Surrey County Council is meeting the oil and gas company, Angus Energy, this week to discuss a side-track well at Brockham, amid allegations that it was drilled without planning permission.
The company has openly said it drilled the side-track in January 2017 and has argued that it was not in breach of planning consents.
But a statement from the council this afternoon said:
“We were extremely disappointed to find out that Angus Energy has acted without planning permission and contrary to our advice and guidance so we are meeting with them this week as a matter of urgency to resolve this.”
Angus Energy issued a stock market statement on 10 March saying:
“The Company is of the firm opinion that the drilling of the BR-X4Z well, which was approved by the OGA, EA and HSE, did not constitute a breach of the planning consents. Discussions with Surrey County Council are ongoing and the Company will update the market as soon as these discussion are complete.”
Opponents of onshore oil and gas developments were suspicious about operations at the Brockham site in the green belt near Dorking. There were reports that 180 sections of pipe 10m long had been delivered to the site, along with drill bits.
Asked by DrillOrDrop in December 2016 about what was happening at the site, Surrey County Council said:
“The activity is being treated as what is known as a ‘work-over’ which is covered by an extant planning permission for production extending until 2036 granted in May 2007.
“The operator is to comply with the planning conditions attached to the 2007 planning permission. The company is using the ‘work-over rig’ under the 2007 permission.”
The council repeatedly told us that Angus did not have permission for any horizontal or vertical drilling.
But last week, Angus Energy released results of analysis of the sidetrack well, BR-X4Z, predicting that production could begin by the summer of 2017. Details
Managing director, Paul Vonk, said the company had raised money on the junior AIM stock market for two wells, the first of which, the Brockham sidetrack, was drilled in January.
Speaking in a podcast for investors he said:
“During the drilling of the Brockham BR-x4z sidetrack, we encountered hydrocarbons in all three layers that we were interested in: the Portland, the Kimmeridge and the Corallian. The Corallian also had some gas.”
Asked if there were any local planning issues. Mr Vonk said:
“We have this site that has been basically operating under a planning permit valid up to 2036 I believe. We haven’t changed the wellbores. We just want to produce oil from them. That is all fine. What we doing is like a technicality. We are moving from one layer to another layer. That is something that the OGA [Oil and Gas Authority] needs to sign off on.
“From a planning perspective, nothing really changes. We have not changed the footprint of the site and we will only do so after we have put the first well properly into production for the Kimmeridge.”
But Surrey County Council said in a statement today:
“A meeting is due to take place this week about the breach.
“The drilling wasn’t covered by the planning application which was approved and any further work would need an additional planning application.”
DrillOrDrop has twice asked Angus Energy to comment on this issue but it has not replied to our requests.
The company did make a statement to BBC London:
“In our opinion, we did not breach the planning consents. Our professional team had a very constructive meeting with the SCC Planners today and that the way forward in relation to oil production and obtaining any further consents that are necessary in the future is now clear.”
Surrey County Council said the meeting had not yet taken place.
Monitoring by campaigners
A protection camp established by opponents of Angus Energy’s operation monitored and filmed developments at Brockham.
In January 2017, campaigners reported that the site was working at night, also apparently against conditions of the planning permission. The company said the work was maintenance but Surrey County Council later confirmed that hydrocarbons had bypassed a plug, requiring emergency work.
The campaigners said today:
“The effect of having even a small protection camp has resulted in this coming to light as it would not have been noticed by Surrey County Council or the HSE.
“Whatever your views on oil and gas in the UK, we were promised gold standard regulation. This is only the start and the industry is already laughing at the regulations.”
“Outrageous breach of trust”
Keith Taylor, The Green Party MEP for South East England, issued this statement on 10 March 2017:
“The drilling, without permission, of a new well is an outrageous breach of an already deeply strained trust. It is little wonder why residents and campaigners simply don’t trust the oil and gas drilling industry or the Government ‘regulations’ utterly failing to protect our environment and our local communities. Regulations that are being openly flaunted by the industry.”
“Angus Energy appears to have misled or misunderstood the planning department, the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. The regime for regulating and monitoring oil drilling isn’t fit for purpose. Had there not been a small, but dedicated group of campaigners resident at the protection camp on the site then this breach would not have even come to light.”
“An extremely alarming precedent is in danger of being set if Surrey County Council allows Angus Energy to get away with this flagrant breach; action and sanction must swift and effective.”
Updated 10/3/2017 with statements from Angus Energy and Keith Taylor MEP