Opponents of Cuadrilla’s proposals to test its oil well at Balcombe in West Sussex have appealed to councillors to refuse planning permission when they meet tomorrow.
Members of West Sussex County Council’s planning committee will decide the company’s application at a meeting in Chichester in the morning.
A report by the council’s planning officer has recommended approval of the scheme. DrillOrDrop
In an open letter to the committee, the campaign group, No Fracking in Balcombe Society, has accused the officer of ignoring the opinion of local people. Open letter to councillors on the planning committee from NoFiBS
There were three months of protests when Cuadrilla drilled the Balcombe well in 2013. Since then there has been no work on the site.
The application to test the flow of oil in the well has attracted more than 2,700 objections and 11 comments in support.
The objections included concerns about potential air and water pollution, site traffic passing the village primary school, noise, and site lighting, which could disturb five species of bats that inhabit the site and adjoining ancient woodland.
A village poll in 2013 found that a majority of participants would oppose future applications by Cuadrilla, whether or not the company planned to frack.
Kathryn McWhirter, of No Fracking in Balcombe Society (NOFiBS), said:
“The planning officer in recommending approval has ignored the opinion of local people. It seems that whatever we say, and however many of us say it, we carry no weight.
“The planning officer appears not to have read our submissions. He appears not to understand the risks. Many of us have sacrificed our earnings to fight and research these issues over the last six years. The Balcombe community knows more about this subject than the planning officer, of that I am certain.”
In the letter to committee members, she said:
“I wonder to what extent councillors have read the people’s objections, and the hard-hitting objections from bodies such as the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA)? Or have they merely relied upon the planner’s report?
“I urge planning committee members to read this alternative view from Balcombe before the planning meeting. It contains some relevant new issues and contests some of the assertions in the planner’s report.”
Flaring and acidising
NoFiBS raised concerns about the impact of flaring at the site on air quality and what the group said were inadequate monitoring procedures.
The group also accused Cuadrilla of seeking to minimise its proposed operation. NoFiBS said the Kimmeridge limestone rock, which the company is seeking to explore, would “almost certainly not be able to flow at commercial rates without stimulation.”
“The Kimmeridge formations of the Weald are extreme because they are unconventional, tight, unyielding, extractable only by force and wasteful expenditure of energy, meanwhile despoiling our countryside, air, water and climate, and ruining our peace and happiness.”
Cuadrilla has said it does not plan to frack the well. Its application includes a technique known as acidising, which uses dilute acid to create pathways in surrounding rocks through which oil can flow.
“We recognise that they will not frack at this stage and suspect that they will sell on to another operator before the need to frack arises.”
It rejected Cuadrilla’s description of the well as “conventional” and the assertion that oil would flow from the naturally-fractured target rock without serious stimulation.
The group also raised concerns about the acidising process:
“This shares many of the risks of fracking. The planning officer likens the acidising of this hydrocarbon well to acidising water wells. This is nonsense, as water engineers have confirmed to us.
“Cuadrilla in our view seeks to falsely minimise the toxicity of their acidising fluid and returned wastewaters as ‘salty water’. There is ample international evidence of well failure and water contamination via oil wells. Given that no groundwater permit is to be issued to adequately assess and minimise inputs of pollutants to groundwater, it is unclear how the council can conclude that such risks and impacts have been adequately addressed.”
Call for limit on permission
Cuadrilla is seeking a two-year planning permission, giving it until January 2020 to complete work at the Balcombe site.
NoFiBS said under the terms of the exploration licence, flow testing must be completed more than six months earlier, by June 2019. The group said permission, if it were granted, should be for a duration of 18 months and operations limited to the months of November to February to avoid disturbing local wildlife.
The group also said the council should ask for more details on Cuadrilla’s measures designed to prevent contamination of soil and water.
Local teacher, Helen Savage, who will speak against the application, said:
“We are very concerned about the emissions from the increased number of HGVs that will pass our school if this application is permitted. The fence separating the school from the road is immediately above an area used as an open classroom, in front of the main school building. So the road down which HGVs pass is 2.1 metres from this outdoor classroom area, which is in daily use.”
Balcombe resident, John Scates, a former Director of International Affairs at the CBI, who is also speaking at the meeting, said:
“So many details of this application are imprecise, from the unclear design and size of the proposed new flare to the fact that the Environment Agency has not considered several of the most toxic gases produced.
“The Environment Agency’s Mining Waste Permit specifically requires monitoring and mitigation of air emissions, yet their response to this application contains no comment on the lack of proper monitoring and mitigation. The top of the flare is below the level of our village, and toxic emissions will be carried towards us on the prevailing wind.”
In advance of the meeting, a Cuadrilla spokesperson said:
“Cuadrilla was granted planning permission for the site in May 2014 to flow test and monitor the exploration well, which was drilled in the summer of 2013, however this permission has now expired.
“We were unable to undertake the permitted exploration well testing works within the allocated time, primarily due to the length of time and resource it has required for us to commence operational activities in our Lancashire exploration licence area. There were also changes to the environmental permitting requirements for the Lower Stumble site which required assessment.
“The new planning application covers the same scope of work as the previous permission: a flow test of the existing exploration well followed by plugging the well with cement, and fully restoring the site. The well at Lower Stumble requires no hydraulic fracturing because the rock is naturally fractured.”
Matt Lambert, Cuadrilla’s director of government and public affairs, will speak in favour of the application at tomorrow’s committee.
As well as Ms Savage and Mr Scates, the meeting will also hear opposition to the application from a member of Balcombe Parish Council.
DrillOrDrop will be reporting from the meeting, which begins at 10.30am and is expected to last until about 1pm.
Attendance at the meeting is by ticket only but it will be webcast at https://westsussex.public-i.tv/core/portal/home