This post has live updates from Surrey County Council ‘s planning committee meeting considering an oil well drilled at Brockham in 2017 against council advice.
Council planners, who told the operator, Angus Energy, the well was unauthorised, have recommended approval of the company’s part-retrospective application.
Angus has always said it had permission to drill the well. It is seeking three years of consent to test whether the well is commercially-viable.
Opponents have said this is unnecessarily long and could be a cover for oil production. They are have raised concerns about risks of pollution and drilling near geological faults, as well as increased traffic, threats to the green belt and the possible use of acid to improve oil flow. DrillOrDrop background article to the application
The meeting, at County Hall in Kingston, is expected to hear from representatives of the company and opponents of the scheme.
Reporting from this meeting has been made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers
The committee votes by seven to four in favour of the application. Permission is granted.
“Shame on you”, people say from the public gallery.
12.02pm Chair’s comment
Chairman, Tim Hall, tells the committee:
“I do say to Angus, in the nicest possible way, you have been the least reliable hydrocarbon applicant we have dealt with. The fracas over this application at the start and the less than clear and open position you took with us does not fill myself or the Vice Chairman with great cheer.
“Since then however you have appointed sensible professional advisers, one of whom is in the room, and you have done all the things we would expect from any applicant. But, we do feel more than a little bit annoyed as an authority, a little bit irritated, and I would say to you – having sat and watched an awful lot of Mr Vonk’s YouTube video coverage, sent to me by a series of objectors, – consistency of approach and validity and evidence will be expected at every stage and, if it is not consistent, the nice people from the Environment section, who are sitting at the back of the room, will be round to talk to you, with our very professional legal department following them.
“We have had to take legal advice from a QC, we have had to do a number of things that we would not normally want to do, because you have not historically been consistent and taken the right professional advice and done the right professional things.
“We will expect the maximum standards of professionalism from you and your advisors throughout the next 3 years (if you get the permission in the next five minutes) and we will expect the maximum transparency from you as well.”
12 noon Vote on deferral
The committee votes four in favour of deferral and seven against. The motion is lost.
11.52am Reasons for deferral
Committee chair, Tim Hall, asks what reasons there are for a deferral. Cllr Stephen Cooksey says the committee needs the necessary information from the Environment Agency on the environmental permit,.He says the current permit does not addressa number of environmental issues that a new one would. He also says the decision should wait for information on earthquakes from the OGA. Cllr Hawkins says there is not sufficient information in the committee papers.
Planning development manager, Caroline Smith, says the committee should address land use management issues. Seismicity is not a consideration of a planning decision. The EA has already said it does not object in principle.
Cllr Angell says the OGA statement was not in the planners’ report. Ms Smith says the EA comment was in the report.
Cllr Mallett says the committee cannot accept Cllr Cooksey’s “rambling comments”. We can’t wait for a report, he says. We are not a situation to defer the decision on these grounds, he says. If the committee is seriously thinking about a delay for a seismic report. This could take four years, he says. The committee should decide based on the information it has. The council could be liable for “enormous costs” on appeal, he says.
Cllr Hawkins says the committee must take account of the impact of any decision. The application should be deferred until there is sufficient information on the current level of seismic activity. Cllr Cooksey seconds the motion to defer.
11.50am Statement on seismicity
Cllr Andrew Povey asks for the source about comments by the OGA on seismicity. Deputy head of planning, Stephen Jenkins, says the conversation was late yesterday. A statement is being prepared by the OGA, he says.
11.38am Planning officer response
Planning officer, David Maxwell, says the three year duration requested in the application is consistent with that granted at Horse Hill. He says this is justified.
Mr Maxwell says the site has permission for oil production until 2036 from the BRX2 well – but not from the one in this application, BRX4Z.
He says production from Brockham would cumulatively add to the national oil supply.
On the earthquake issues, this falls outside the remit of the planning authority. This is an issue for the Oil & Gas Authority. It has said it is consulting with the BGS. It said it was hard to see how water reinjection could have caused the earthquakes. If there is any evidence of seismicity it will instruct Angus to change its activity. Officers are satisfied that the other regulators are aware of the issue. It is an area outside planning, he adds.
Mr Maxwell says the number of additional HGVs could be considered only as “insignificant”. We are aware of the nature of the roads,he says. Mitigation has been put in place in the past in passing bays required by a legal agreement.
The hours of operation will be controlled by condition, Mr Maxwell says.
On air quality, he says the council asked for an assessment and this address officers’ concerns. The Environment Agency was looking into protection of the aquifer would be addressed in the new permit, he says. The process of re-permitting is taking place at Brockham as part of a nationwide scheme.
11.11am Councillor discussion
11.36am Cllr Penny Rivers
Cllr Rivers asks for clarification on the retrospective application. It is a concern, she says.
She says earthquakes can have natural causes. But 12 in six months should raise questions, she says. Until there are answers to questions, she says she is in favour of deferral.
11.34am Cllr Edward Hawkins
Cllr Hawkins says the Environment Agency has approved in principle. But he says the application should be deferred until more information is available on the earthquake issue. He supports the application to be deferred.
11.29am Cllr Stephen Cooksey
Cllr Cooksey says he is always concerned about retrospective applications. He says he can understand why residents are concerned about the prospect of production. He says general statements in the application undermine confidence in the proposals.
On traffic, he says he is concerned whether the number proposed in the application are accurate.
Cllr Cooksey says he is concerned about the time scale of the application. Brockham and Mole Valley councils are both concerned about the three years requested by Angus Energy.
He says there are questions about the flare and acidisation that are not fully answered in the information given to councillors.
If we give permission it will be operating under an environmental permit that is outdated. He recommends permission should be deferred until the updated permit is in place.
I also have concerns about the earthquake issue, he says. The letter to The Times on Monday raises issues about which we need more information, he says. The application should be deferred to resolve the environmental issues, until there is a proper environmental permit in place and until the earthquakes have been investigated.
When we grant a planning permission,residents should be confident there will not be environmental problems.
11.22am Cllr Mary Angell
Cllr Angell says the committee has to deal with retrospective applications fairly.
The drilling of the sidetrack went ahead without any enforcement action, she says.
It is unclear why Angus Energy needs three years. If the application is to be approved, the testing should be a few months.
If Angus Energy wants to apply for commercial production it can make a separate one. Three years is a blatant attempt to introduce commercial production.
Brockham would produce 0.1% of UK energy needs, Cllr Angell says. This is miniscule, she says.
The impact of the sidetrack has never been assessed. It was not reported, she says. We know that the first earthquakes happened recently. There has not been an earthquake in this part of the Weald for 200 years. The link between reinjection cannot yet be ruled out, she says. We do need an investigation into this. The decision we make today needs to be mindful of what the HSE can tell use. They have not told us anything. We need work in this specific area because it does affect lives. We cannot brush it aside.
There are questions about the impact on the local geology. Angus Energy has not been clear about the use of acid. There has not been a traffic assessment. There is a potentially significant impact on the area for some time. We should reduce the duration from three years to something of the order of 18 months.
11.16am Cllr Ernest Mallett
Cllr Mallett says there is nothing illegal about doing something without planning permission.
He says the calls for a moratorium because of seismic activity are not something the council can deliver.
He says any seismic activity in the area is below the level that could cause damage, he says.
On concerns about the impact on local residents, he says the council has to agree to waste schemes, housing estates and schools. You cannot isolate development about how someone feels it may affect them.
He asks for clarification on whether there is commercial production.
He says members of the committee who might oppose the application need reasons for refusal or deferral. We need a solid reason that will hold up on appeal. If we defer the application, we give Angus the opportunity to appeal and the council will take no part in the decision.
11.12am Cllr Keith Taylor
Cllr Taylor says the application does not include fracking. There have been 350 wells drilled onshore, some in the Surrey Hills.
Cllr Taylor says he is worried about comments that the application should be refused to punish Angus Energy. We are not deciding how bad an applicant is, he says.
Retrospective applications cannot be refused because they are retrospective, he says.
Much as I understand public frustration that is not grounds for refusal, he says.
The Health and Safety Executive says the risk of seismic activity is not something that the planning authority is not required to consider and should be left to another regulatory regime.
10.58am Presentation by David Maxwell, planning officer
Mr Maxwell says the application is for exploration and appraisal of the Brockham well site to assess whether oil in the Kimmeridge formation is capable of economic exploitation.
He says the company wants to appraise a sidetrack for three years. The sidetrack was drilled in 2017.
He says the site is in the green belt. It was established in 1987. There are three wellheads, BRX1, BRX2 and BRX4. He says the site is not in an area designated for air quality protection or landscape value.
He says most of the comments are objections and most comment on the retrospective nature of the application and risks of accidents and pollution.
The council advised the company that it needed planning permission to drill the sidetrack well but other parties said that the work was covered by existing consent, Mr Maxwell says.
Mr Maxwell says local authorities are required to assume that other regulatory regimes will operate effectively.
There are also objections on traffic grounds, flood risk, cumulative impact, ecology and noise, he says.
There have been comments in support of the application, particularly on economic development, need for the site and reliance on imports.
Mr Maxwell says government policy stresses the importance of oil and gas development. Officers have concluded there is a national need for the development, he says.
Officers have assessed the impacts of the development. They have concluded that it preserves the greenbelt and is not inappropriate. There would be some temporary impact on the environment. The concerns of local residents are acknowledged, Mr Maxwell says. With conditions, there would not be significant adverse impacts and should be permitted, he concludes.
10.57am Statement from Helen Clack, local councillor
Cllr Clack, the local councillor, supports the opposition of Brockham Parish Council.
10.51am Presentations by Angus Energy
10.51am Paul Vonk
Mr Vonk, the Managing Director of Angus Energy, says it is scientifically impossible for Brockham oil field to cause the earthquakes. There is no physical connection between the fault at Brockham and the earthquake area. The mostly likely cause is natural, he says.
Angus Energy has operated the field since 2012, he says. The company has updated the field in 2016. The company takes its responsibilities to its neighbours seriously.
Everything at Brockham is centred on safety. The company has been transparent and has nothing to hide, he says.
Community concerns are not surprising, he says. But he says there have been no technical objections.
He says he wants to assure neighbours there will be no fracking. The wellbore will be perforated and the oil will be sucked out.
Mr Vonk says the committee and the company want the same thing: jobs and a job done safely.
Angus has worked with the council’s planning officers. It supports the company’s recommendation to approve the planning application. [Boo from the public gallery]
10.33am Presentations by opponents of the scheme
10.47am Ivan Tucker
Mr Tucker is talking on behalf of Weald Action Group. He refers to the recent swarm of 12 earthquakes. He quotes Professor Haszeldine, who recently wrote to the Times on this issue. The depth of earthquakes are shallow and have unusual displacement. These and other features is unprecedented and is a powerful case for halting activity.
There is a strong possibility of a link between the earthquakes and borehole activity, he says. The precautionary principle should be invoked, a full analysis undertaken and the UK traffic light system used.
Mr Tucker says we note with great concern that a number of the boreholes are permitted under old style permits. The results of the earthquakes are compatible with water injection.
He says there has been a request for a moratorium. That Professor Richard Selley has called for a halt should ring alarm bells, he says.
Given the current instability, he appeals for the planning permission not to be granted.
10.42am Pat Smith
Mrs Smith says the application lacks the detail that is needed. She says Angus went ahead with drilling the sidetrack, despite advice from a specialist planning agency of the need for planning permission.
Angus worked overnight for 11 days, saying it had to seal the well, but it was drilling the sidetrack. It stated it had been given permission to work overnight by the OGA, even though the OGA said the work could have been done during daylight. This is breach of planning permission and is a material consideration, Mrs Smith says.
Mrs Smith says she has asked for a definition of commercial production. Angus wants to produce for 18 months. Is it seeking to bypass the planning system. There is a sense of deja vu.
There is no detail on fluids to be used in the well, she says. Acid wash has been requested. It is easy to move on to acid squeeze. There is no mention of the water volume that needs to be moved.
She asks where the waste would go and how much water would be reinjected. The idea of non-productive appraisal is nonsensical, she says. She strongly recommends rejecting the application.
10.38am Ada Zalucka
Ms Zalucka says the county planning authority must work with the other regulators and take account of their views.
The area has much to lose and nothing to gain from the Angus application, she says.
She adds that she will never trust Angus Energy again after it drilled a well without permission. It should
To give the company three years would give it permission for full production because it has the go-ahead from the Oil and Gas Authority.
The site operates under an old-style permit, Ms Zalucka says, and will continue to do so if the application is approved. She asks for a refusal or deferral until there is a proper permit in place. If permission were granted it should be for no more than six months or prevent until a permit is in place.
10.34am Stephen McDonald
Mr McDonald is speaking on behalf of Keith Taylor MEP. Mr Taylor says he objected in April but things have changed since then with a series of earthquakes in the area. He has written to oil and gas regulators. He calls for a moratorium on hydrocarbon operations until there has been an investigation into any link between actions at Brockham and geological instability. He also calls for checks on the well.
He criticises Angus Energy for drilling without permission and misled shareholders. Mr McDonald, for Mr Taylor, says there is no benefit to the area from jobs. He says the use of acid to stimulate the well would lead to a huge increase in impacts on the environment. There would be more heavy lorries on rural roads and introduce flare stack into a country environment.
He also raises the duration of the requested permission. There are many questions to be answered. The application should be refused. [Applause from the public gallery]
10.30am Meeting underway
Surrey County Council planning committee chair, Tim Hall, opens the meeting.
10am Opponents gather outside County Hall