Responses to a public consultation on plans to drill an exploratory oil well in West Sussex have divided over the company’s competence.
Supporters of the scheme at Broadford Bridge, near Billingshurst, have told the Environment Agency the operator, UK Oil and Gas Investments (UKOG), is “very responsible” and has “shown an exceptional level of technical expertise”.
But objectors have said the application for a change to the environmental permit has major errors, including references in the waste management plan to the wrong site.
The consultation, which closed last week, is for a permit allowing UKOG to drill and acidise the well and flare up to 250,000 cubic feet of any gas per day. The site, off Adversane Lane, received planning permission from West Sussex County Council in 2013.
At the time of the writing, the Environment Agency had published 50 online responses. Of these 29 were objections and 20 comments in support. One comment had a faulty link and could not be read.
Other responses have been submitted by email and post and some online responses may not have been published at the authors’ requests.
Supporters have urged the EA to approve the permit as soon as possible. Many stressed the competence of UKOG and the economic benefits to the UK of oil self-sufficiency, particularly after the country leaves the EU.
One comment said:
“I consider UKOG to be a very responsible company which will do everything in its power to carry out this project in an environmentally sound manner. Production of oil in the UK will massively reduce transportation costs which is another important environmental consideration.”
“I believe the specialists involved have demonstrated an exceptional level of technical expertise and commitment to completing these works to the highest standards and will continue to do so, co-operating fully with the Environmental Agency, Oil and Gas Authority, local authorities and community.”
“There will always be concerns from an environmental perspective but the right company will be able to deal with these hurdles. Technology and times have moved-on and such applications are heavily regulated and scrutinised to make sure everything is done properly and to preserve the affected and surrounding environment.”
Objectors to the well plan have urged the EA to refuse the permit application because they said it contained mistakes and included processes that had not been assessed in the planning permission granted in 2013. Their concerns included:
- In sections about mud on the road, and chemicals, the waste management plan referred to the well site at Horse Hill, in Surrey, not the Broadford Bridge site.
- The environmental permit application referred to the techniques of acidisation/acidising, nitrogen lifting and hot oil treatment. But these techniques were not mentioned in the environmental statement of the 2013 planning application (see ES Chapters Vol 1). According to the opponents, this made the planning permission invalid.
- The Health and Safety Management Plan accompanying the permit application had instructions on what should happen if there were an injury or medical emergency. It said casualties should go to Horsham Hospital “if the nature of any injury or medical condition warrants it”. But opponents pointed out that this hospital does not have an accident or emergency department.
- There were inconsistencies between the Waste Management Plan and the Safety Data Sheet submitted with the permit application. 15 substances mentioned in the Waste Management Plan were not referred to in the Safety Data Sheet. 13 substances which had Safety Data Sheet information were not mentioned in the Waste Management Plan.
Campaigner Emily Anderson said:
“Such sloppiness at this early stage in the process, doesn’t bode well for future operations when there is no room for mistakes of any kind, as these could lead to a serious incident for which the area’s emergency services are not prepared.”
Another opponent described the exploratory oil operation at Horse Hill, in which UKOG is a partner. Alex Gache, who owns Lomond Classical Riding School next to the Horse Hill site, said:
“The first year the drill was here for three months, last year for eight weeks and our lives were ruined. The noise, the smell, the disruption to our rural area were changed to such an extent that we did not want to be here. We cannot prove any connection but we had horses with nosebleeds, clients with headaches, oil appeared all over the land. We don’t know what chemicals were coming and going but we had broken pipes pouring water into our fields and ditches.”
DrillOrDrop invited UKOG to respond to the comments of opponents. A spokesperson said the company acknowledged the points and said they had already been dealt with in detailed discussions with the Environment Agency.