Council twice told Angus Energy it didn’t have permission for Brockham oil well – documents reveal

Brockham 3 Phil MacDonald

Brockham oil site. Photo: Phil MacDonald

Documents released yesterday confirm that council planners told Angus Energy that it did not have permission to drill a new side-track well at its Brockham site in Surrey.

But the company said it drilled the side-track and told investors the work was covered by existing planning consent.

Surrey County Council has now asked the company to apply for retrospective planning permission and is waiting for a response. It has also said oil production from the side-track would need a new planning application, which would be subject to a public consultation. It may also require an environmental impact assessment.

The side-track has become a source of contention between the council and the company. Last week, the council said in a statement it was “extremely disappointed to find that Angus had acted without planning permission”

But Angus, listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), said in a statement to investors: “The company is of the firm opinion that the drilling of the BR-X4z [side-track] well, which was approved by the OGA [Oil & Gas Authority], EA [Environment Agency] and HSE [Health and Safety Executive], did not constitute a breach of the planning consents”.

The documents, comprising correspondence and notes of meetings, were released under a Freedom of Information request. They help to fill in some gaps in the timeline of who said what about the Brockham side-track to whom and when. But it still leaves some questions including why the OGA gave final approval for the side-track. The organisation usually requires all permissions to be in place before it gives the go-ahead.

This afternoon, DrillOrDrop invited Angus to comment on the FOI response. This post will be updated with any reply. DrillOrDrop has also asked the Oil and Gas Authority what evidence it saw to support its conclusion that planning permission was current. The OGA’s response will be added to this post.

Brockham Oil Watch, a residents’ group which has been monitoring the site, said today:

“We are grateful to Surrey County Council’s planning department for being open with residents about information on the Brockham site and for responding efficiently and promptly to our requests and concerns.”

The Green Party MEP for south east England, Keith Taylor, said:

“Angus has either deliberately misled its investors and the public or misunderstood clear advice from Surrey County Council. The situation suggests 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.”

“I am calling on Surrey County Council to send a strong message to oil and gas companies who might be tempted to play fast and loose across the region; action and sanction against planning breaches must swift and effective. Letting Angus Energy off the hook would set an extremely concerning precedent.”


Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

Brockham timeline

14 September 2016: SCC says “no planning permission for side-track”

According to the FOI documents, Samantha Murphy, of Surrey County Council’s planning department, wrote to the chairman of Angus Energy, Jonathan Tidswell (also called Jonathan Tidswell-Pretorious). She confirmed in her letter that Angus did not have planning permission for a side-track.

The letter appears to be a response to a request by Mr Tidswell about a planning permission numbered MO08/894

Mrs Murphy replied:

“I am afraid to say the planning permission you refer to, MO08/0894, does not grant planning permission for the drilling of an oil well.

“In fact, MO08/0894 is for the “Construction of a concrete hardstanding of some 1841 square metres” (dated September 2008) which was at the request of the Environment Agency to ensure any potential spillages at the site were captured and did not percolate into the groundwater.”

She said another planning permission, MO07/0161, allowed for a workover programme and drilling a new well but this included a condition that work must stop before 31 December 2008.

In the letter Mrs Murphy added:

“I believe that the relevant permission you are seeking to carry out further work under is MO07/0161 which was a time-limited permission which duly expired on 31 December 2008. Consequently Brockham Oil Field should be operating in accordance with planning permission ref: MO06/1294 which is the use of an existing wellsite for the production and export of crude oil.

“Therefore, I do not consider that Angus Energy Limited have planning permission to undertake additional drilling operations at the site under planning permission MO07/0161 nor MO06/1294.

“Should Angus Energy Limited wish to carry out a ‘side track’ a fresh new planning application seeking planning permission will be required.”

26 September 2016: Environmental permit application

According to an Angus document for would-be investors (see p115), the company submitted an application to the Environment Agency about its work programme at Brockham.

28 September 2016: Meeting about the “workover programme”

According to the FOI documents, Surrey County Council met Angus Energy on 28 September 2016.

The council’s notes of the meeting said Mr Tidswell explained that Angus had spent nine months upgrading the site to meet environmental permit requirements. It hoped to start producing oil.

The notes said:

“JT [Jonathan Tidswell] set out he wished to bring onto site a truck mounted rig to do a workover programme and this would involve bringing in cement. JT referred to existing drilled areas (existing side tracks) but that these are not cased.

“JT set out that AE [Angus Energy] wished to keep production going at the site and want to run a drill bit into one of the holes to do well integrity testing. This would take 8 days.”

The notes continued:

“The County Planning Authority (CPA) requested that AE write formally to the CPA setting out clearly what they propose to do at the site and what timescale would be involved. JT said they would wish for the workover rig works to commence end of the year.”

There is no reference in the notes of the meeting to a side-track or planning permissions. This was confirmed in an email from the council to a resident:

“The drilling of a new sidetrack was not discussed in the meeting with the County Planning Authority (CPA) on 28 September 2016. However, prior to this meeting the CPA did inform Angus Energy (letter dated 14 September 2016) that there was no planning permission to undertake additional drilling operations at the site and that planning permission would be required for the drilling of a new sidetrack well.”

Angus told would-be investors about the meeting with the council in a document in November 2016. On page 173, it said:

“Following a meeting on 28 September 2016 with Surrey County Council, the Group will carry out its current work programme for Brockham in reliance on existing planning permissions (on the basis that the abandonment of one well side-track and the drilling of another is considered to be well maintenance and as such falls within the parameters of the existing planning permission).”

10 October 2016: “Well proposal submitted”

According to a document produced for potential investors (p115), Angus said it had “submitted its well proposal and drilling programme report to the Health and Safety Executive on 10 October 2016 and expects to receive a response 21 days later

7 November 2016: AIM admission document – “works covered by existing planning permission”

Angus placed more than 58m ordinary shares on the AIM stock market. In the admission document it said: “Angus plans to drill BR-X4Z, a deviated well at the top of the Brockham structure”. It added that it might drill into the Kimmeridge formation below.

On page 115, it said:

“the planned works will be carried out under existing planning permission”.

11 November 2016: “Side-track to be drilled shortly”

In a presentation to investors, Angus said the Brockham BR-X4Z sidetrack planned to be drilled shortly”

14 November 2016: first day of dealing on AIM and environmental permit consent

Angus announced in a statement it had raised £3.5m to fund its share of cost of development programmes at the Brockham and Lidsey fields in Surrey and West Sussex.

Jonathan Tidswell-Pretorius said:

“We now have sufficient funds to undertake the drilling programme at Brockham and Lidsey”.

He added:

“We are able to undertake this programme with the expectation that the additional production can be bought on line shortly after drilling is completed”.

On the same day, Angus issued a statement saying it had received permission from the Environment Agency to drill the BR-X4Z side-track at Brockham.

24 November 2016: Surrey County Council site visit

According to the FOI documents, council officers and Angus Energy executives visited the Brockham site on 24 November 2016. In notes of that visit, the council wrote:

“JT explained that they wished for the workover rig to be placed on Brockham 1 to mirror that borehole to the same depth and log the data. To be on site for 10 days. Cement would be needed down the hole. JT explained he was unsure how many sidetracks were open holes.”

The notes also said:

“JT confirmed that a workover rig would be brought on to Brockham 1. This would involve cementing up holes/ liners/ checking the number of sidetracks from the borehole. JT confirmed Brockham 2 is a water injector well. May wish for a workover rig to review the borehole.”

8 December 2016: Protection camp established

Campaigners established a small camp on the roadside near the Brockham well site.

Brockham Protection Camp by BPC

Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

12 December 2016: Second letter from the council

According to the FOI documents, Mrs Murphy, of Surrey County Council, wrote again to Angus.

The letter from Mrs Murphy referred to three emails from Mr Tidswell sent in the preceding days. Angus had requested an opinion on whether a series of operations at Brockham would be considered maintenance, she said in her letter. According to Angus, the work would last eight days and involve eight HGV loads of equipment.

Mrs Murphy then listed the operations Angus has said it wanted to carry out:

  • Well to be killed, sealed and plugged and the well head removed
  • Installation and testing of pressure control equipment
  • Existing completion removed
  • Well cleaned ut to open hole section
  • Cement stinger [sic] run into hole and horizontal sidetracks cemented up to the casing
  • Cement to be pressure tested from surface and well tested
  • Cement milling assembly to be run in hole and cement dressed off
  • Well logging equipment run into hole
  • Plan to mirror the existing hole at 6” and log well while going down
  • Run new casing string and hanger, cement new casing string in place and test casing
  • Remove rig and replace the wellhead.

The list of operations mentioned in the letter also included, in bold, the words:

“Will not go deeper/further than original well bore. No new formations exposed but just logged.”

Mrs Murphy confirmed in her letter:

“You state that no new drilling into geological strata would take place nor would drilling be any deeper than the existing borehole. You state that the proposal is for maintenance works undertaken within the existing Brockham No. 2 borehole.”

She added that Angus had stated that data logging was needed because more information could be gathered from the well now than when the well was drilled in 1987.

Based on information provided, Mrs Murphy said the county planning authority

“considers the list of works described in those emails would amount to maintenance works and would not require the benefit of planning permission.”

But she added:

“Should however Angus Energy wish to drill any new boreholes, including new side track boreholes from the existing Brockham No.s 1, 2 or 3; to different geological formations or to a deeper depth or into any undrilled area than already drilled to, then the County Planning Authority are of the opinion that planning permission would be required for such activity and a planning application would need to be submitted.”

15 December 2016: Approval from the Oil and Gas Authority

Angus Energy issued a statement saying it had received final approvals from the OGA and HSE to commence work on the BR-X4Z well. The statement said:

“The rig is now on site and has started work on the approve program”.

16 December 20116: Angus increases Brockham interest

Angus announced in a statement that it had acquired an extra 10% interest in the Brockham oil field, increasing its interest to 65%

20 December 2016: Council confirms “workover”

In response to a question from DrillOrDrop, 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 work was planned to take place over working ten days, which with public holidays etc. is expected to extend into the New Year. Officers understand that the rig being used is some 16 m in height – this is compliant with planning permission.”

18 January 2017: “Re-entry imminent”

A statement by Angus said:

“We anticipate the re-entry of the original Brockham-X1 well being completed within the week with the work to complete and case the well taking 2 to 3 days thereafter.”

Brockham night working Brockham Protection Camp

Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

20 January 2017: 24-hour working and spud date

Following complaints about 24-hour working at the site, Surrey County Council said in an email

“Angus Energy identified during the maintenance of one of the wells was found to be ‘live’, resulting from hydrocarbons bypassing an isolation plug. As such, they needed to work quickly to ‘kill’ that section of the well by sealing it and cementing it ASAP: abandoning the well safely. This was why the 24-hr working was deemed expedient by Officers.”

The OGA interactive map of UK onshore oil wells indicates 20 January 2017 is the spud date for the BR-X4Z


26 January 2017: “Hydrocarbons encountered”

Angus said in a statement it had encountered hydrocarbons in the Portland, Kimmeridge and Coralian layers.

27 January 2017: Rig at Brockham taken down

Campaigners monitoring the Brockham site confirm the rig was dismantled.

3 March 2017: Angus announces drilling results

An Angus statement said analysis of the BR-X4Z side-track well, drilled to 1,391m, confirmed similar thickness of reservoir and properties to those reported at Horse Hill. It said it expected to produce oil from the new side-track by the spring or summer. The statement added:

“Our professional team will shortly be meeting Surrey County Council to discuss the position in relation to the sidetrack and also to agree what further planning permissions are necessary in order to regularise the existing site cabins, fencing and associated structures.”

The council confirmed again to DrillOrDrop that Angus did not have permission for horizontal or vertical drilling at Brockham.

7 March 2017: “No planning issues”

Angus’s managing director, Paul Vonk, was asked in a podcast if there were no local planning issues. He replied:


He also 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.”

He added:

“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.”

9 March 2017: Council “extremely disappointed”

Surrey County Council made this statement:

“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.”

10 March 2017: “BR-X4Z not a breach of planning consent”

Angus responded:

“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.”

15 March 2017: FOI response released

Surrey County Council responded to an FOI request, releasing correspondence with Angus Energy and the meeting notes. In addition to the documents, the council said:

“Angus Energy advised that well BR-X1 was to receive the work over. However, BR-X4 was the wellhead that was subsequently worked on, and a sidetrack was drilled without planning permission, which is sidetrack BR-X4Z.

“BR-X4 is not a production well. The CPA [County Planning Authority] considers that oil production from BR-X4Z cannot take place without planning permission from the CPA. The CPA also considers that prior approval is required to install machinery at BR-X2 to re commence production from that well following the removal of the beam pump late last year.”

16 March 2017: Retrospective permission needed

The council confirmed to DrillOrDrop that it had asked Angus to apply for retrospective planning permission for the side-track and was waiting to hear from the company. Any planning application would require a public consultation on the proposals.

Link to Freedom of Information response

19 replies »

  1. Retrospective planning permission! – what a joke.
    It is easier for this industry to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.
    No wonder campaigners don’t trust oil and gas companies.

  2. To think of the abuse that was thrown at those who stayed out in sub zero temperatures to expose all this , at the same time as others are investing and losing their savings [edited by moderator]. Power to the “Swampies ” , they even told the investors but they would rather listen to the one in the stupid Stetson . Retrospective ? maybe we all should have hindsight ? I’m sure that councils will have a much closer eye on these Cowboys . Well written and very informative thank you .

  3. If the council is so sure of its position why not take the oil company to court. Simple answer is that it is not certain of its position and a request for retrospective planning permission means additional revenue.

    • They will probably lose in Court. And they don’t want to waste rate payers money. But they can always refuse the retrospective planning application and then lose the appeal and it will cost them money anyway.

      This is why Planners should stick to surface issues and let the experts decide on below surface issues including well paths. As it always used to be, not sure when this changed – or perhaps it didn’t?

      We will see in the coming months.

  4. It’s hard to see exactly what happened here but it’s clear that if O&G exploration is to continue onshore UK it should be on the basis of honest and transparent dealing. It seems to see to me, for example, that Third got their permission in KM because they had been good neighbours since their original drills.

    • These “good neighbours” lied to the then MP Anne Mackintosh that they had no plans to frack!!! Third Energy also started work on PK1 “conventional” site before putting access signs up as required by the planning permission, and before the paperwork had been acknowledged as having been received by the council about variation in the work carried, and before such work was approved (see decision date on the paper work). They also drilled the well for the fracking without informing the public they were intending to frack that well. A neighbour who did not have a decent night’s sleep for 4 MONTHS because of the drilling did not regard TE as a good neighbour, and nor do we. And this is before large scale fracking is started. And we are determined to stop it – the people of Ryedale said NO!

  5. “This is why Planners should stick to surface issues and let the experts decide on below surface issues including well paths.”
    I thought the issue was more black and white than planner meddling.

    The current planning permission said you can’t drill.

    “Should however Angus Energy wish to drill any new boreholes, including new side track boreholes… …planning permission would be required”

    But Angus went ahead and drilled anyway.

    Sets quite a precedent for the Gold Standard. Don’t worry about permission. After you’ve done whatever you want to do, just ask and we’ll grant it retrospectively as we’re too weak and underfunded to do anything else.

    Makes a bit of a mockery of the whole system, no?

  6. Great piece of reporting. What a shinanigans! Smacks of desperation from both sides. Nothing clear and transparent here, except for the independent reporting.

  7. I really can’t see what all the fuss is about. As I understand it they have been producing oil from the Brockham Oil field for some time and because of a sidetrack appraisal drill thousands of feet down to see if the oil is the same as that discovered at Horse Hill suddenly everyone’s up in arms. Wytch Farm in Dorset which really is in an Area of Outstanding Beauty (unlike Brockham or Horse Hill) has been producing oil for many years without any problems, environmental or otherwise so I can’t see the problem with having other oil fields in the south east if the same regulations are applied to them as they have been at Wytch Farm. My next car will be electric or Hybrid but I acknowledge the need for oil for at least the next 10-15 years. This government is not going to stop a possible tax revenue from oil such as they received from the North Sea and as such protests slow the process down but will not stop the production of oil in the South East if it is there in any quantity.

    Personally I would rather have an oil rig if discreetly surrounded by trees in my area than one of those ghastly gigantic windmills which I consider an environmental eyesore. If I had to protest about anything it would be about siting drilling rigs in true Areas of Outstanding Beauty. I would rather a side track drill from a non area of outstanding beauty to extract the oil than set up a drill site as I understand has happened at Leith Hill in Surrey which is a beautiful area.

    • If I had to protest about anything it would be about siting drilling rigs in true Areas of Outstanding Beauty. #Leithhill for example ?

    • Cameron

      This fuss is about compliance with UK regulatory requirements and being a good neighbour. According to the story (others can correct me if wrong), the company applied for cash to drill a sidetrack, and applied for permission to do so from various regulatory authorities. But in their dealings with the Council, who are the planning authority, they indicated they would only carry out a well workover on a specified well, and then carried out some drilling and other works on a different one.

      This despite various warnings from the planners that they did not have planning permission from what they had publicly said they would do in the various documents produced to shareholders, OGC, EIA and so on.

      So, when the required equipment arrived on site to carry out the works … it was seen by the protest camp personnel who were au fait with the councils concerns. Post the work the company said it had carried out the drilling, as per plans submitted to various places, but not the council, and looked forwards to some production.

      While it has been clear from various documents produced by the company, as to what they intended to do, and did, it seems they led the council astray, and that is not a good thing to do. Be it around oil production or house building. Given the antipathy against conventional oil production in the area, you would think the company would have preferred some confirmation that they had the planners on side prior to the activity.

      I feel that this issue will run a bit further, as other regulators may want to know how this has turned into such an issue, and we do not know the full Story from the company in terms of why they thought they had planning permission and how they intended to deal with the letters from the council pointing to a lack of permission.

      I have some sympathy for the council. Planning issues around conventional wells are not something that have overly bothered councils in the past, so why this one has blown up as it has should hopefully reveal a few lessons to learn.

      Re gold plated regulations, the company seem to be in breach of planning law. This law is not drilling specific, so the degree of deviance is as applied across all planning issues, not just well ops.

      The forthcoming breach seems to have been well flagged, from both the company and the council, is it was not a secret. A sort of slow motion event.

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