Regulation

Surrey planners recommend approval of “unauthorised” oil well drilled in 2017

Brockham night working Brockham Protection Camp

Overnight operations at Brockham oil site in January 2017. Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

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.

brockham-rig2-jon-ohouston

Rig at Brockham oil site in January 2017. Photo: Jon O’Houston

More details

Proposed operation

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.

Site

180221 Brockham Weald Oil Watch

Angus Energy’s Brockham oil site, 21 February 2018. Photo: Weald Oil Watch

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.

Objections

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

Supporters

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”

Other comments

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.

Brockham lorry 2 Brockham Protection Camp

Delivery to Brockham oil site, 2017. Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

Key issues

Unauthorised work

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.”

Duration

The planners said a three-year planning permission was reasonable and consistent with period permitted at other oil and gas sites

Traffic

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.

Landscape

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.”

Ecology

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.”

Noise

The proposals would not have a significant impact from noise, subject to conditions, the planners said.

Air quality

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.

Lighting

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.”

Green belt

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.

brockham-170126-protection-camp

Anti-drilling protest at Brockham in January 2017. Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

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.

Decision meeting

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

38 replies »

  1. The concept of ‘retrospective planning permission’ highlights how ridiculous and broken our planning system is. Companies should be fined or banned from operating if they break the rules, not granted ‘retrospective planning permission’. What a joke.

    • Ellie – retrospective planning permission – in case you have not bothered to look it up…

      Retrospective planning applications

      Can a local planning authority invite a retrospective planning application?

      A local planning authority can invite a retrospective application. In circumstances where the local planning authority consider that an application is the appropriate way forward to regularise the situation, the owner or occupier of the land should be invited to submit their application (section 73A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) without delay. It is important to note that:

      although a local planning authority may invite an application, it cannot be assumed that permission will be granted, and the local planning authority should take care not to fetter its discretion prior to the determination of any application for planning permission – such an application must be considered in the normal way;
      an enforcement notice may also be issued in relation to other elements of the development.

      Paragraph: 012 Reference ID: 17b-012-20140306

      Revision date: 06 03 2014
      Are there any restrictions on retrospective applications?

      A person who has undertaken unauthorised development has only one opportunity to obtain planning permission after the event. This can either be by means of a retrospective planning application (under section 73A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) or by means of an appeal against an enforcement notice on ground that planning permission ought to be granted or the condition or limitation concerned ought be to discharged – this is referred to as a ground (a) appeal.

      The local planning authority can decline to determine a retrospective planning application if an enforcement notice has previously been issued (section 70C of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990). No appeal under ground (a) may be made if an enforcement notice is issued within the time allowed for determination of a retrospective planning application.

      Paragraph: 013 Reference ID: 17b-013-20140306

      Revision date: 06 03 2014

    • Plenty of ‘officers consider’ and ‘officers are satisfied’

      Plenty of opinion and grey areas for the people who make the decisions to question and object to.

  2. Angus energy , the company who doesn’t know who owns a major part of the shares and has breached planning wherever they go.

  3. Total corruption from top to bottom!
    Environmental impact assessment and permanent accurate monitoring of toxic gases emissions from flaring is crucial to reassure local residents!
    No new Government Propaganda spokesman will be able to sell fracking to Communities unless these and many other matters are in place!
    Otherwords fracking is dead meat! Move on to renewable energy please asap.

    • Apparently their Barrister didn,t think so. This Application without prejudice. Allows the council to save face without resorting to an expensive court case to resolve the issue. I’m curious to know how the council would deal with octopus wells are they going to require separate planning permission for every bore hole ?

  4. Cowboys run amok. A coach and horses through local democracy. Suitable for greenbelt? It is brownfield development, and acidisation is fracking by another name. The thin end of a wedge, a trojan horse to get fracking going. And during a man made climate change induced extreme weather heatwave. Councillors need to grow their backbones and stand up to government and corporate bullying, stand up for their constituents who just will not tolerate the descration of this green belt land to line the pockets of a greedy few and do absolutely nothing for a sustainable energy policy,and will not bring down bills.

  5. I suspect the spokesman will have done some research and found very easily that no fracking is applied for at this site, or any other in the Weald, Peter. That will be part of his job I suspect-to explain the facts and to put a spot light on the fiction. No wonder you are worried Peter.

  6. Ruth , [edited by moderator], the SCC does not have any legal backing for their position. If they did, they would have leaked it to you already. It does not exist. Given you have never seen it and you are reporting it as fact only shows your true colors. You are not a journalist. Great propaganda writer though!

  7. Looks like the government will push through the legislation required to bypass nimbyism and councillors who despite having facts choose to be swayed by fake news and the ill informed. Angus have been clear they will not be fracking.

  8. Finally SCC has come to there senses .We need home grown oil and gas production .This has been a Not in my back yard mentality There will be no fracking .Only conventional oil and gas pruduction .Excess gas will produce onsite electric for the grid .Not inporting from Russia .Who could hold us to ransom l,m a local resident and throughly support this application .Uk energy for Uk economy for brexit and local employment for our children’s future .When in production the pump will be underground and with landscaping .You will not know oil and gas and electric was been produced

    • ‘We need home grown oil and gas production’

      You mean like the 20 billion barrel reserve home grown North sea oil and gas which can be extracted far cheaper than UK shale could ever be by our experienced North sea work force of well over 300,000

      Still on with the Russian fairy tale. Not sure why as it makes a mockery of the anti antis who post valid points.

      • Get your facts right this is not fracking shale .It is conventional oil gas extraction .And north see oil is coming to an end of live cycle Onshore CONVENTIONAL oil gas extraction cost a fraction of Northsea oil production .Go and do a bit of research John boy

  9. Glad it looks like this will be allowed. Not taken in by the anti Russian propaganda either but it was stated in the House of Commons beginning of year that Russia was encroaching on British interests too much so we were planning a war with them. Apparently it was more important to win the propaganda war than battles on the ground. Guess the thinking is the US would be drawn in anyway.
    Long story short if our Gov is planning to provoke Russia into war then we’ll need the oil reserves both from the North Sea and the rest of the isle.
    Would suggest those that don’t want it in their backyard buy shares. Once its allowed and flowing you’ll have the finances to move.
    I hear Wales is nice this time of year.(but only this time of year)

    • Interesting that the shale announcement came on the back of the Trump visit; May so desperate for a trade deal will sell out the UK as a portal for US shale to Europe, perhaps? Of course, the US will help us to extract our own reserves, they have done such a good job back home 😉

  10. This was always going to be the outcome, so why the fuss? Unless, of course, some just have a sense grievance. Maybe the Australians were correct about the British.

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