Regulator “won’t be seen” receiving 100,000+ petition on Surrey oil drilling

By Kathryn McWhirter

180313 petition Leith Hill

Community campaigners against drilling for oil near Leith Hill plan to hand a 100,000+-strong petition to the Environment Agency at a meeting this week in Dorking. But at a press conference yesterday, Environment Agency staff said they were not prepared to be seen receiving the petition.

An Environment Agency (EA) drop-in information meeting for local residents two weeks ago was cancelled because of snow. The meeting will now take place on Thursday (15 March) at Dorking Halls and residents plan to hand in the petition at about 7pm.

The petition calls on the EA to reject permit applications for the Bury Hill Wood site near Leith, arguing that the “potential water contamination risks are unacceptable2”

At the press conference, four EA staff would not give their names or job titles, nor would they allow recordings.

One EA spokesman said:

“We won’t be doing any media around this. We are not going to be photographed receiving the petition. They are welcome to give the petition to one of the security guards, who will give it to us.

“We welcome people who are passionate about the environment. But this meeting is about the local people. We appreciate that they have a petition from 100,000 people.

“But we have to protect the health and safety of our staff. It can’t be handed in to an identifiable individual.”

Update 17/03:  A representative of the Environment Agency did later agree to accept the petition – see Actors present 102,000+ signature petition

“Minded” to grant permits

The EA announced in mid-February that it was ‘minded’ to grant permits to Europa Oil and Gas for exploratory drilling at Bury Hill Wood in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A new public consultation on the EA’s draft decision has been extended until 29 March 2018.

A local resident commented at the press conference that much of the relevant information had been released by the EA only on February 18th when it announced that it was ‘minded’ to approve the permits. The resident said the EA had been asked to release information earlier so that people would have time to prepare their responses.

He said:

“The issue has now moved to a place from my perspective where we need to muster professional reports on the risks. And for that we need more time.”

An EA spokesman insisted that the Agency was following its standard approach for this kind of permit, that the statutory period for consultation was only 20 working days, and that they were not obliged to do a public consultation. It was voluntary.

The four EA representatives said they were not able to answer technical questions. They were asked about chemicals and proprietary mixes to be used, drilling into radioactive geology, type and sensitivity of air monitoring and whether two or three-dimensional seismic testing had been carried out in the area. But the media were told to submit these questions in writing because technical matters were handled by a separate team, they said.

The local resident commented that responses to written questions usually took weeks, and would not arrive before the new consultation deadline.

“Europa has minimised the risk to local water”

Despite ongoing concerns from the local water company about the drilling project, another spokesperson said the EA was satisfied that Europa ‘have minimised the risk of liquids transferring out of the well’.

The spokesperson said Europa had brought in new consultants to assess groundwater risks. The company would install above-specification groundwater monitoring, and had agreed to extend protective well tubing from 20 to 40 metres deep, past the aquifer.

Deviated (slanting) wells such as that proposed at Bury Hill Wood were especially prone to failure, commented a local freelance journalist.

An EA representative responded:

“In the first instance, we would trust in the Health and Safety Executive, to oversee well construction, in good faith. In the short term we would be carrying out normal checks. But another team investigates the lifetime integrity of wells.”

The Health and Safety Executive will be attending the public drop-in meeting on Thursday.

The EA was asked whether it was obliged to rubber stamp government policy? A staff member responded:

“We assess applications at face value. There is no obligation on us to say yes. We deal with what’s in the regulatory framework to the best of our ability.

“The initial application was for acid stimulation. We said no, and Europa agreed to cut it back to an acid wash.”

The EA was also asked whether at the next stage of operations it would expect a further application for acid stimulation. The reply was:

“We can only deal with a current application as it is.”

Asked how the EA would know whether the company was complying with the rules, the EA said:

“We will work very closely with the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority to ensure compliance.”

A local journalist asked what sanctions the EA could employ if  an operator ‘absent-mindedly’ stimulated a fracture or committed a similar breach of the rules.

“The EA and other bodies have the ability to record breaches, and if they reach a certain point we have the ability to take criminal action.

“We have a way of looking at breaches, assessing them in terms of public interest, environmental damage, the attitude of the offender, deciding whether we need to conduct a formal investigation, interviewing under caution, ultimately we can suspend a licence.

“The HSE have the real regulatory teeth. Ours is a bit more of a stepped process, it depends on the level of risk.”

The EA was also asked who in the organisation would make the final decision on the remaining permits at Bury Hill Wood. The representative said various working groups within the EA would get together “but this case will go to fairly senior level”.

Link to petition

Talk by David Smythe

After the EA meeting on Thursday 15 March, David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, Glasgow, will give a talk and Q&A on unconventional oil and gas in the Weald and beyond, with a focus on  Leith Hill. It is at the Friends Meeting House, Butter Hill, Dorking, RH4 2LE, 7.45pm-9.45pm. Tickets are free. To register

17/03 Post updated to report that Environment Agency representative did agree to accept the petition on the day





21 replies »

  1. I’m speechless, almost! This is for local people – yes indeed it is and it’s local people that activated this petition. I am local, I WANT MY VOICE HEARD!

  2. It’s telling how secretive and unapproachable EA staff are, and how little they want to reflect the concerns of local residents. Would you really trust the advice from someone who is paid as part of their job to talk to the public, but refuses to state their name or job title?
    The EA are clearly nothing more than an ‘enabling department’ of the Oil and Gas Industry, employed to smooth the way for this unwanted and destructive industry. Witness EA management appearing at the recent talk in Pickering – which should have only been for local residents – and voting in favour of fracking regulations (two of the only sixteen votes fracking apologist and spokesperson Kevin ‘not near my house’ Hollinrake received, as against nearly 400 against).
    We expect the oil and gas industry to speak in favour of fracking – but for an organisation that is supposed to be protecting our environment to be so clearly in the industry’s pocket is disgraceful.

    • “But we have to protect the health and safety of our staff. It can’t be handed in to an identifiable individual.”….just what do they believe of the corporate hype? – the clearly ‘aggressive’ protesters who would ‘target’ an individual! This is so sad. EA; you are public workers [note I do not use the colonial ‘servant’s]; your department should represent and trust in those you are there to represent. Move aside from the ‘Roman’ invasion from corporations; do your job.

      • Sherwulf
        The regulators do not represent the public.
        That is a position for elected bodies such as the parish council, the council, MP and so on.
        They no more represent the public than the police, HSEx, planners, council office cleaners ( if directly employed ), firemen etc.
        They are there to do a job as defined by their job description, and to enforce the relevant legislation in line with their powers and case law. The departments report to the government, being any government that turns up.

        This issue is not related to the O&G industry as here the EA have been accused of being the tool of a different industry ( bio digesters and pet food ).

        It may have been a setter idea to present the petition to the local Map or at the London office of the EA.

          • Sherwulfe
            Yes, they are a public body( I Agree). But that is not the issue.

            The EA inspectors are not at the meeting to represent the public , that is the job of those elected to do so (Inspectors are appointed, not elected), nor, when asked to consider a planning issue should they consider it only in the light of public opinion. Just as the planners (also working for a public body) have to judge it against the regulations. The concerns of the local residents should be taken into consideration, being concerns for and against any particular issue.

            They provide a public service, which is not the same.

            Other public bodies are the police, BBC, NHS, the fire service and so on. None of these represent the public, but they do provide a public service.

            If people do not like a decision that a public body has taken, then they can apply for a judicial review. Likewise public bodies have to be sure their decisions are taken in line with the relevant legislation. They can take into account local opinion vis a vis the existing review process, but their decision cannot go against the law.

            I personally think that heaping opprobrium on the EA is a b it of an own goal (for those who do it) as those I know have almost all come from university with an E degree or more, and care about the Environment. Many are against fracking. Why would you want to alienate them?

            Indeed, if they move to Scotland and work for SEPA, does that make them saints, warriors against the dirty frackers and in no ones pocket other than the SNP, just by moving house?

    • Ellie

      The EA staff are not there to represent the concerns of local residents ( be it for or against ) but to do the job as per their job description. The Parish council has that remit to some extent as does the next layer of the council and your MP.

      What regulators ( EA, HSE etc ) do is a matter of fact, but they are regulators, not people voted in by the public. They work for the government, and as such government policy has a bearing on what they are doing.

      This applies irrespective of the issue in hand, be it fracking, drilling for oil, rendering plants, wind farms, biodigestors, offshore oil and gas, etc etc.

      Likewise, the police are not there to represent the concerns of the local,poulation, but to enforce the law. They may listen to the concerns and take action based on them within their stated remit.

      Perhaps we should have a pro forma for this ..

      The ( enter dept ) is no more than an enabling department for ( enter industry ) employed to smooth the way for this unwanted ( by me ) and destructive industry.

      Better to hand in petitions to political representatives than regulators as regulators cannot change the law, and maybe better to vote as well.

    • As the Horndean oil field has been operating for 30 years I assume Portsmouth Water would have details of aquifer damage, run off, etc, if there had been any.

  3. You set the rules in Pickering now, Ellie?

    For a discussion to give benefit experts are required, whether they be local or not. At least the lead speaker for those supporting was local. How about the one leading those against?

    This site is becoming a fact free zone, and a home for whinging-without justification.

    • “This site is becoming a fact free zone, and a home for whinging-without justification.”

      Indeed Martin but I think they should still let you and Peeny carry on posting if only for the amusement value.

    • ‘This site is becoming a fact free zone, and a home for whinging-without justification.’ – MC, you could take your ‘whinging without justification’ and ‘fact free’ comments somewhere else and we could all get on with discussing important things….ooops here it is – the emoji 😉

  4. Even a complete idiot knows that our water would be polluted by drilling for oil at Leith Hill. When it happens, and by how much is the only question unanswered. So, investors and the oil industry will be complicit in the death of people and future generations.

    • Chris Crook

      I would point the complete idiot to the SES water quality report 2016, which explains how the water in the mains is treated before it gets to leave you tap. There are various things to look for and remove prior to it passing the stringent UK requirements.

      So, outwith concerns over the well, the water company stands between the consumer and existing contamination, and in all probability future contamination.

      Same up here in the North, where our aquifer is penetrated by over 100 oil wells and various mine shafts. So far no pollution, even though many were drilled during the Second World War …In a hurry!

      • So you are saying any pollution by the fracking operations will need to be cleaned up by the [private] water companies?

        • Sherwulf

          Yes – but for the following reasons, after a bit of context.


          The issue relates to the one Leith Hill well, which is conventional, and Europa have no plans to HPHV frack. It is about that well and that by polluting the water and therefore people will be …… ‘complicit in the death of people and future generations’.

          I took that as meaning it was the polluted water that was going to do this rather than anything else (an assumption on my part).

          In that respect whether there is any fracking or no is immaterial, if the drilling of the well is going to cause the damage, no matter how it is developed for production. So it is not dependant on it being drilled by a fracking company or any other company seeking oil and or gas.


          Outwith those getting their water directly from a well near that well, people get their water from a water company.
          That company extracts water, checks it, treats it and pops it into a water main to get to your tap.
          That company has a duty to ensure the water is potable, no matter who or how their sources are affected. What they cannot do is say, well, that arsenic (or lead, or chemicals etc) have appeared due to some act by a company / joe public or a public body, which was nothing to do with us. We have decided not to treat it, popped it in the mans and people are dying, but nothing to do with us Gov, although we know about it. That duty of care exists if the company is private and continues if they are nationalised (of course).

          Hence, outwith any discussion as to the probability of the aquifer being contaminated, there is a step in the process from aquifer (or reservoir) to human that would prevent the death of people and future generations from happening.

          Hence I think that to say there will be such deaths is not true.

          This applies not just to the potential well at Leith Hill, but to the existing wells in the Weald and for me the many wells, as noted in my past post, in the Bunter Sandstone (its old name) which is an aquifer used round here.
          If those wells leak into the aquifer (or any of the old mine shafts) then I fully expect the water company to know and to treat the water in an appropriate manner prior to popping it into the mains and hence into my tap.

          How that gets fixed is another issue and does stray into whether you think there will be HVHP fracking or not, the extent of the pollution and the capability of the aquifer to self heal.

          But up here, where we are riddled with old wells, all is OK, no one is dying, and no future generations plan to die from polluted aquifers by completely ignoring the present water treatment process.

          Off to Papplewick pumping station again soon to refresh my memory on how much we owe to those Victorian Engineers re clean water, and why it should not be taken for granted (and why our water is treated prior to us getting it)

  5. This action by the EA speaks volumes about the intimidation that employees of governing bodies or contractors have to face from elements within the anti oil and gas groups.

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