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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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, Unearthed, the 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