The media regulator, Ofcom, has not upheld a complaint by Angus Energy about a BBC report on a sidetrack oil well drilled at Brockham in Surrey.
BBC London News reported in March last year on the dispute between the company and the county council over whether the new sidetrack had planning permission.
Angus Energy complained to Ofcom, through the law firm Schillings International LLP, that the BBC had treated it unjustly or unfairly.
In a ruling published this morning, Ofcom said the programme had not been unfair to Angus Energy and the company’s position had been reflected adequately and fairly.
DrillOrDrop invited Angus Energy and two of its executives to comment on the outcome. This post will be updated with any response.
The issues in the BBC report date back to the winter of 2016-7, when Angus Energy carried out work at the Brockham site near Dorking.
At the time, Surrey County Council told residents and DrillOrDrop that the operations were routine maintenance, described as a well workover. Anti-drilling campaigners filmed overnight work on the site, which Angus said was necessary because a well had become live. Later, as DrillOrDrop reported, Angus told shareholders that it had drilled a sidetrack well.
The company has consistently said it had planning permission for the new well. The county council has disagreed.
In December 2017, Angus Energy submitted a planning application, part of which was retrospective, seeking consent for the sidetrack. This was due to be considered by the council’s planning committee this month but DrillOrDrop understands it is now likely to go to a meeting in June.
Complaint and response
The BBC report, broadcast on 9 March 2017, quoted the county council, campaigners, a district councillor, residents and a statement from Angus Energy.
The council said it was “extremely disappointed to find out that Angus Energy had acted without planning permission and contrary to our advice and guidance”.
The Angus statement said: “In our opinion, we did not breach the planning consents”.
In its complaint, Angus said material facts were presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that was unfair. It also complained that it had not been given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond to the allegations.
The BBC responded that the report gave an accurate description of the work which was carried out and accurately reflected Angus Energy’s response. The broadcaster said it had given Angus sufficient time and information to provide a considered response and this was included in full in the report.
The regulator disagreed with Angus’s complaint that the BBC had “chosen a side” in the dispute with Surrey County Council. It said:
“Ofcom was satisfied that, in this case, the broadcaster had taken reasonable care to satisfy itself that material facts had not been presented, disregarded or omitted in the programme as broadcast in a way that portrayed Angus Energy unfairly.”
It also concluded:
“Angus Energy had been provided with an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond to the allegations made about it by SCC [Surrey County Council] and reported in the programme and that Angus Energy’s position was adequately and fairly reflected.”
The BBC accepted that a meeting between Angus and the county council had taken place at the time the programme was aired. The council had said the meeting had not happened and Angus said it had. Ofcom said the BBC had taken reasonable steps to seek clarification on whether the meeting had occurred and broadcast both versions of events.
Date of Angus planning application corrected