An oil well drilled in Surrey by Angus Energy more than 18 months ago against council advice should be granted retrospective planning permission, according to a report published this afternoon.
Angus Energy always argued that it had permission to drill the well at Brockham in January 2017 but Surrey County Council insisted that the work was unauthorised. Both sides consulted barristers, who backed up their cases.
Drilling the well was revealed by environmental campaigners who had been monitoring operations, which Angus had originally described as maintenance.
It later became clear that Angus had drilled a sidetrack off an existing well into the Kimmeridge clay formation.
Angus is now seeking retrospective permission for the already-drilled well, called BRX4Z, and to retain the parent well, BRX4. The company also wants to spend three years establishing whether oil production from BRX4Z is economically viable.
There were more than 80 objections to the application. Concerns were raised by residents along with Mole Valley District Council, Brockham Parish Council and the campaign groups Brockham Oil Watch, Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association and Friends of the Earth.
But Surrey County Council planners have recommended the application is approved, subject to 18 conditions.
They concluded the scheme would have a temporary impact on amenity and they acknowledged the concerns of residents. But they said the operations would be completed within three years:
“Taking into account the need for the development in the context of national policy and other relevant policy tests, Officers recommend that the application be permitted subject to appropriate conditions to protect the environment and amenity.”
The application will be decided next month.
The planners’ report said Angus sought to carry out 18 months of technical evaluation, including 12 months of data gathering. This is longer than for normal production wells, the planners said:
“The appraisal is an open-ended process. Throughout the appraisal period, the process will continue to evolve and be actively managed, based on the information gathered. In order to allow sufficient time to complete this process, and if required prepare and submit a planning application for longer term production, the applicant is therefore seeking planning permission for a three-year period.”
According to the report, Angus has said it intended to evaluate the BRX4Z well without using acid treatments. But “should the well not flow immediately then this would be considered.”
A crane or rig, not identified but said to be similar to that used to drill the sidetrack, would be used to install and perforate tubing in the wellbore. There would also be a 12.2m emergency flare to burn waste gas.
Figures in the planners’ report suggest that Angus Energy anticipated producing oil at a rate of 300 barrels of oil per day. Based on production data for 2017-2018, this would put Brockham in the top five onshore sites in the UK. The most recent production from Brockham peaked at under 35 barrels of oil per day in September 2014.
Gas would be produced during oil extraction, the report said. This could be at a rate of 71 cubic metre an hour. The gas would be used to produce electricity and in “local process heating”. Power generated would be used to meet site’s electricity needs and surplus would be exported to the grid, the report said. The connection to the grid was not part of the application. There would be no routine flaring, the company has said.
Working hours at the site would be from 7.30am-6pm Monday to Friday and 8am-1pm on Saturdays.
The Brockham oil site, at Felton’s Farm, is in the Green Belt and on the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The site measures half a hectare and also contains oil storage tanks, production equipment, containers, security office, welfare facilities and car parking.
It is 1km from Brockham village and 2km south east of Dorking. The nearest homes are about 520m away.
Surrey County Council and the communities’ secretary said the application did not need an environmental impact assessment, though some residents disagreed.
Brockham Parish Council raised concerns over wellbeing and safety of residents given what it described as “a very greatly increased volume of oil production”.
Brockham oil watch said it was concerned about issues including the site’s proximity to housing, protection for Tanners Brook, adequacy of storage tanks, the three-year duration of the permission, controls over discharges and pollution, the adequacy of the traffic statement and a lack of public engagement
Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association called for a detailed air quality assessment for nitrogen dioxide, Volatile Organic Compounds and hydrogen sulphide. It also called for evidence to support the assumed sulphur content of the gas and for proper mitigation measures.
Friends of the Earth drew attention to what it said was “poor operator behaviour”, as well as the visual impact of the crane or rig and the incremental impacts on Green Belt openness.
Other reasons for objections were:
- Application is part-retrospective
- Use of acid in the well.
- Proposals for water re-injection
- Lack of a risk assessment
- Risk of accidents, explosions and earthquakes
- Robustness of the regulatory process.
- Additional heavy goods vehicles on unsuitable local roads
- Need for the development
- Lack of consultation and monitoring
- Absence of an EIA
- Light pollution
- Impact on groundwater, flood risk, noise, ecology, heritage, odour and the Green Belt
- Cumulative impact of the proposal
The report said 11 comments supported the application. The reasons included:
- UK over-reliance on imports
- National need for oil to meet government policy on energy security
- Supporting transition to a low carbon economy
- Contribution to employment opportunities, economic growth and prosperity
- “Rigorous testing of the proposal by other regulators”
The Environment Agency said it had no objection in principle to the application but it said existing equipment and processes at Brockham were still being assessed as part of an updated permit application.
The EA said the re-permitting process would assess the risks to aquifers underlying the site and the mitigation proposed to ensure adequate groundwater protection measures were in place. It would also look at proposals for re-injection of produced water and further monitoring of groundwater.
The planners’ report said there were no objections from what were described as technical consultees.
The planners’ report said the council had told Angus that the sidetrack drilling had been unlawful. This should be taken into account by councillors when making their decision. The report added:
“This unauthorised development has highlighted discrepancies between the various legislators of the oil and gas industry, as permits for the drilling of a new side-track well were issued by both the Environment Agency (EA) and the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), as their legislative requirements do not require planning permission to be in place before they are issued.”
The planners said a three-year planning permission was reasonable and consistent with period permitted at other oil and gas sites
The report said the development would generate no more than estimated 24 HGV movements in any day. It was “not likely to give rise to unacceptable impacts” from congestion, highway safety or residential amenity, the reported added.
The report said:
“Officers consider that the impact of the proposal on the appearance, quality and character of the landscape, including in terms of views from the AONB and public footpaths is not significant.”
The report said:
“In view of the location, scale and nature of all three elements of the application, the extent of separation between the wellsite, designated sites and woodland and the nature of the previously approved restoration, the application will not have a significant impact on ecology and biodiversity within the locality, including protected species and their habitats, and provides little scope for enhancement of biodiversity interests.”
The proposals would not have a significant impact from noise, subject to conditions, the planners said.
Information submitted by Angus was sufficient to demonstrate that the proposals would not give rise to any significant adverse impacts in terms of emissions from both plant and equipment and vehicles, dust and odour, the planners said.
The planners said:
“Officers are satisfied that the proposal would not significantly and adversely affect the amenities of residential properties, conservation areas or listed buildings, or the character and appearance of the countryside.”
Ground and surface water
“Officers do not consider that the development would result in an increased risk of surface water flooding or pose any significant risk of pollution to the surrounding environment.”
Officers said the development was temporary and reversible and therefore preserved the openness of the Green Belt. The application was not considered to be inappropriate development in the Green Belt.
Oil working at Brockham
Oil and gas exploration at the site at Felton’s Farm dates back to 1987 when permission was first granted and the first well drilled.
Other permissions were granted in 1995, 2000, 2001, 2007, 2008 and 2017. The most recent permission was another retrospective application for installation of onsite facilities.
There are three existing well heads at the site: BRX1, BRX2 and BRX4.
BRX1 and BRX2 have been plugged and abandoned. A sidetrack well of BRX1, called BRX3, is used for water reinjection. A sidetrack off BRX2, called BRX2Y, is a production well with planning permission to extract from the Portland sandstone formation. Another sidetrack off BRX2, called BRX2Z, is a former production well that has been abandoned.
BRX4 was drilled in 2007 into the Portland sandstone but production was not viable and the well was plugged. The sidetrack in the application, BRX4Z, was drilled off BRX4 in January 2017.
DrillOrDrop will be reporting from the meeting of Surrey’s Regulatory and Planning Committee on 8 August at 10.30am at the Ashcombe Suite, County Hall, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2DN. Link to agenda