Surrey councillors approve extra drilling and testing at Horse Hill oil site


Flow testing at Horse Hill. Photo: Eddie Mitchell

Live updates from Surrey County Council planning meeting to discuss plans to drill two new wells at the Horse Hill oil exploration site and test these and the existing well. These reports have been made possible by individual donations to DrillOrDrop.

The meeting, at County Hall in Kingston, is expected to hear from representatives and consultants of the site operator, Horse Hill Developments Ltd, as well as local people opposed to the plans.

The application also seeks to install security fencing in an extended area of the site, modify the access road and install plant, cabins and equipment. Planning officers have recommended approval of the scheme with more than 30 conditions.

Images below  are taken from the Surrey County Council webcast of the meeting.

Committee decision


Eight councillors vote in favour of the plan. Two councillors abstain.

Planning officer comments

Duncan Evans

The application is for 3 years to carry out extended well testing of the Horse Hill-1 well drilled in 2014. It also seeks to drill and test two further wells.

The site would operate 24-hours a day during drilling and extended well testing. The workover rig would measure 32m and the drilling rig 37m.

The site would be restored at the end of the application.

650 letters were received, of which about 300 were in support. Concerns included traffic problems, impact of protesters, impact on the landscape, noise and lighting, air and water pollution.

There had been no objections from statutory agencies or consultees, he says.

He says it is not inappropriate development in the green belt as long as it preserves openness. It will be restored at the end of three years, he says.

Presentations for the applicant

Stephen Sanderson01KingstonHHSanderson2

Mr Sanderson, the Executive Chairman of UK Oil and Gas Investments plc, says the company has demonstrated at Broadford Bridge is committed to safeguarding the environment. It will adhere to the same policies and practices at Horse Hill.

“We will adhere to use non-toxic biodegradable drilling muds”

You shouuld gain comfort from the grant of a full EA permit for all aspects of our development

No statutory consultees have objected to our operation.”

He says the company is proud of its public engagement. It will use the same level of transparency with the Horse Hill.

The oil discovery at Horse Hill and Broadford Bridge is part of the same source and of national importance.

The precedence for drilling was established with the grant of permission at Horse Hill for the first well, he says.

Matt Cartwright01KingsgtonHHMax COO

Mr Cartwright, chief operating officer for UK Oil and Gas Investments, says he is responsible for day-day operations at Horse Hill.

He says the drilling at Horse Hill was regulatory compliant. He says the same team at Broadford Bridge would be used at Horse Hill.

The company would install a viewing platform. People would be invited to visit the site.

Noise and lighting would be controlled, he says.

Police had limited the impact of protester activity.

The Environment Agency had approved the operation in an environmental permit

Gareth Wilson, planning consultant for Horse Hill Developments Ltd01KingsotonHHplanning agent Gareth

Mr Wilson, the planning consultant for the applicant, says the planning committee should give great weight to the benefit of hydrocarbon production.

The application is for conventional o9l production, he says.

“Rubbish”, say members of the public gallery.

The site has been carefully chosen to minimise impacts, he says.

Mr Wilson says:

The applicant is committed to developing long-term relations with the community”

There is laughter from the public gallery.

The application is in accordance with national planning policy. He asks the committee to grant permission.

Presentations from opponents of the application01KingstonHHJane

Jane Shepherd, opponent

Ms Shepherd, a local resident, questions the accuracy of the flow test results on the Horse Hill well, conducted last year.

She quotes the executive chairman of UKOG, Stephen Sanderson, who said that to be commercially viable wells would need to be drilled back to back across the Weald basin.

“This proliferation of wells and industrialisation of the countryside contravenes Reigate and Banstead’s minerals and waste policy.”

She says the proposal also goes against the Paris Climate Change agreement to reduce carbon emissions and the use of fossil fuels. She says national planning policy states that all developments should be based on sustainability.

Ms Shepherd says she also objects to the application because the site is near a geological fault. If water, acid and sand are injected under high pressure into unstable rock the potential for earthquakes and subsidence is alarming, she says.

She is particularly concerned about the site’s proximity to Gatwick Airport. She asks:

“Has the council requested a geological survey of the area?”

She concludes:

“I strongly urge the committee not to recommend this application.”

David Bruml, opponent


Mr Bruml asks the committee to focus on the importance of groundwater and the duty to protect them.

“Water is clearly put at risk by these new and invasive and destructive techniques

“Once the land is drilled and fractured … it is too late.”

He says groundwater should be treated not as a commercial product but as a heritage that should be defended.

Waters in the community are under increasing pressure, he says, quoting other drilling projects nearby.

“There is no data on groundwater flows in the area. The groundwater has the potential to interact with several surface or near surface aquifers.”

Mr Bruml refers to a recent statement that UKOG, one of the partners in the Horse Hill well, had problems with the cement seal on its borehole at Broadford Bridge. This created the risk of a pathway for contaminants from the well to groundwater, he says

“There is no effective seal”.

Mr Bruml adds that the Horse Hill site is in the catchment of the River Mole, which then flows into the Thames.

“I fail to comprehend with the proximity of so much water that this could possibly be considered an acceptable risk, especially in an area of aquifers and springs.”

He describes the dismissal in the application of any threat to deep waters as “dismissive” and arrogant”. To applause, he says:

“I call for a moratorium on all deep oil drilling in the Weald while a public inquiry is held to assess the water risks by this new type of operation”.

He urges the committee to act in the interests of local residents now and in the future and reject the application.

asks the committee to reject the application. He says he is now considering moving away from the area that he has made his home.

Lisa Scott, opponent01KingstonLisaScott

Ms Scott, who lives one mile from the Horse Hill well site, says she previously worked in a laboratory where she occasionally accidentally inhaled solvents.

“You knew it had happened because you got a taste sensation on the back of the tongue.

“I experienced this again last year.”

She explains how this happened in February 2016 when unannounced flow testing was taking place at Horse Hill.  She was on a training run for a 600km bike ride, She was using a footpath alongside the Horse Hill site.

I had a mild burning sensation at the back of my throat and a persistent cough.

This happened three times during her run.

“I felt I was at risk of losing consciousness

“I actually stopped to walk because I felt I was at risk of falling into the road.”

She said her GP confirmed there was inflammation in the back of her throat but no sign of infection.

“Also during the period of flow testing, my daughter had a nose bleed for the first time in seven years and both my partner suffered several headaches.”

Ms Scott quoted David Lenigas, a former shareholder in the well, who said in an interview published yesterday, “Horse Hill’s a real bitch to get moving. “

She questioned whether, in an attempt to impress shareholders, too much acid had been used and was vented into the atmosphere.

Ms Scott says she  reported the incident to the Environment Agency but it did not attend until the following day and it took no air samples..

The footpath is now no longer accessible because of fencing at the site, representing a loss of amenity to local people.

She adds that were inconsistencies in the application documents, including the volume of acid to be used in the well.

“If they cannot do simple maths how can they be trusted to carry out the pioneering drilling operation they propose.”

She describes the estimated radius of 2m that the acid will travel from the well as excessive for cleaning, she says..

She says the proposed traffic management scheme gives “no consideration to other road users”, or the fact that the lorry route is on the Surrey cycle way. It also fails to  address questions raised by the county highways authority.

Melissa Moore opponent of the scheme

01KingstonPublicSpkr1Ms Moore, a local resident, says when flow testing was carried out at Horse Hill, horses at a local riding centre had respiratory problems and local people reported nausea and nose bleeds.

“Heavy knows what the long term effects are”.

Ms Moore says the executive chairman of UK Oil and Gas, Stephen Sanderson, told an interviewer ‘It is a very complex scientific and technical geological issue. It is not actually well understood in the industry itself. It’s still very new. The people who really understand these things are in the United States. … The flow comes from a rock unit that has never been tested before so this is a first.”

Ms Moore tells the committee:

“We the local residents and business owners of the Weald are not willing to be an experiment.”

She says US research has shown proximity to drilling sites is linked to increased asthma and other breathing problems, increased hospital admissions for neurological and cardiac conditions, as well as greater incidence of some skin conditions, and neurological problems, increased chance of premature birth high blood pressure, depression, heart disease and learning disabilities.

“We the residents and businesses in the Weald are not willing to be an experiment.”

“Please save our green belt, the lungs of the south.”

She urges the committee:

“Do your research before making your decision I implore you.”

Session begins

Committee begins discussion of application by Horse Hill Developments Ltd for drilling and flow testing at the Horse Hill site, near Gatwick Airport

Vote corrected from 7-2 in favour to 8-2

Categories: Regulation

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14 replies »

    • Nope. Never had any problems with throat irritation or coughing either on any acid washes I’ve been on. Any unspent acid is diverted to a separate tank and treated with Alkali until the pH is neutral – usually only takes a few minutes.

  1. Passed without anyone voting against-(cheers from near and far,away from the gallery-those of us not hoarse from walking past a stables where the antisocial owners think it fine to burn the waste produced from their horses. Try getting the EA to control that.) I’ll take a well site on my boundary any day versus a stables.

  2. Bit ironic isn’t it, that many of the “locals” will regularly jump on a plane at Gatwick to go on holiday, or want their Kenyan string beans delivered by airfreight in mid winter? And then think it quite acceptable that the fuel for these journeys is processed at Fawley from imported oil, with all the marine pollution risks, the supply insecurity and the dubious regimes they may be supporting as a result. Funny old world.

    • A lot ironic that those who don’t think it is acceptable to buy gas from Norway or employ British workers in UK LNG terminals drive round in foreign made cars and fill their houses with Chinese products. Odd logic unless you drive round in an old morris marina and refuse all things made in China.

      • It’s perfectly acceptable to buy Gas from Norway – they just don’t have enough to meet our requirements, hence why we also have to import from Russia (unreliable), Qatar (political problems) and the USA (which is Shale Gas..).

        I’m all for employing British workers in LNG plants – I’d just rather that the LNG came from the UK and not from Shale Gas Wells in the USA….

  3. It was disappointing that three of the four speakers against clearly still believed that the HH Wells were going to be frac’d. Some of the audience also still believe it, as evidenced by their outbursts when one of the speakers for categorically stated (yet again) that Frac’ing wouldn’t be used.

    The Wells at HH couldn’t be frac’d, even if UKOG wanted to. You cannot frac a formation that is already naturally fractured – it’s like trying to fill a bucket that is already riddled with holes.

    It appears that Mr. Bruml is unaware that ‘deep drilling’ in the Weald has been going on for several decades and several hundred Wells have already been drilled without any issues. As for his comment that there is no data on ground water flows in the area – I’m sure that will come as a surprise to the water authorities…. His claim that the cementing issue with the Liner on BB-1z means there is no effective seal is also completely wrong.

  4. John-this is an oil exploration site, Fawley is an oil refinery. I think you are a bit confused between the Weald and Lancashire.

    But, continuing your strange point John-how do you pay for all this imported “stuff” when you want to preclude tax income from UK produce?

    Let’s try the maths from the nursery. One barrel of oil from overseas equals $55/barrel, or so, plus a relatively high transport cost. Replacement barrel of oil from the Weald, still the $55/barrel, but less transport cost to the refinery. BUT the UK barrel provides a UK generated profit, therefore UK tax income from that profit plus taxation from the employees employed in the UK. Perhaps that UK taxation can then be utilised to help our own industries survive and thrive eg. steel, instead of Chinese-or more topical, a new car factory (Ineos) building the majority of their products for export-to China etc. (But probably not from within Mr. Skinner’s constituency!)

    By the way, just a small piece of extra information. Southampton Port exports most of it’s output to non UK destinations, under WTO rules and without any problems with customs backlogs. Why? It is a privately owned port. Managed by people who make things work, rather than stop things. (I remember costing a pallet to Vietnam from the UK. Cheaper transport costs than to Cornwall! Don’t tell the Remoaners.)

    Southampton Port never looked back since the Newbury by-pass rolled over Swampy. (The A303 next. Once that is done air ambulance costs should be reduced hugely.)

    Always a lesson from history.

    Maybe forget interconnectors and rebuild Pluto? Think I would prefer the risk of a little oil spill rather than a French Chernobyl. (Portugese smoke in the air in Hampshire in the last couple of days-makes you think.)

  5. What is very clear from the UKOG preliminary results from Broadford Bridge is that they are testing zones which DO NOT have enough natural fracturing to flow without STIMULATION OUTSIDE OF THEIR PERMIT.
    This permit allows them to use a large quantity of PROTEKT15plus acid mix (look up the ingredients) at pressure.

    The logical conclusion is that the only way to make those Kimmeridge zones commercially viable is to induce fractures.

    The current UK legal definition of “fracking” uses volume limitation (rather than pressure used or formation targeted) to define “fracking”.

    What is known as “acid frack” in much of the rest of the world, would seem to be the logical next step in these deeper shale-dominated Kimmeridge zones.

    In my opinion, the word “frack” has every right to be used in the context of Horse Hill and in any other well where these zones are being tested.

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