There are two more days left to comment on future planning policy for oil and gas exploration and production in West Sussex and the South Downs National Park.
The public consultation on the minerals plan for the area, which sets policy for the next 15 years, closes at 5pm on Monday 13 March 2017.
The draft plan has separate policies for oil and gas developments which use hydraulic fracturing and those that don’t. But some campaigners are concerned that neither policy mentions the use of acid in techniques, such as acidizing and acid fracking.
These techniques involve pumping acid into some limestones and sandstones where the oil will not flow at commercial rates without stimulation. They could be used at a well site at Markwells Wood, in the South Downs National Park, where UK Oil & Gas Investments plc is applying to produce oil for 30 years.
Acid fracking is likely to fall outside the legal definitions of hydraulic fracturing set in the Infrastructure Act. This will mean it will not be subject to the restrictions included in the legislation, such as a ban on fracking in National Parks and at less than 1,000m below the surface.
In November 2016, some members of the South Downs National Park Authority called for stricter controls on the use of acid to stimulate oil-bearing rocks (link). The following month, Sandra James, the county councillor for Markwells Wood, said acidising was “closely aligned” to fracking and should be added to the policy in the minerals plan that covers hydraulic fracturing (link).
The oil industry says acid has been used routinely to clean wells or improve flow rates for almost 120 years.
But opponents of the techniques say acid fracking uses greater concentrations of chemicals than hydraulic fracturing and raises similar planning issues about traffic, flaring and disposal of waste.
Friends of the Earth said:
“There is a lack of evidence showing the impacts of acidising on the environment and communities and therefore the precautionary principle should apply and these operations should not be allowed in the National Park or elsewhere in West Sussex.”
Kathryn McWhirter, a Balcombe resident, said:
“I don’t want to see the South Downs industrialised. I don’t want pollution and our roads jammed up with trucks carrying chemicals. Regardless of the techniques they use, we know that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change we must leave 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Our voices can make a difference.”
Opponents of onshore oil and gas developments have also argued that Minerals Plan fails to:
- Reduce carbon emissions
- Protect the South Downs National Park and other areas from oil exploration
- Fully consider the risks of all types of testing and extraction techniques
- Take on board local concerns about the impacts of oil exploration on landscape, transport and air and water quality