposal to be taken into consideration at all times.

    “Major oil and gas development not involving high volume hydraulic fracturing should only take place within the SDNP or AONB in exceptional circumstances and when it is in the public interest.”

  2. Ruth & Paul, Your community might benefit from an in-depth story about the crisis developing in Australia, which has pursued renewables aggressively while restricting the development of natural gas resources. It’s a lesson to us all, about how gas and renewables should work together to keep costs down, improve emissions, maintain grid stability and energy security. Trying to kick gas out of the mix prematurely has become a raging disaster for Australia.

    You might also throw in a reference to Germany and Spain which have also had large-scale problems with their push toward rapid renewable adoption.

    These perspectives may help your audience come to a better understanding of the practical considerations behind this debate.


  3. I really do not understand the concern about chemicals. It has been stated time and time again that these are to be publicly declared. EU and UK law also requires that these are non hazardous to groundwater. You can see the law here. (Its the same for normal drilling, as there is no fracking proposed in this traditional oil well.)

    Maybe UKOG have not decided on what drilling technique to use? They will have to declare them, and they will have to have them in their planning application, so it is all open to public scrutiny. The point is that toxic materials are not permitted.

    The use of hydrochloric acid is also noted as a concern, but its patio cleaner, and food additive E507 and it reacts very quickly with limestone, with no harmful products. It cleans out the drilling solids, and opens up the pores to increase flowrate. Its standard practice in many wells, including water wells. Always best to get some competent technical advice, as all of this is a bit alien to most people.

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