Disputed Brockham sidetrack well highlights “discrepancies” over oil and gas rules – Surrey planner


Brockham oil site, January 2017. Photo: Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

Regulations covering oil and gas developments are confusing and misleading and there are discrepancies between different agencies, a senior Surrey planner has said.

The comments come in a report about a sidetrack well drilled by Angus Energy at its Brockham oil site near Dorking last year (2017). Link to report (see p48)

Surrey County Council told Angus it did not have planning permission to drill new wells or sidetracks at Brockham. Despite this, the company received consents for the work from two other regulators and went ahead with drilling.

The report, titled Enforcement and Monitoring Update, said:

“This unauthorised development has highlighted discrepancies between the legislators of the oil and gas industry, as permits for the drilling of a new sidetrack were issued by both the Environment Agency and the Oil & Gas Authority, and their legislative requirements do not require planning permission to be in place before they are issued.

“Whilst perfectly understandable in terms of legislation, it makes it somewhat confusing and at times misleading for both those involved and those monitoring such development.”

The report, by the council’s planning development control team manager, is expected to be discussed at the committee’s meeting on Wednesday 21 March 2018. Link to meeting agenda

It traces the dispute over the sidetrack back to September 2016. At that time, the report said, Angus Energy asked the county planning authority for the go-ahead to do maintenance, known as a workover, at one of three wells at Brockham.

“They [Angus] were subsequently advised that the proposed work would be covered under existing maintenance agreements, but that the drilling of any new wells, including sidetracks, plus the testing or production from wells not already authorised, would not be permitted.”

Opponents of Angus’s operation monitored the site and reported 24-hour working to the council. Angus said night working was needed because it had detected the presence of hydrocarbons in the well called BRX4.

Brockham night working Brockham Protection Camp

Night working at Brockham in January 2017. Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

The report continued:

“officers relayed this information to the Health & Safety Executive, and on the basis of good practise it was considered reasonable to allow the night working for a period of one week to provide a safe environment for those working on site whilst the work-over was completed.”

The report said:

“It subsequently transpired that a sidetrack had in fact been drilled.”

Angus Energy consistently argued that it had planning permission for the sidetrack, while the council said it did not. Both sides said they consulted barristers who supported their opinion.

The report added:

“We have encouraged the submission of a retrospective planning application to regularise the unauthorised drilling of the sidetrack as well as the required testing of oil from the sidetrack, which Angus Energy’s planning consultant has agreed would be done.”

The application, part of which covers the sidetrack drilling, was published online earlier this month. It has been scheduled to be decided by the 23 May meeting of Surrey’s planning committee. DrillOrDrop report

Other consents at Brockham

161114 EA permit for Brockham sidetrack

Extract from Angus Energy Regulation News Service of 14 November 2016

Angus Energy reported on 14 November 2016 that it had received permission from the Environment Agency (EA) to drill the sidetrack at Brockham. In a statement to investors, the company said it would seek consents from the Health and Safety Executive and Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) for the same well.

Operators are recommended to submit planning applications at the same time as they apply for an environmental permit. But oil and gas sites are not covered by rules which require planning permission to be in place before the EA can issue an environmental permit.

A month after the EA issued the environmental permit, Angus reported it was:

“pleased to announce that it has today received the final approvals required from the UK Government Oil and Gas Authority’s (“OGA”) and the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) to commence the work on the BR-X4Z well on UK onshore Production Licence PL 235. The rig is now on site and has started work on the approved program.” (15 December 2016)

A government document, issued in December 2015, says the OGA

“may provide consent to drill once the operator has:

“Secured planning permission from the MPA/LPA [Mineral Planning Authority/Local Planning Authority

“Discharged any relevant conditions placed on the planning permission by the MPA/LPA.”

The OGA, in its Consolidated Onshore Guidance, says companies that apply to it for consent to drill a well or a sidetrack are required to provide:

“A Board letter confirming availability of planning permission and indication of on-going planning disputes”.

In the Brockham case, the OGA said in response to a Freedom of Information request that it relied on a letter from Surrey County Council to Angus as confirmation that planning permission was in place.

This letter said that new boreholes, including new sidetrack boreholes into different geological formations would not be covered by existing planning permissions.

8 replies »

  1. SCC send letter to Angus Energy stating no new permission required.

    OGA review said letter and provide approval to drill the sidetrack.

    Angus Energy drill the sidetrack.

    Did SCC obtain planning permission for the hole they dug themselves?

  2. [Edited by moderator] As you know the SCC has not provided anyone with any legal foundation or their “QC OPINION” to anyone. IN fact it is the only document that has not been leaked to you. [Edited by moderator] SHOW US THE SCC QC opinion. [Edited by moderator]

  3. So, the choreographing for the kiss and make up is underway. Hardly surprising, hardly news (no disrespect Ruth-I know it is of interest to some).
    Perhaps when it is all over and done with SCC can get on with balancing their books, and let businesses in their area get on with the same?

  4. Yes, I did. I also understand the facts. The sidetrack was not drilled to new depths nor new formations not previously drilled hence no new permission required, per SCC’s letter. It’s how AE, the OGA and Queen’s Counsel interpreted SCC’s advice. Perhaps their letter was badly written and didn’t accurately reflect their position, but who is to blame for that?

    • Fascinating that an industry so desperate to misuse the secret courts to get rulings seeking injunctions that intend to contravene basic human rights issues, suddenly complain and object to a QC rulings just because it doesn’t go their way?

      Also that an industry so desperate to claim gold standard regulations scream foul when planning conditions to strictly control planning permissions simply state that work cannot be done without the correctly observed attributable planning permission and approval?

      The simple truth appears to be that planning permissions and gold standard regulations are great to wave around to claim such regulations are the best in the world?

      However, when the least little enforceable adjudication actually does emerge contrary to operators attempts to run rough shod over the whole process suddenly it’s all screams of outrage and indignation?

      Then we get such screams of rage and abuse that conditions actually do operate in the way that they were intended and are supposed to be supported by the onshore ohandgee industry and it’s hired multiple PR team proponents?

      There is a word for that, and it is hypocrisy.

      In the words of a poster we all have the deepest respect for, “suck it up” or rather, in this case, you can’t suck it up without properly regulated and adjudicated legal planning permission?

  5. What utter twaddle. you have two government Agency,s both of who read the letter from the SCC & both interpret as saying no further planning was needed. so long as they did not drill any new geology. if that is not what the SCC meant to say. then who,s fault is that.

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