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. I’m rather distressed to note that the maximum fine that can be imposed for non-compliance with this order is £1000, an amount that would mean absolutely nothing to a company such as UKOG. Our legislations and laws with regard to failures to comply with the requirements of planning permissions are totally out of scale with the potentially damaging effects of such failures. There appears to be only an ‘appearance’ of regulatory control with regard to the activities of onshore drilling companies. Breaches of planning permission conditions take place on an almost daily basis and yet the companies concerned remain at liberty to drill almost at will. We are being played for fools both by these companies and by our government.

  2. I guess this will not look so good in court , UKOG have not issued an RNS about this and still haven’t done year end account , they are a laughing stock , yes pun intended , investors have no chance unless they were in at sub 1p and sell now. Oh dear another Carillon ?

  3. If the EA recognize a danger of contamination to groundwater at Markwells Wood, why are they not recognizing it at other sites such as Broadford Bridge, where residents are being forced to pay for their own water testing, as the EA will only test immediately around the site, which is somewhat ineffectual . Given that the well at Broadford Bridge appears to have failed already and has no commercial, conventionally extractable oil, does this not make contamination even more likely?

    • As usual, all talk of gold standard regulations amount to less than zero when penalties for non compliance are dismally pathetically and laughably insignificant.
      The operators have no intention of complying to any regulation of any standard that has about as much capability of enforcement compliance and relevance as a mercaptan beefart in a hurricane?

      We have been lied to consistently and continually throughout, regulations without penalties are a joke..

      Non denominational standards operated by deliberately emasculated, underfunded understaffed hard put overstressed regulators render the whole fracking debacle and hence this governments onshore fracking policies a laughing stock worldwide.

      Nothing to see here, move along please.

    • Katherine

      The spdanger is Site specific, hence the difference.

      But ….
      Any news on the water testing down there. I assume no news means nothing found, hooray!

      Re failure to flow, if the oil cannot be got from the Well by natural flow, or pumping, contamination is less likely, unless they decide to HPHV frack ( cue more planning applications etc etc )

      If they had hit a high pressure reservoir as per a typical,Hollywood gusher ( oil spurting out and everyone dancing with glee ), then yes, that could cause some local issues.

      Up here in the north, lots of wells, and no issues, although the geology is a bit different.

  4. What “fracking” companies? More misunderstanding by those who don’t bother to research the subject.

    Jono-many UKOG investors are in for a free ride, having made a profit in the last few months, cashed that in, and perhaps retained a small shareholding that has therefore not cost them a penny. Sorry to spoil your glee. Suggest you stick to the lottery. Your lack of knowledge could certainly be costly if you approached share trading.

    • Rubbish martin, its all fracking, and even when its called something else by government decree, fracking will be used whether it is declared or not, because all the other methods which are little more than avoidances of the word do not produce results.

      More avoidance by those who don’t do their research.

    • Martin

      Re the term ‘ fracking company’, in the anti dictionary it means …’any company involved in drilling for onshore oil and gas’. Whether they frack or not is immaterial to the discussion.

      Likewise the term .. ‘Big’. That means a private company, of any size.

      It’s just a wind up ( or a bit of name calling ) to maintain a frisson of threat so I guess it’s a waste of time challenge it on DOD.

      • “it’s just a windup (or a bit of name-calling) to maintain a frisson of threat so I guess it’s a waste of time to challenge it on DOD”

        Fascinating hewes, here we go again? These damage limitation exercises are getting repetitive aren’t they?

        Lets see where this takes us shall we?

        Tell me hewes, does that also go for NIMBY, luvvies, treehugger, animal circus, mob, terrorists, swampies, job seekers, activists and Russia funded agents?

        Or is that acceptable only because you lot repeat them ad nauseum?

        Sauce for the goose, splinters and planks and kettle pot and black spring to mind, or is that “just a bit of a wind up”?

        There is that word again hewes?

        What was it again?

        Oh, yes,


        • Phil C

          In my opinion all those terms (NIMBY et al) are used to generate a frisson of excitement on these pages.
          If you use them you should fess up with some evidence that they apply, or at least open it up for discussion.

          Re Russian support for anti fracking, I think not.

          My Russian friends always asked … who benefits from any action?

          In this case (outwith the thought that any group such as RTP must have the blessing of the police, otherwise how would it exist … a police state thought ) the beneficiaries seem to be those not bothered by RTP being

          1. Big oil and gas ( offshore UK or anywhere in the world but primarily Noway for gas )
          2. SNP ( almost all UK oil is Scottish offshore and action is focussed in England).
          3. Those who do not want any such development near where they live, but happily use oil and gas
          4. Those who do not want it at all but grudgingly still use it ( with justification )
          5. Those who do not want it, and do not use it

          I would plump for 3,4 and 5 as support. I cannot see any oil company or political,party handing out cash for that activity. However, why the focus is on preventing something that hardly produces anything ( onshore oil ), or whose progress is glacial (frack gas) is interesting, while avoiding those points where all the gas comes in or the oil is imported, or indeed where all that fuel is sold ( any motorway service station would do).

          In my opinion that is in line with 3,4,5 as out of sight is out of mind and the downside of onshore production on your doorstep garners more support than offshore or elsewhere in the world.

          Just my opinion of course.

          • So hewes fracking is not a wind up nor is it intended to generate a frisson of excitement? It is just a statement of fact isnt it?
            Glad we got that sorted?

            “Re Russian support for anti fracking, I think not.” agreed.

            As to the police giving their “blessing”? curious choice of word? to Reclaim the Power, there may be something in that, and it was reported only this year that the police insert sleepers and faux activists into groups to either monitor, or one perhaps could surmise, to cause deliberate disruption and hence produce the desired effect of discrediting the entire movement.

            Not rocket science is it?

            1. Big Oil and Gas, now offshore from any major country, but more revenue than any average country and almost certainly not in the sort of debt most countries run in. Therefore massive funds to influence any countries government with the right “persuader” what ever that may be.

            2. SNP, moratorium on onshore exploration at the moment, as is everywhere in UK except England, whose co-alition government is supported somewhat erratically by the only other party to support fracking.

            3. That is almost anyone who wants to keep healthy. Oil and Gas exist mainly because all alternatives have been, and are being suppressed by direct action and by default through owned governments and corporations.

            4. Refer to 3. above, not enough renewable alternatives allowed to flourish and compete with Big Oil and Gas.

            5. That is a growing movement, off gridders may well be the best way out of the artificial and mainly financial energy trap.

            In my opinion, having oil and gas being exploited on your doorstep negates any benefit, since the health and pollution price is too high and it is a misery to live in an industrialised landscape when once it was open and relatively clean and healthy.

            Just my opinion of course.

  5. Hi Martin. You seem to be a bit hung up on the word ‘fracking’ and what our government have now decided to redefine it as. Forget the word. The word means whatever our government decides its going to mean (the majority of governments still deploy this word according to its ‘original’ definition). Focus on the process. It is the process that is potentially highly harmful, whatever one chooses to label it. Those that label this process as fracking are not ‘wrong’ in any sense. They simply refuse to accept our government’s shameless redefinition of a term that’s otherwise universally understood. By the way, Jono is extremely WELL informed, and devotes day after day and month after month to a deeper understanding of his subject. Like many of us, he is extremely concerned that we are being seriously let down by our government.

  6. Oh, I know the reality of the terminology ie the truth, compared to the anti truth hewes62, and I recognise that demonization has to be attempted to try and fool some who are not interested enough to research for themselves. They then claim to those individuals they are well researched. Well, maybe they are and they seek to then post twaddle because they think that is the diet some will accept, and not bother to verify. (Somewhat lazy and condescending, but there you go.)

    However, where twaddle is posted-especially when it is just a repeat of previous- I will sometimes gently point out that is what it is-the little splash of iced water to cool the fever. It will not stop the practice, but it will focus upon it, and one or two who have not been over excited might just start to check for themselves, and then ask if there is such a strong case against oil and gas exploration why is that not presented rather than the twaddle?

    • Rubbish martin, the twaddle is all yours and hewes! Such disingenuous diversions are twice as culpable of such “excitement”and just repeating the same old same old facetious twaddle only serves to show how desperate you lot are to act all holier than thou, when in actual fact the whole situation originates from the fracking invasion in the first place.

      Try again martin and hewes, no cigar, no sale.

      • This is fun! Those industrial standard blinkers must weigh a tonne?
        I am surprised that fracking is not deified as the new tory religion of Saint Frackis and placed on high on an alter as the saviour of all humanity by such priests of the golden bullshit?
        Oh, yes? So it is isn’t it?
        I think they will apply for charitable tax free status, along with their luxury yachts and offshore tax haven bank accounts”

      • Phil C
        The cigars are safe in the box and the house is sold, but thanks for reminding me.
        Where to next! Hmmm.
        Goodbye heat pump, solar panels with an eye watering subsidy, wood burning stove ( very dry wood ) rain water harvesting and some spend on insulation ( for an old house ), and on to the next challenge.
        Somewhere windy?

        • Have a happy move? Somewhere windy? Next to martin perhaps? Cornwall is going 100% renewable? Or somewhere high perhaps? the wind is stronger and more constant above 100m or so, and with rising sea levels….? Scotland may have a less polluted future unless Ineos have their wicked way? Maybe Wales?
          Happy house hunting anyway? they are the big ones with the pointy roofs? The tame ones are nice in a good herd, but the wild ones can ravage your bank account and eat your savings?

  7. The thing is Martin you talk of this as profit or loss for yourself in one breath and try to make out that its energy security in another , I do not have any interest in making money on the back of others suffering , your comments can be ignored as always.

  8. Well, Jono, your post from yesterday is there for anyone to read. The fact that it is incorrect and then you compound it by stating it is profit and loss for myself without any evidence of that is interesting, but hardly supports that Jono is extremely well informed. Not on this subject anyway. (You could have seen comments from quite a number of UKOG investors when the share price peaked indicating their intentions, largely related to future funding and time to production. You could then have observed trading patterns.)
    If you want to continue to demonstrate pure speculation feel free, but it just might be queried.

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