Angus accused of betraying trust and misleading councillors over Brockham oil site

Brockham well Brockham Protection Site

Brockham oil site in winter 2016/2017. Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

The oil company, Angus Energy, faced criticism this morning from county councillors in Surrey over its operations at the Brockham oil site near Dorking.

The company was accused at a meeting of the council’s planning committee of confused communication, betrayal of trust and misleading statements.

The comments centred on a sidetrack well drilled in January 2017.

At the time, Angus said it was carrying out maintenance work on the existing wells at Brockham. But it later said it had drilled a new sidetrack and that this, along with future production from it, was covered by an existing planning consent.

The council refutes this. In a recent letter to the Oil and Gas Authority, planners have confirmed that both drilling and production from the new well need new permissions (DrillOrDrop report).

jonathan essexCllr Jonathan Essex told today’s committee:

“They [Angus] have not just been not telling us what has been going on, they have been misleading us.”

The committee was discussing a separate retrospective application, made by Angus, for buildings, equipment and fencing that had already been installed at the Brockham site.

Cllr Essex said the council had trusted Angus to tell it, in advance, if it wanted to do anything at the site.

“My understanding is that this trust was broken. The company didn’t come forward and tell us what it was doing on site and that’s why they’re required to make this application now.

“They have not just broken our trust once. They have broken it twice. They have broken it once in terms of this, which was a minor piece of work which was above ground so we could see it. But also, they broke our trust by, in secret, drilling 3km underground.”

Surrey County Council

Surrey County Council. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Jeff HarrisCllr Jeff Harris said:

“They [Angus] are actually going ahead with work and asking for permission afterwards to see how far they can push it.”

He added

“This [retrospective application] is a simple issue. But behind it there is an awful lot more. If we do not explore every single thing about this we are failing in our duty”.

Helyn ClackCllr Helyn Clack, who represents Brockham, said villagers were concerned about the dispute over the well.

She said a decision on the retrospective application should be deferred until the dispute over the sidetrack was settled.

“I am concerned that if we go ahead today with this planning application we might be weakening the situation in the future for exploration applications for explorations in the future, not just at Brockham but at other sites in the area.”

Stephen CookseyCllr Stephen Cooksey said:

“We are not sure whether this development is there to service what is already onsite or whether it is there to service the new development, the sidetrack BRX4z, on which we are still waiting for the application.

“Until we get an application for that site we really should not be approving this application because it may well allow the development on the site without our permission.”

An unnamed member of the public told the committee the sidetrack was the only well that would allow Angus to produce oil from the Kimmeridge limestone formation.

“The buildings that are the subject of this application are meant to support production from a well drilled without permission and which is not permitted for production.

“We have a company that clearly cannot be trusted to operate within a regulatory framework that is catching up with the new technology.”

Bernie MuirSome members of the committee had been on a recent visit to the Brockham site. In an environmental permit application, the company has said it wants to use acid to stimulate the flow of oil through the sidetrack well.

But one councillor, Bernie Muir (left), said what they heard on the visit did not always “relate to what was actually happening”.

“I asked specific questions about how the oil was being extracted and was led to believe that it was straightforward water injection.

“In fact, it is not straightforward water injection. I was interested that they didn’t come forward and actually say that at the time because acidisation is a very different process.”

Natalie bramhallCllr Natalie Bramhall said committee members were elected by residents, not an oil company.

She said:

“If this company has not submitted an application [for the sidetrack] or had pre-application talks with officers maybe we should take enforcement action.”

The council’s development control manager, Alan Stones, said:

“Discussions are ongoing at present in respect of other applications in terms of this site. Early stages but I am hopeful that things would move forward and are sensibly resolved.”

Angus Energy has repeatedly said that the council has not responded formally to its view that planning permission was not needed. On its website it recently added:

“It is important to note that after 5 months, not only has the Surrey County Council never informed Angus Energy of any non-compliance or breach of planning permission.”

Tim hallBut the planning committee’s chair, Tim Hall, appeared to refute this today:

“They [Angus] know full well what we think.

“We have legal counsel’s opinion which says there needs to be an application. We have communicated that to Angus Energy. They know our position full well.”

Planners had recommended approval of the retrospective application. Mr Stone said accusations of misleading information or deceit were not grounds for refusal. Cllr Ernest Mallett warned that Angus Energy could appeal against a deferral and costs could be awarded against the council.

The committee voted by nine votes to two to grant retrospective planning permission for the buildings, fencing and equipment. A note is to be added to the decision document that Angus Energy should “engage with local people” on plans for the site. Mr Stones said this could deal with communication issues.

The decision notice will also include a note that the permission does not apply to the sidetrack.

The community group, Brockham Oil Watch, which has opposed Angus Energy’s activities at the site, said this was unenforceable.

“Who is going to monitor whether the staff using the toilet or the office are working on the existing wells or the new sidetrack?”

Angus Energy did not address the committee. It has posted a Q&A on its website about the Brockham dispute (link here). DrillOrDrop has offered the company a guest post to put its views.

Reporting on this planning meeting was made possible by individual donations to DrillOrDrop


52 replies »

  1. Voted 9:2 to grant. So much fuss, yet they pass. Only thing it proves is we have become a society that delights in whinging rather than doing.
    If it ended up 6:5 I could understand it-but 9:2! Stop the whinging, take the decision quickly and move on to something else and who knows, UK productivity may actually increase as a result.

    • A side-track is a planned deviation from a previously drilled section of the wellbore. HSE will be notified of a side-track as it is a ‘material change’ as set out in the Borehole Sites and Operations Regulations 1995.

      Side tracks and deviations are given separate well identification numbers.

      A ‘material change’ means that the operation has changed from the original proposals. There is now new considerations on well integrity and plug and abandonment.

      A new planning application has to be submitted.

      • John,

        A planned side-track will have all the required approvals in place in advance of commencing operations.

        However, a side-track is not necessarily planned in advance.

        For example, if the drill-string parts and the bottom section cannot be recovered, it will be cemented in place and the hole side-tracked around it.

        Similarly, on Broadford Bridge-1 a side-track was not part of the original well plan. When it was realised that hole conditions (i.e. a wash-out) would likely prevent the casing getting to bottom, a side-track was required. The old hole was cemented off and a replacement section drilled and cased off.

        In the instance of an unplanned side-track, how the old section of hole is to be isolated, the well kicked off and it’s new path have to be notified to, and approved by, the HSE.

        The side-track is usually, but not necessarily, given a new identification number (which would normally be z). It depends how much hole has been drilled, what formations have been penetrated and what (if any) evaluation information has been obtained (e.g. cores, E-logs).

        As the side-track was unplanned, it is not changing the original objectives of the Well and results in no change in the original well integrity or suspension / P&A requirements. Therefore no new planning application is required.

        • Injuneer
          I think the best read is the letter from the Angus Solicitor to the SCC Planning Development Manager Dated 3 April 2017.

          The gist is that it is not the role of the planning system to duplicate controls which are the statutory responsibility of other bodies. In addition, other sidetracks have been drilled on the site in the past, with the full knowledge ( it is believed) without the need for additional planning permission. I do not know how competent SCC was in these matters, so it’s hard to say if they had full knowledge in the past.

          So, anti hydrocarbons in the uk seek to bog down developments, as per past attempts and the oil industry is keen to hold the line. Off to court maybe.

          The letter is available on http://www.whatdotheyknow request 403105.

          If anyone out there knows of an operator who has had to apply for planning permission for a sidetrack, it would be interesting i guess.

          • Hi Hewes,

            Exactly. Even when I was drilling some Wells Onshore the UK back in the 1980’s and early 90’s, it was a nightmare in trying to reconcile all the different requirements of the different regulatory bodies involved.

            The bottom line is, what goes on below ground level is essentially outside the remit of SCC.

            If the HSE / OGA were concerned about the suitability of Angus as an Operator, they would have pulled the permit for the Lidsey Well.

  2. This is for some office blocks and toilets haha the real crunch will come with the application for the side track , if they apply for that permission they leave themselves in the position of having influenced share prices by saying they had all permissions in place when they clearly didnt , why would they not just apply for retrospective PP before now if this is not the case ? They [Edited by moderator] will have to answer at some point.

  3. Excellent report Ruth, this comment was interesting and has some interesting implications about honesty and the apparent immunity proposed by the planners, That AI is what i would term “owned”:
    “Planners had recommended approval of the retrospective application. Mr Stone said accusations of misleading information or deceit were not grounds for refusal. Cllr Ernest Mallett warned that Angus Energy could appeal against a deferral and costs could be awarded against the council.”
    Something rotten in the police state of England?

  4. I’m missing something here. It was widely known that Angus were going to drill a side-track and they had approval from the OGA & HSE to do so.

    The aspects of the drilling program that go on below ground level is really nothing to do with SCC, that’s for the OGA & HSE to decide if what Angus proposed to do was acceptable.

    SCC’s remit is essentially to look at what is happening above ground level and make judgments on applications w.r.t.that.

    • Wrong, the OGA & HSE oversee design, technique and safety. The local planning authority oversees and grants permission for development, this covers noise, traffic, duration, scale and so forth. I assume you can’t drill a lateral without surface noise and activity and it increasing the scale of development? Therefore planning consent is required. One would assume this company has access to professional advisors so no excuse for disregarding the planning authority and due process. It is far more difficult to refuse a retrospective planning permission but I hope they do. This will hardly embody trust.

  5. If it is all as clear cut as Angus state, why then have they not applied for retrospective planning. Untruths to council, and community. Why should their investors take them seriously , as they obviously wouldn’t know the truth if it were in front of them. A good way to pump up their share price methinks . Transparency is of the utmost importance, and it seems Angus are incapable of this …

  6. Angus also denied drilling from day one even when asked by SCC , they used a story about a hydrocarbon leak to gain 24/7 planning permission to fix it then used the time to drill 3 km side track , they could have queried with SCC at the time if there was any confusion , they didn’t so they must now face the consequences , when SCC talk about an enforcement order they don’t do it without reason. Obviously investors will say it is all petty and irrelevant , we will see what happens next but come on 6 months without any more work , if all was so simple why aren’t they in production now? I would be very worried if I was invested.

  7. I would check their share price John-most Angus investors are making a lot of money. Worried? Well, investors always worry-unless they are Warren Buffet. You might also look at Angus financials and when Lidsey will be in production and the estimated value to the company.

    You seem to be hedging your bets-9.54pm “well”, 10.01pm “side track”. Keep it going John, I am not sure if you are that confused, or you think others will be by your comments, but I think this is beyond the stage where that sort of confusion will gain any traction.

  8. Yes, KatT, and their professional advisers have confirmed what they did was perfectly OK and fully authorised. Some in SCC seem to have a different opinion, although I understand they have been somewhat reluctant to clarify that formally to Angus.

    • liuseniuk
      The advisors, if that is Queens Council (QC) will be as competent and professional for one as the other.
      That they have given different advice is a good clue as to how they work and that there is some doubt both ways.

      Either way, they will both be well paid, billing by the minute as they do ( and best to listen closely as they speak ).

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