The future of an oil exploration site in West Sussex depends on the results of tests at the so-called “Gatwick Gusher” well about 20 miles away in Surrey, a company has said.
UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) is seeking to postpone a decision on what to do with its site at Broadford Bridge until it has analysed information from the Horse Hill site near Gatwick.
The delay, if approved, would extend the life of the Broadford Bridge site from 49 to 67 months, an increase of 18 months or nearly 40%.
UKOG has submitted two applications to West Sussex County Council to extend the planning permission for both the site and surrounding fencing, gates and cabins.
Public consultations run until 1 August 2018. The earliest the council’s planning committee is likely to decide the application is 11 September 2018.
In the planning statement accompanying the application, UKOG said:
“the information derived from Horse Hill (regarding drilling techniques, borehole deviation and flow rates) will be material to the future productive use of Broadford Bridge.
“In this context, the commencement of Phase 4: Restoration [at Broadford Bridge], would be premature while the site offers the potential for hydrocarbon production.”
In March 2018, UKOG described the flow rates from the Kimmeridge limestone at Broadford Bridge as “likely sub-commercial”. It said it was considering other reservoir stimulation techniques to improve rates and a possible new sidetrack well.
The Horse Hill well was said to have achieved flow rates during short-term tests to rival those in the North Sea. It is about to begin extended flow tests. There is also permission to drill and test a second well at the site. UKOG said this work at Horse Hill would be completed in 2019.
The company said it was not seeking permission for further testing or drilling at Broadford Bridge while it waited for the Horse Hill results.
It said Broadford Bridge would be held “in retention” until September 2019. Depending on the Horse Hill results, the company would either:
- Plug and abandon the Broadford Bridge well and restore the site; or
- Apply for a separate permission for more testing or a sidetrack well.
If Broadford Bridge were restored, the work would be carried out between October 2019 and March 2020, UKOG said.
The development at Broadford Bridge dates back to February 2011 when permission was first granted.
Work began three-and-a-half years later in September 2014. The site was constructed but no further work was carried out for another two-and-a-half years until the mobilisation of drilling equipment in May 2017.
There was another delay in testing the Broadford Bridge well when the main well had to be side-tracked because of stability problems. The planning permission expired in September 2017 before testing was completed.
West Sussex County Council granted a year’s extension until 15 September 2018. But this was not enough, UKOG said in its new application:
“In spite of the Applicant’s best efforts to act expeditiously, it has become clear that the technical well review process will not be completed within the consented timeframe.”
“No new or additional environmental effects”
UKOG described the new application for Broadford Bridge as “sustainable development in principle and design”. The company said:
“The proposal gives rise to no new or additional [environmental] effects beyond those previously considered acceptable and therefore no new policy conflicts arise.
“The extension of time would not change the nature or duration of effects assessed in the original ES [environmental statement]. They would remain temporary and reversible.”
The original application in 2011 described the location as “low ecological” value. But last year, the Sussex Wildlife Trust chief executive, Tony Whitbread, said the interconnected landscape of woods and tree belts, typical of the area surrounding Broadford Bridge, was at risk if the oil industry developed. He said:
“It is probably one of the most well wooded area in the country. The connected forest matrix that attracts wildlife risks being damaged.”
A revised ecological statement for the new application concluded, not surprisingly, that the well pad itself had no suitable habitat for nesting birds, great crested newt, bats, dormouse, hedgehog or notable moths and butterflies.
UKOG said the site’s construction and operation had been designed to “protect the amenity of residents”. Despite this, there had been complaints about Sunday working, apparently in breach of planning conditions, and deliveries said to be outside permitted working hours.
Updated 11/7/2018 to update end of consultation period