Opponents of oil exploration at a site in West Sussex have called for an immediate stop to work after the drill rig was installed yesterday.
The campaign group, Keep Billingshurst Frack Free, alleged the plans by UK Oil & Gas for Broadford Bridge were “illegal, irresponsible, ill-judged and irregular”. It accused UKOG of “riding roughshod” over the planning process.
The group said in a statement:
“This is totally unacceptable. We are calling on the Environment Agency, the [former] local MP Nick Herbert and West Sussex County Council to intervene immediately.
“The rig should be dismantled and all work should stop until the planning process is completed in an open and transparent way. Local people are angry and shocked. We will not stand to one site and let this continue.”
UKOG said the allegations were unfounded and repeated a statement made yesterday that it had all the permissions it needed to drill at Broadford Bridge.
UKOG said yesterday that the well would explore for oil in Kimmeridge limestones. DrillOrDrop report The company’s application for an environmental permit included acidising the well, nitrogen lifting and hot oil treatment.
But Keep Billingshurst Frack Free (KBFF) said planning permission granted by West Sussex County Council in 2013 was for gas exploration in the Sherwood Sandstone and did not mention these techniques.
A condition of the planning permission required the development to be carried out in accordance with the environment statement. This said the operation was for conventional drilling to reach what were described as “free-flowing hydrocarbons” in the sandstone formation.
KBFF has asked West Sussex County Council to require UKOG to make a new planning application to explore for what it called “tight” or unconventional oil in the limestone. So far, the group has failed to persuade the council.
The group said:
“We are outraged. UKOG is riding roughshod over the planning process and West Sussex County Council is doing nothing to stop them.
“We wouldn’t be allowed to put up an extension to a bungalow without proper planning permission – and yet they [UKOG} have been able to sneak in a giant mechanical rig before the planning process is finished.
“They wanted to carry out unconventional oil exploration on a licence that was granted for conventional oil only.
“The two are very different. This unconventional exploration uses chemicals that are damaging to people, animals and the environment.”
The Council for the Protection of Rural England referred in its response to the environment permit consultation to a fault near the site. It said this could allow fluids and chemicals from the site to reach the River Arun and local groundwater.
“Our water could be contaminated and affect the river Adur and Arun. And all without a proper planning process.”
Yesterday, a UKOG statement to investors said the company had all the permissions in place for Broadford Bridge and that drilling would begin shortly.
But KBFF said that statement was premature:
“The Environment Agency has not finished considering an application to vary the company environmental permit and no works can take place during the birds and bats breeding season (UK law, Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981).”
The group added:
“There is no social license for this project. It will use more energy than it might find and that’s yet another blow to the climate.”
UKOG told DrillOrDrop the KBFF accusations were unfounded. A spokesperson said the company had approval for drilling from the OGA, Environment Agency and West Sussex County Council. The spokesperson said the company was waiting for the variation of the existing environmental permit, which would allow it to carry out extended well tests but the tests were contingent on the drilling phase.