Europa Oil and Gas has withdrawn all the proposals for managing lorries delivering to its exploratory drilling site near Leith Hill in Surrey.
The company has also pulled out of an appeal against the county council over delays in agreeing the proposals.
The construction traffic management plan (CTMP) is the last planning condition with which Europa must comply in order to start work on the site at Bury Hill Wood, near Dorking.
The site, known to the industry as Holmwood, is near the village of Coldharbour on a shoulder of Leith Hill, in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Part of the proposed lorry route is along a narrow, winding lane that runs steeply uphill between historic tree-lined banks.
Planning permission was approved in 2015 by a government-appointed inspector after two public inquiries and two court cases. The permission runs until August 2018.
Difficulties of traffic route
Transporting construction materials and equipment to the site has been source of opposition and a challenge for the company since the application was first made in December 2008.
During discussions on the CTMP at the second inquiry, the inspector, Stuart Nixon, told Europa:
“Your whole process relies on management down to the minute. But I am not sure that the information before the inquiry gives me confidence that you are able to achieve that.”
Sections of the route are not wide enough for a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) to pass another car or lorry. There are also questions about whether the rig could be delivered because of overhanging trees, some protected by tree preservation orders.
People living on the route have complained that they could be trapped in their homes and the emergency services would delayed when deliveries were made. Europa denies this.
Surrey County Council’s planning committee deferred decisions on one CTMP in August and another in October 2017 to get more information from Europa. The company announced in November 2017 that it was appealing against the non-determinations.
The Planning Inspectorate and Surrey County Council confirmed today that Europa had withdrawn the appeal. The county council also confirmed that the company had withdrawn two of the most recent CTMPs.
In correspondence with local people, the county council said:
“We will therefore take no further action in respect of this applications.”
The residents’ organisation, Leith Hill Action Group, told its members today:
“As of now, 10 years into the process, they [Europa] have no submission in place for any attempt to formulate a coherent traffic management plan”.
The group added:
“We appeal to county councillors to consider carefully the claim we have been making for 10 years now – there is no workable traffic system possible for this drill site. If Europa haven’t managed to come up with one in 10 years, what is going to change?”
Problems with the holding area
DrillOrDrop asked the Planning Inspectorate, county council and Europa for the reasons behind the withdrawal of the appeal and CTMPs but our questions were not answered.
One sticking point for Europa appears to be a proposed holding area for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). This would be used to marshal the HGVs before they make the final stage of the journey up Coldharbour Lane to the site. The holding area would allow the company to phase deliveries at certain times and prepare its traffic controllers for incoming vehicles.
In an earlier version of the CTMP, Europa proposed a holding area in the car park at Ryka Café, just off the A24, at the foot of Box Hill. It later emerged that the company did not have permission and, once the owner found out about the plan, consent was refused.
A later CTMP proposed using motorway services at Cobham on the M25. But councillors wanted confirmation that there would be a dedicated area for the heavy goods vehicles. We understand this was refused.
DrillOrDrop understands that an alternative to the services was being considered most recently. This was a public layby on a dual carriageway between two roundabouts taking traffic on and off the M25. We understand there were public concerns about whether the layby could be used safely by vehicles delivering to the site. People were particularly worried about the impact of expected protests and the potential tailback of traffic on to the motorway.
“One of the best onshore drilling opportunities”
Earlier this month, Europa’s chief executive, Hugh Mackay told shareholders:
“The Holmwood prospect in the Weald Basin represents one of the best onshore UK drilling opportunities on a risk/reward basis.” Link
In interim half year results, the company said:
“Subject to the CTMP condition being discharged we will look to drill Holmwood in late 2018.”
Consultants for Europa had estimated prospective resources of 1-11 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe). The midpoint of 5.6m boe would make the oil field the fifth largest UK onshore oil field, the company says.*
But under the current permissions, time is running out for Europa and its partners at Bury Hill Wood, Angus Energy, Egdon Resources, UKOG, Union Jack Oil and Altwood Petroleum.
The current planning permission expires on 7 August 2018 and Europa would need to apply to Surrey County council for an extension.
The initial term of the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence for the area covering the site, PEDL143, expires on 30 September 2018.
As Ben Dean reported for DrillOrDrop earlier this month, Europa has to drill a well to move to the second or appraisal term. There have been numerous extensions of the initial term, taking time off the appraisal term, which is now down to two years.
Ben Dean said:
“If a well was not drilled before 30 September 2018, then PEDL143 would have to have an extension to its Initial Term. If the Second Term remained at two years, then the Third Term would be required to be reduced by the same amount of time granted for the extension of the Initial Term.”
* The current fifth onshore oil production field at Humbly Grove produces 2% of the UK onshore total. Source: industry figures for 2017 submitted to the Oil and Gas Authority.