In the past few minutes, councillors in West Sussex have voted to extend planning permission at the oil exploration site at Broadford Bridge, near Billingshurst, for another year.
This will allow the site operator, Kimmeridge Oil and Gas Ltd, to complete tests on the flow of oil in a well drilled in July.
West Sussex County Council’s planning committee voted unainmously in favour of the application.
The committee accepted the recommendation of planning officers who said the impacts on local people and the environment would be minimal and the development would “help to meet an identified need for local hydrocarbon exploration and appraisal.”
The permission will be subject to 15 conditions. The work is restricted to flow testing the well and restoring the site and must finish by 15 September 2018. Hours of work will be limited to 7am-7pm Monday-Friday and 8am-1pm on Saturday. The operator is required to produce a new fire-fighting plan and follow an approved groundwater protection scheme.
Testing got underway last week and is expected to take 14 weeks. The previous planning permission runs out on 16 September.
The work will include the use of hydrochloric acid to stimulate the Kimmeridge limestone, which KOGL believes holds oil. This has been described as a form of acid-fracking by opponents. They also raised concerns about the effect that flaring gas from the well would have on air quality.
The original application, submitted by a previous operator, had sought to explore for gas in a deeper sandstone rock. Some opponents said there were enough differences between plans by KOGL and the previous operator to justify a new and full application.
There were more than 500 comments on the application. About 70% were objections and most of these were from people living in south east England.
None of the organisations that had to be consulted on the application objected. But the parish council for West Chiltington, where the site is based, said the extension should be for six, rather than 12 months and criticised the application for lacking up-to-date information.
There were objections from Friends of the Earth, Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Sussex branch of Campaign to Protect Rural England.
The meeting heard evidence from opponents of falling water levels in local ditches and wells since the drill was dismantled last week, along with increasing salinity in water. Actor Sue Jameson gave evidence that the site operator had breached conditions on the hours of working at the site. She said local people had been woken at 4am by lights, workmen and machinery. She added that a survey by Broadford Bridge Action Group had revealed at 68% increase in the larger heavy goods vehicles on the B2133 which runs past the site compared with two years ago.
The application was supported by statements from Stephen Sanderson, the Chief Executive of KOGL’s parent company, UK Oil and Gas. Others speakers in support of the application were Matt Cartwright, of KOGL, and Nigel Moore, of the Zetland Group (KOGL’s agent).
Full report from the meeting here
After the meeting Broadford Bridge Action Group said:
“Despite UKOG chairman Stephen Sanderson accusing us of being a ‘scaremongering minority’, objectors to the extension far outnumbered the two supporters present and four UKOG employees who left by the back door after the meeting.
“We were reasonable, rational and peaceful, and our concerns over water contamination and increased traffic on our roads need to be listened to not ignored “
Brenda Pollack, South East Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said:
“This is bad news for local people and bad news for our environment.
“Local residents have many concerns about the risks of these operations and have said loud and clear that they don’t want the oil industry on their doorstep.
“UKOG/KOGL must have been aware that the site should be restored by September 2017 – what’s the point of these conditions if they can so easily be overturned?
“We should leave climate-wrecking fossil fuels like oil in the ground – and develop cleaner alternatives instead.”
Keith Taylor, MEP for southern England, said:
“It’s utterly disheartening to see this permission for so-called unconventional fossil fuel extraction waved through against the wishes of local residents – who continue to loudly and resolutely say no.”
“What we have at Broadford Bridge is a proposal for a type of so-called acid-fracking – where hydrochloric acid is pumped into the ground to ‘stimulate’ the Kimmeridge limestone in the hopes of releasing oil. It’s a process not covered by the application councillors have today voted to extend.”
“Ultimately, even if the operation wasn’t so acutely dangerous and amounted only to ‘conventional’ oil extraction, the truth is that we must keep fossil fuels in the ground to have any hope of keeping global warming within to the 2-degree limit set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.”
“Today’s decision to approve this damaging application not only flies in the face of local public opinion but poses a serious threat to the environment and public health. As renewable energy in Britain continues to fall in price, it is clearer and more urgent than ever that we must reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.”
UK Oil & Gas Investments PLC, KOGL’s parent company, issued a statement to investors on 13 September 2017. Executive chairman, Stephen Sanderson, said:
“West Sussex’s unanimous approval of the extension is further recognition of the Company’s operational competence, sound environmental practices and positive engagement with all stakeholders. I look forward to a successful flow test outcome.”
Updated 14/9/2017 to include statement from Stephen Sanderson
Reporting on this meeting was made possible by the individual donations of DrillOrDrop readers