Opposition

Environment Secretary urged to revoke lease on woodland oil drilling site in Surrey hills

 

leith-hill-road1

The road to Bury Hill Wood near Leith Hill

The government is being urged to block a land agreement that will allow exploratory drilling for oil near the Leith Hill beauty spot in Surrey.

Two councillors have written to the Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, saying she has the power to revoke a lease signed by the Forestry Commission with Europa Oil & Gas.

Cllrs Claire Malcomson  and Clayton Wellman said drilling on the forestry site at Bury Hill Wood in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty would amount to a “breach of the public trust”.

In a letter to Mrs Leadsom and the Forestry Commission director, Ian Gambles, sent today the councillors said:

“You, in your individual roles, and the FC [Forestry Commission] are stewards of the land. The land is ours, everybody’s. It belongs to the people of this nation.

“The lease for these activities is entirely in your gift. You have the power to revoke it and to deny any further leasing of FC land for hydrocarbon exploration or extraction. The will is all that is required.”

“Breach of trust”

The councillors, who represent the Holmwood ward for the Lib Dems on Mole Valley District Council, said the lease contradicted the objectives of the Paris climate agreement, as well as UK policy, the Forestry Commission’s mission statement and the interests of the local community.

They said:

“Any lease of [Forestry Commission] land for industry other than recreation or forestry itself is essentially wrong and a breach of the public trust.

“The risks and damage that could, and will, be unleashed by such actions fly in the face of the covenant between the Government, the [Forestry Commission] FC and the people.

“It simply does not make sense what the FC is prepared to allow on its land, and these activities entirely contradict its purpose.”

The site, known by the oil industry as Holmwood-1, is near the village of Coldharbour, on the edge of Dorking. A planning inspector granted permission last year after a long-running dispute between the company on one side and local residents and Surrey County Council on the other.

Europa is currently negotiating with the council over conditions for its planning permission. It has also applied for an extension to the site and extra security fencing. Opponents of drilling have established a camp at the site.

leith-hill-camp

People “overwhelmingly against” drilling

Cllr Wellman and Malcomson said in their letter:

“Neither of us has come across one person in our immediate community, nor in the wider area, who is in favour of the activity that has been permitted. We, the people, are overwhelmingly against this type of use of FC land.”

They said oil exploration contradicted the purposes of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

“[The proposed activities on the site] threaten all aspects of the AONB status and designation. The proposal is unwanted by the community, it brings no benefits to those who live and work in the area and it will destroy the peace and opportunity for quiet enjoyment. It is obvious to see that rather than conserve and enhance, it will destroy, pollute and degrade. In short, the application is not suitable for this location whatsoever.”

One of the conditions of the planning permission is that the work last for no more than 18 weeks.

But the letter argued:

“The entire purpose of this application is to gain a foothold to then develop a long term drilling site.”

The councillors urged Mrs Leadsom:

“Please be a leader instead of cow-towing to this outdated and destructive industry, ever more desperate to bleed our land dry. Please stand up for your core principles as the FC and as Secretary for the Environment. Please stand up for our international pledges and show they mean something. And above all, please do what is right and proper, uphold the public trust and safeguard our land as promised.”

Forestry Commission leases

DrillOrDrop asked the Forestry Commission about the criteria it used to decide when to lease its land for non-forestry activities. A spokesperson said:

“The Public Forest Estate has been let for a large variety of non-forestry activities in its 100 year history including traditional oil and mineral extraction. We consider the impacts on the forest and final decisions on Planning Applications are made by the relevant the Planning Authority.  In this case the exploration activity is only approved for a temporary period.”

Asked about the value and duration of the lease, the spokesperson said:

“The first lease for exploration ran from 2013-2015; the current lease runs from 2015 to 2018. The rent paid is exempt from disclosure under Section 12(5)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations “Confidentiality of commercial or industrial information where such confidentiality is provided by law to protect a legitimate economic interest.”

Cllrs letter to Forestry Commission and Environment Secretary

9 replies »

  1. You don’t speak for me. I actually want the lights to stay on when the wind dissent blow and the sun has hidden behind the clouds. I want the MRI machine to work at the hospital.

    I want my fuel bill to be affordable! Not £600 per month with unsubsidised off shore wind or HP2.
    Wave power would iriversibly change our estuaries. (And cost £550 per month)

    And I do believe the woodland in question is cash crop non native trees that will be replanted with native trees….

    • Tony, you can’t drink oil now can you? Your “affordable” fuel bill comes at a huge cost to the enviroment which will be offset by a changing climate, spoiled groundwater, and other debts that even your grandchildren’s grandchildren will be paying for in their lifetime. Solar could easily provide all the electricity you need for your MRI and the lights in your house. You’re fuel bill is unaffordable becuase of the corporations who own your energy and sell it to you at a premium. Wave power would not irreversibly change our estuaries, but an oil leak most certainly would. That’s the beauty of renewable technologies. When they’re spent or new technologies take their place, all you have to do is dismantle. You can’t dismantle contaminated groundwater or take toxins out of the soil or the air we breath.

    • Very short sighted view, it is the whole environment on this hillside that is involved. What will you drink when the water is polluted by shale gas extraction?
      There is the population of Sutton and South East Surrey that relies on the water in the acquifer under the hill that is so important.

      An Ecosystem just doesn’t work on looking at one aspect, it isn’t just the trees, it is also the Nightjars, Bats, Sand Lizards, Adders, countless numbers of fauna and flora that is at stake that rely on an unpolluted environment in which to thrive.

  2. “Any lease of [Forestry Commission] land for industry other than recreation or forestry itself is essentially wrong and a breach of the public trust.

    “The risks and damage that could, and will, be unleashed by such actions fly in the face of the covenant between the Government, the [Forestry Commission] FC and the people.

    “It simply does not make sense what the FC is prepared to allow on its land, and these activities entirely contradict its purpose.”

    So how do wind farms get on FC land – after clear felling?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10546071/Millions-of-trees-chopped-down-to-make-way-for-Scottish-wind-farms.html

  3. Oh dear Gordon! My experience of fracking, is that the injected solution is very largely fully recovered (measured in and out) and then disposed of via proper treatment.
    Perhaps you are confused with the waste that the protestors leave around such sites.
    But, hey ho, keep churning it out because once a few test wells are drilled without all these disasters being produced public opinion will abandon your cause completely.
    Remind me, who was Swampy??

    • Martin Collyer. You say, “My experience of fracking is that the injected fluid is very largely fully recovered (measured in and out) and then disposed of via proper treatment.”
      Cuadrilla’s Andrew Quarles, speaking at a Shale Gas Summit organised by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers doesn’t seem quite so confident of recovering it. He doesn’t seem to care either.
      He said “Very little of the fracture fluid ever returns to the surface. So when we inject water in there, most of it does not come back. There are lots of theories. No one knows exactly what is going on or where the water goes or where it’s final resting place is. The water could go into the fractures caused by fracking or it could be absorbed into the shale formation.”
      So that’s what they mean by Gold Standard Regulations.
      http://www.drillordrop/cuadrilla-banks-on-low-return-of-flowback-fluid-for-lancashire-wells

  4. Sorry, fat finger! Pressed the key before I had added, “and of course plenty of on shore (non fracked) oil wells already across the south of England, many situated within woodland”.

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