Oil company ordered to restore South Downs drilling site


Markwells Wood drilling site. Photo: DrillOrDrop

UK Oil and Gas, the company behind oil drilling projects across southern England, has been ordered to restore a site in the South Downs National Park where no exploration work has been done since 2011.

The well pad, at Markwells Wood, on the West Sussex-Hampshire border, has had no planning consent in place for 18 months.

Earlier this week, the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) sent the company a Breach of Condition Notice (BCN) ordering it to remove equipment and hard-standing from the site and restore it to woodland. If the company fails to comply it risks prosecution. link to enforcement website and link to notice (pdf)

Markwells Wood is one of three oil sites for which UKOG is seeking an injunction at the High Court on Monday (19 March 2018) against environmental protests (see DrillOrDrop report). Campaigners confirmed yesterday they would challenge the injunction.

The notice from the SDNPA has been welcomed by the Green Party’s MEP for south east England, Keith Taylor.

Planning condition


Markwells Wood drilling site. PHoto: DrillOrDrop

UKOG was granted an extension of planning permission for Markwells Wood in October 2015 until the end of September 2016.

A condition of the permission, number 2 of 26, required the well to be plugged and abandoned and the site restored by the expiry date of the planning permission.

In the BCN, issued on 14 March 2018, the national park authority said:

“The SDNPA considers that this condition has not been complied with for the following reason: the buildings, plant and machinery, including foundations, hard standings have not been removed from the site and the approved restoration has not been implemented.”

Markwells Wood BCN extract.pdf

Extract of the Breach of Condition Notice

The company is required to remove all buildings, plant and machinery, including foundations and plug and abandon the well by September 2018.

It is also required to restore the site to woodland by March 2019.

The notice also states it would be an offence not to carry out the required actions.

“You will then be at risk of immediate prosecution in the Magistrates’ Court, for which the maximum penalty is £1,000 for a first offence and for any subsequent offence.”


Protest against UKOG’s recent oil drilling and production plans. Photo: Markwells Wood Watch

Production plans

Just before the current Markwells Wood permission expired in September 2016, UKOG applied to drill five new wells and produce oil from four of them for 20 years. DrillOrDrop review and UKOG statement

The application was never decided because UKOG withdrew it in May 2017 after the Environment Agency said it would object. The agency, along with Portsmouth Water and the local campaign group, Markwells Wood Watch, had raised concerns about the risk of contamination to drinking water.

EA objection on Markwells Wood

Extract from Environment Agency objection to UKOG drilling and production plans

In October, UKOG wrote to the SDNPA that it was dropping the oil production plans and four of the new wells. It said it would submit a new application before the end of the year. Details  But this did not happen.

Multiple extensions of consent

Before this latest application, the Markwells Wood site has seen multiple extensions of planning consent given to various operators of the site.

The first permission was granted in January 2009. The well was drilled in November 2010 and tested in September 2011.

Since then the operators have carried out no exploration work but made four applications for extensions of planning permission: in March 2012, March 2013, March 2015 and September 2016. All were submitted just before the permission expiry date. DrillOrDrop timeline of activity at Markwells Wood

Residents “absolutely thrilled”

Ms Emily Mott, local resident, representing the campaign group, Markwells Wood Watch, said:

“We are absolutely thrilled that UKOG has been told to withdraw all their equipment and restore the site.   Markwells Wood is an ancient woodland in the middle of a National Park.  Our drinking water is some of the most pure in England and we want to keep it that way. We’re delighted that there is no right to appeal and we hope this is final.”

1803 Markwells Wood Watch Emily Mott

Markwells Wood Watch. Photo: Emily Mott

Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for south east England, said this afternoon:

“I’m delighted the South Downs National Park Authority has told UKOG to shut up shop at Markwells Wood once and for all. This is a welcome victory for the Green campaigners, local residents and anyone who cares about protecting our precious national parks.”

“Markwell’s Wood is a beautiful and unique habitat and with only 2% of Britain being covered by this important ancient woodland I am extremely happy that it is going to stay that way.”

“This victory would never have happened without the hard work of dedicated campaigners, like Markwells Wood Watch, who invested so much time and effort into exposing the huge ecological and water quality risks posed by UKOG’s proposals.”

“The triple threat of water supply contamination, wildlife and biodiversity loss, and local community and woodland tourism harm has now, thankfully, been averted.”

“It’s telling that UKOG, forced into retreat at Markwells Woods because its environmentally-destructive plans were scrutinised by local residents, is seeking a draconian and anti-democratic injunction to stop local people lawfully protesting against its operations in the South East. It smacks of a firm worried the ecologically-disastrous impacts of its other operations across the region are also about to be exposed.”

“Ultimately, Markwells Wood represents one small, but important, victory in a region-wide fight against oil and gas drilling plans that will see the beautiful South East countryside pock-marked with wells. New oil and gas drilling operations are an affront to local communities and a dangerous form of climate change.”

Yesterday, Unearthedthe investigative news section of Greenpeace UK reported  that “vast swathes of the South Downs National Park and the Surrey Hills and High Weald areas of outstanding natural beauty, along with dozens of Sites of Special Scientific Interest could be affected by the new plans to drill for oil.

  • DrillOrDrop invited UKOG to comment on the notice. We also asked the company whether it intended, as it had promised last year, to submit a new planning application. The report will be updated with any response from the company.

Updated 19/3/2018 to add link to Breach of Condition Notice on South Downs National Park website link to notice (pdf) and on 20/3/2018 to add comment and photo from Markwells Wood Watch

52 replies »

  1. Glad to see that you find the facts so difficult, Sherwulfe. Perhaps Tesla would be the ideal investment? For Mr. Musk perhaps.

    You may see some facts as diversions, others may not see them that way. Always a give away when someone feels they represent all of humanity. Unfortunately, you will have all of the Liverpool FC supporters who will disagree with you regarding debt being a bad thing, and the same for all other Premiership football club supporters. And the millions who have a mortgage may not be very supportive either. Or, the good old UK as a whole. Suppose that debt could be removed as it such a danger? How much more austerity do you want?

    • [Edited by moderator]

      No more austerity; even Ken Clarke (Con) says the NHS needs more funding by increased taxation; the money is leaching out of the country onto ‘tax haven’ computers but no one has the ‘balls’ to get it back.

      But let’s get back to the post hey? Shale will cost the country more money in increased health care, increased social care costs due to less capital in homes; pension shortfalls due to ‘ponzi’ schemes and through restoring ‘sites’ due to these made up companies failing to, due to obvious lack of funds

    • I don’t remember planting this weed here? Must be self seeded? Prolific but ultimately overcrowds and chokes the renewable flowers and fruit bushes? A Fork and Trowel job i think? The compost heap will be grateful.

  2. I have no about fracking, only the way this company is mishandling everything. I suspect there is very little oil here or anywhere in this region compared to finds elsewhere and the company exists as a cash cow for directors, lots of dosh in their pockets. Very few oil explorers look after their shareholders for the above reason. However wells must not be allowed in National Parks, of outstanding beauty and scientific interest. Horizontal drilling has existed for 60 years or more and can extent for miles underground so there is no need to drill in special areas. lease do your research honestly please.

  3. “You will then be at risk of immediate prosecution in the Magistrates’ Court, for which the maximum penalty is £1,000 for a first offence and for any subsequent offence.”

    So unless I have misunderstood, UKOG can simply ignore SDNPA, pay a £1,000 fine and be done with?
    No wonder they are doing nothing, it is cheaper to pay the fine than to clear up the site, surely?

  4. Mike V

    UKOG have time in order to comply ( as per the notice ) or to come up with a plan B.

    I would expect some announcement from them as they have included the site in their injunction.

    I doubt they would relish being prosecuted as non compliance would weigh further against them in future requests. Ie, walking a fine line between compliance and prosecution.

    Just my opinion of course, but time will tell.

  5. How can UKOG be in breach of conditions, whereby the permission ended on 31st September 2016 – i.e. a date that does not exist? Something fishy going on here.

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