People who want to comment on plans for oil exploration in Balcombe – the West Sussex village at the centre of anti-fracking protests in 2013 – have two more days to submit their views.
The oil and gas company, Cuadrilla, has submitted a planning application to test the flow of oil in the well drilled at the Little Stumble exploration site four years ago.
A public consultation by West Sussex County Council runs until Thursday 30 November 2017.
Cuadrilla’s application for the site in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is similar to one granted permission in 2014. That expired in September 2017 with no work carried out.
This time, the company stated it would apply for permission to begin production if the test results concluded that oil that could be viably extracted .
According to the environmental report which accompanied the application, Cuadrilla estimated site preparation for testing would take 4-6 days. The flow testing itself would take 7 days, pressure monitoring 60 days and plugging the borehole 8 weeks.
The report said the company would need 6-9 months to analyse the results of flow testing and pressure monitoring. Cuadrilla said:
“In the event that the assessment concludes that a future production phase would be commercially viable, then an additional 18 months would be required to apply for and secure the necessary planning, environmental permitting and other permissions required for production operations.”
At the time of writing, there were about just over 700 public comments on the council’s website, all but six of which were objections or raising concerns.
Balcombe Parish Council is meeting to discuss the application tomorrow (Wednesday 29 November 2017). It is expected to object on the basis of a poll carried out in the village in 2014. This found that 52% of respondents said the council should object to a future planning application that did not include fracking. 22% thought a future application should always be supported and 25% thought it should be judged on its merits.
Opponents of the application have raised concerns about Cuadrilla’s plans for acidising, as well as fears about industrialising the countryside, noise, traffic, the company’s finances, air and water pollution and impact on wildlife and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“West Sussex must refuse the plans”
Friends of the Earth has urged more people to object. Its south east campaigner, Brenda Pollack, said:
“This is in the heart of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. People come here to enjoy the beautiful countryside not to see and hear dirty oil operations.
“We know that burning fossil fuels contributes to dangerous climate change. West Sussex council must refuse the plans. Allowing companies to drill underground for ever more difficult to extract oil and gas reserves is bonkers when it won’t help keep polluting emissions down.
“They haven’t given any good reasons why they didn’t carry out this work within the three years allowed by the council so we see no reason to allow things to drag on now.”
Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association has also opposed the plans to reopen the well. It said:
“If Cuadrilla find oil here, they won’t be content with just this one Balcombe well. Indeed their licence obliges them to drill another well by 2021.
“Remember, Cuadrilla have leased the Lower Stumble site for 30 years, until 2043! It is likely to mean many more wells, all over our countryside, with new roads to service them, and pipelines built to carry the oil away.
“As one oil company CEO put it, we’ll have ‘back to back wells’ across the Weald. Yet our village voted “no” to oil exploration and production.”
Supporters of the application mentioned benefits including: the need to be self-sufficient in energy; benefits to employment and balance of payments; the low environmental and traffic impact of the plans; and Cuadrilla’s exploration experience.
Cuadrilla said in the application:
“It is in the wider public interest for the proposed works to be completed as it will improve knowledge of the hydrocarbon reservoir potential of the Lower Stumble geological formations.”