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. Dear Martin. There are VERY strong arguments against onshore oil and gas exploration, and many of them have been posted on here. Any money invested in polluting fossil fuel industries is money NOT spent on the development of sustainable and renewable energy resources. That alone is a sufficient argument in many people’s eyes. And then there is the risk of the contamination of our vital agricultural and water assets. Once again a defining argument for some. And then there are the health risks associated with the reckless stimulation of our substrata. And then there is global warming. Very best wishes, Jonathan.

  2. Jonathan
    I do not believe that any money spent on oil and gas exploration is money not spent on sustainable energy sources. That would indicate that there is a finite pot of cash which is split to one or the other.

    But there are lots of places money goes, so one could say that any money spent on HS2, Bitcoin, Holidays abroad, alcohol and so on ie any discretionary spend is money not put into Renewables.

    The good news is that money spent by the energy industry in terms of turbine technology is benefitting the wind power industry, and drilling technology is helping unlock geothermal energy. Just a note on geothermal, it’s being flogged by the financial press as Royal Oil. So DYOR as many companies will fail on the way.

    I do not think that the availability of money is that binary.

  3. Sorry Jonathan, you lost my interest with “any money invested in polluting fossil fuel industries is money NOT spent on the development of sustainable and renewable energy resources.” Unless you live in N. Korea that is twaddle. Indeed, there are many Arab countries where the money made from “polluting fossil fuel industries” is now funding the development of sustainable and renewable energy resources. UKOG investing, or Angus, or Solo etc. etc is in no way going to reduce other energy source investment. They just need to be competitive. I, as a smaller example, have more of my pension invested around lithium than oil and gas, but dividends from oil and gas will be much more attractive-at the moment. The Weald might reduce the numbers of oil tankers coming up the Solent, but that is a separate issue and in respect of climate change, a pretty positive direction.
    When your argument starts with an attempt to eliminate a competitor to make your preference attractive there will be a basic error in your position, and it is a pretty obvious one.

    Oh, and by the way, where does the vast majority of the water come from for those who live in the S. East? Yep, reckless stimulation of the substrata drilled into with basically the same techniques as the oil drillers. But only yesterday reports that desalination etc. will need to be looked into because of the population growth-many with their two vehicle families, several overseas holidays per year and new housing estates heated by gas. Hmm.

  4. Dear Martin & hewes62, If money is not an issue then why has the whole nation been subject to austerity measures for years. What would be the need for them? If money is not an issue, then why has the government disinvested in green energy and yet continues to support unclean energy? If money is not an issue, then why does the government continue to privatise everything despite a HUGE body of evidence that shows that privatisation doesn’t work in some sectors? For reasons such as these I DO believe that the availability of money is ‘that binary’, unless one happens to believe in the ‘money tree’ that has been much discussed in Parliament. Of course Arabian oil producing nations are investing in renewables. At the moment they have plenty of disposable income (we don’t) and THEY can see the writing on the wall (it must be in Arabic, because WE don’t seem able to read it). The fantasy that money can just be conjured up out of the air applies only in terms of wind turbine technology and investment banking (and look at where THAT fantasy has landed us). AND the idiocy of it all is that fracking and its many variants have been shown NOT to provide long-term benefits of any kind in America, where they’ve simply produced a short-term bubble that has left environmental chaos in its wake. Oh, and by the way Martin, concerning ‘Unless you live in N. Korea that is twaddle’, someone above has written ‘When your argument starts with an attempt to eliminate a competitor to make your preference attractive there will be a basic error in your position, and it is a pretty obvious one’. Very best wishes, Jonathan.

    • Jonathan P
      The issue was, a pound invested in O&G is a pound not invested in Renewables.
      I see your point that a pound spent on O&G by the gov is a pound not spent on renewables by the government, especially of the government has a fixed pot for energy spend.
      Cue money spent on oil and gas, vs money spent on renewables ( plus money received in tax from O&G and renewables ).

      However in the broader spectrum, private industry is investing the cash, so it’s more to do with the attraction of the investment, It’s not so good onshore as the subsidy has been reduced ( less money for big land owners to post bloated renewable profit offshore ). That has reduced onshore business and caused some angst.

      However offshore is booming. And although the gov run the tender process, it’s private cash chasing the profit.

      The cash ( not the governments cash ) will invest for a good return. It’s not a money tree, only the government and banks have one of those, as QE and fractional banking shows.

      Re austerity, see above. There was no austerity while oil was £140 bbl in that industry and none in the renewable sector while subsidies flowed ( in terms of higher energy prices )

      Re Saudi, yes, the end of big oil is in view, they know it and BP talk about it in their energy review. But they do not now have lots of disposable income. They run a large deficit and are hemorragimg cash fast. Cue OPEC cuts, a dash for something else and a wish to float ARAMCO ( and a failed attempt to bankrupt American oil fracking, which has failed due to a number of reasons, not always related to production, but always related to easy money, low interest rates and chapter 11 ( if I remember that right )

      What has it got to do with fracking? Well, nothing. If a pound spent on O&G is a pound not spent on renewables then all the money is offshore, mainly north of the border, where all the big investment is hapenning.

      Re Hinckley Point … it just goes to show how governments, of any colour, struggle with energy policy. Indeed it was Tony Benn who scrapped the UK wind power plan in the 1970s. No worries, electricity will be too cheap to meter once the Nuclear plan is complete!

  5. Can we now expect a future with power cuts and ransom prices from foreign supplies of hydrocarbons. Light up your candles!

  6. Only if we don’t invest what we should in renewables. Physics has established that absolutely everything is energy. We simply have to access it 🙂

  7. Why is business investment from Government Jonathan? Yes, it is in N.Korea but not in this country-yet!

    If you feel renewables are such a great investment Jonathan there is absolutely nothing stopping you investing in a renewable company, or even setting one up yourself. Some actually do so.

    I don’t know who your “we” is, but “we” do have billions to invest-just look at UK pensions alone. That investment will be allocated to where it may give optimum returns/security or meet other criteria. There is no need to stop investment in one area to allow it to happen in another fuel. Goodness, if we waited for Government to invest in industry, very little would happen.

  8. Just a couple of come-backs Martin. Firstly, the business environment and all the regulation surrounding business is set by government, central government. It is the government that are facilitating onshore drilling in favour of exploring long-term renewable energy options. It is the government that sold off our Green investment bank. It is the government that have withdrawn solar energy installation incentives. It is the government that are facilitating onshore oil and gas extraction Ponzi schemes and failing to regulate them. Secondly, you have ignored my comments regarding government austerity measures. Only the rich have surplus income to invest in today’s UK economy and they tend to invest solely according to the possibility of further personal monetary gain, often to the detriment of wider society, and often to the detriment of our future. Any comments regarding Hinckley?

  9. OMG. You obviously are not going to ever have a pension, Jonathan. Where are pension funds invested? Maybe oil, maybe wind turbines.

    “Government austerity” measures!!! You mean this country is actually earning more than it is currently spending and could easily access all our cash they have stashed and rain it down upon our heads? I know your answer-more money from the rich! Well, tell me how that works with the rich and their wealth able to move so easily and impossible to stop without consensus across the world. They are paying a higher percentage of the tax take than ever before but there is a point at which they simply say, enough is enough, we shall relocate. Why has Trump just adjusted the US tax system so that $ trillions flood back to the US?

    I remember the same nonsense in the 1970s. It did not take long for the international markets to tell us that made no sense and it was the less well off who then suffered-very harshly. But, let’s do it all over again, because some have forgotten. My children are already on a pathway to no retirement until they are around 70. They would not be too pleased to get there and find there is nothing left to secure their old age. Borrowing at low interest rates is only achievable if those lending think you are a good bet-check that with your local bank manager. If they don’t then you find you can’t borrow or the rates are astronomical. And the money spent on servicing debt is not available for anything else. The good old 1970s death spiral. I’m sure it can be Giggled-probably under horror stories.

    • Another fossil fuel company who cannot work or restore a site within agreed timescales.

      Maybe UKOG are allergic to earth moving equipment and concrete brings them out in a rash, but that seems unlikely.

      More like they don’t have the money or they don’t know how to do the job.

      Useless and totally unreliable even with some shale gas companies being propped up with Chinese investment

      If these companies cannot borrow enough to comply with agreed planning conditions they should give up and the investors should cut their losses

  10. And invest in the N.Sea John.

    Who knows? With a bit of competition from the Weald your N.Sea companies-like INEOS-may have to become more efficient and thus provide you with better returns-unlike INEOS.

    Still confused about UKOG and shale gas? If you are not up with the basics best keep away from investing, but I suspect some of the current investors are a little better informed.

    • ‘Who knows?’
      ‘may have to’
      ‘but I suspect ‘
      – all say you do not know Martin; stop trying to pretend you are some great investment expert, you clearly are not. You have no credibility.

      John Powney is bringing the discussion back to topic, unlike you who’s job appears to be to write diversions. The bottom line is these companies are not ‘robust’ enough; are tin pot ‘cowboy’ outfits at best and are destined to run away when the money drys up, which is what is being demonstrated here.

      INEOS has started the slippery slope to oblivion [who wants plastic anymore?]; it owes massive amounts of money that have been siphoned off into JR’s personal pot. Cuadrilla is run by ‘chancers’ and Third Energy cannot find backing. It’s over; accept it.

      If you truly want an investment that will return a dividend/profit look to the future energy revolution; wind and solar are the way forward, whatever your ancient belief system.

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