Opponents of an unauthorised oil well drilled at Brockham in Surrey were visibly shocked by a vote to grant retrospective planning permission today.
People in the public gallery shouted “shame on you” as Surrey County Council’s planning committee voted by seven to four in favour. DrillOrDrop live updates report
Angus Energy had applied for permission to “regularise” the sidetrack well drilled in January 2017. The company’s application to carry out production tests on the well for three years was also granted.
Speakers against the proposal accused the council of negligence and ignoring the views of both experts and local people.
The Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, said the council had set a “dangerous precedent”. Brenda Pollack, of Friends of the Earth, said the decision made a mockery of the regulatory system.
Angus Energy welcomed the decision and said it looked forward to continuing a “professional dialogue” with the county council. It said work on the Brockham well would follow a seven-day test at the Balcombe oil well in West Sussex, taken it took over from Cuadrilla earlier this year.
Angus shares ended the day up 14.37% at 10.15p.
The Brockham sidetrack well has been at the centre of a dispute between the county council and the company for more than 18 months. The council said there was no planning permission to drill the well. The company always maintained that the work was covered by an existing consent.
At today’s meeting a report by planning officers described the well as “unauthorised” but it recommended approval of the company’s application. This was despite local objections about traffic, pollution, noise, impact on the greenbelt, the use of acid in the well and the company’s behaviour. DrillOrDrop report on the planners’ recommendation
There were also concerns that the Brockham site was operating under an old-style environmental permit. This means that Angus is not required to collect or maintain details on well stimulation or fluid reinjection. There are no restrictions on how much acid could be used in the well or the concentration. Nor is Angus required to do air or groundwater monitoring. DrillOrDrop report
The meeting also discussed whether there were any links between local oil and gas activity and the recent swarm of earthquakes in the area. On Monday, four senior geologists called for a temporary ban on hydrocarbon activity. DrillOrDrop report
Ada Zalucka, one of four speakers against the application, said after the meeting:
“I am in a state of shock.
“I am very disappointed that the planning officers today disregarded what was being said by experts.”
Two councillors called for the decision to be deferred until there was more information on the earthquakes and the new permit. But a vote on deferral was decisively defeated.
Ms Zalucka, speaking for the residents’ group, Brockham Oil Watch, said:
“There clearly needs to be more information on these issues.
“It is ridiculous to say there are environmental safeguards. There is no monitoring in place. There is no mechanism to check anything. This is incompetence and negligence on the part of the local authority.
“This permission has been granted for three years. There is not even a condition to wait for a new-style permit.”
“This is a cause for concern, as Angus are targeting an entirely new geology that has never been produced from anywhere in the country, whilst operating under an old style environmental permit. This puts the local environment and people at risk.”
The committee heard that the industry regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), had told planning officers that a link between recent earthquakes and hydrocarbon operations was unlikely.
DrillOrDrop asked the OGA this afternoon for details of what it had told Surrey. An OGA spokesperson said:
“Based on the evidence it is difficult to see how oil and gas activities in the area could be linked to these seismic events. We are working with the British Geological Survey, regulators, operators and other experts to ensure that all the evidence is fully considered.”
But Ms Zaluka said:
“The data available on the OGA’s portal is several months old and only an aggregate monthly number of water injected is provided. This data is insufficient for any kind of credible analysis. We do not regard this as gold standard regulation and are calling for detailed and up to date records of injection data at Brockham to be immediately released to allow for independent analysis.
“The Oil & Gas Authority can hardly be regarded as independent or impartial. It is financed and run by the oil and gas industry. We are disappointed that the planning officers relied on such advice in favour of the recent advice from a group of leading independent geologists.”
“Consistency needed from Angus”
The committee’s chair, Tim Hall, told Angus at the meeting:
“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 [of the council], who are sitting at the back of the room, will be round to talk to you, with our very professional legal department following them.”
But this warning did not satisfy opponents.
Another speaker against the application, Pat Smith, said the decision meant that Angus Energy could now produce oil for three years, at the company’s estimated rate of 300 barrels a day, without having to apply for planning permission for production.
“This is a huge disappointment. The decision ignores objections by Brockham Parish Council, Mole Valley District Council and so many other people.”
She said Surrey County Council told Angus Energy on 16 January 2017 that it did not have planning permission to drill the well.
“On the very same day, Angus Energy opened up the well to drill the sidetrack.
“Surrey County Council has turned its back on the whole issue of trust. Angus Energy is working below ground. It betrayed that trust.”
Outside County Hall, Lynn from Brockham commented:
“I was not angry before. Having listened to that meeting, I am very angry.
“There is one law for residents and locals who pay their council tax, and there is another law for corporations.
“If you are an individual and you build a house without planning permission you would be told to pull it down. If you are a corporation that drills a side track without planning permission that is ok and you can go ahead.”
Comments and statements
“The Company will perform a 7-day well test on the horizontal Balcombe-2z well at Balcombe prior to commencing today’s approved work.
“All operations at Balcombe and Brockham will be performed through conventional production. There will be no hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”.
“We thank the Surrey County Council for their careful consideration and deliberation on this matter and are deeply appreciative of the time work by all involved to bring this matter to a conclusion.
“The Board would also like to express its sincere appreciation to all of the Mineral Planning Officers for the composition and clarity of analysis contained in their report.
“The Company looks forward to continuing our professional dialogue and working with the SCC to make sure the community remains informed, and the quality of life is preserved.”
Brockham Oil Watch
We’re shocked and disappointed that the members of the planning committee so blatantly ignored the advice they’ve received from experts.
It appeared that the committee was swayed by a-last minute intervention from the Oil and Gas Authority, who officers said was the regulatory body responsible for monitoring and responding to seismic activity. An unofficial statement from them was read out at the meeting saying that it was unlikely there is a causal link between reinjection at the Brockham site and the earthquakes.
They seem to have ignored the significant increase in volume of reinjected water at Brockham reported for April, which coincided with the onset of earthquakes. We think this is concerning and any relationship between the two needs to be investigated further given that wastewater reinjection has been proven to be the main cause of earthquakes in the Central U.S.
We would also like to point out that the data available on the OGA’s portal is several months old and only an aggregate monthly number of water injected is provided. It is insufficient for any kind of credible analysis. We are calling for detailed and up to date records of injection data at Brockham to be immediately released to allow for independent analysis.
The Oil & Gas Authority can hardly be regarded as independent or impartial. Its objective is to support the industry in maximising the economic recovery of oil and gas, and it is largely funded by an industry levy. We are disappointed that the planning officers relied on such advice in favour of the recent advice from a group of leading independent geologists.
The planning permission was granted for the full three-year period, even though appraisal phase normally takes weeks not years. Angus Energy explained that this was necessary to test a new geology.
This is a cause concern, as Angus are targeting an entirely new geology that has never been produced from anywhere in the country, whilst operating under an old style environmental permit. There is a complete lack of monitoring under the existing permit of many of the proposed and ongoing activities. This puts the local environment and people at risk.
The Brockham site is currently going through a re-permitting process by the Environment Agency, a process that started over a year ago. It is unclear when the new permit will be put in place. The EA didn’t submit an objection to the proposals, but they did submit a comment to inform planning officers that a number of issues are still being evaluated and additional data is being sought from the operator, including on the flaring of gas, well stimulation treatments using acid, wastewater re-injection.
We are convinced that Angus will start commercial production under this appraisal permission, which is what they had consistently told their investors. This is reminiscent of the events in January 2017, when Angus drilled an unauthorised sidetrack whilst openly communicating this to investors. It clearly demonstrates a cavalier attitude from Angus to both the local authority and the local community. The assurances from the planning authority that they will expect the maximum standards of professionalism and transparency gives us no confidence whatsoever.
This permission was given against the objections by the Parish Council, the Mole Valley Council and the local people. When this operation begins, it will make the area less desirable to live in and only Angus board members and investors are set to prosper.
Brenda Pollack, south east campaigner for Friends of the Earth
“This really does make a mockery of the supposed “gold standard” regulation system for oil and gas development in this country.
“Angus Energy were told by the council that they needed planning permission before they drilled the well last year yet went ahead without it. It’s no wonder that locals have no trust in this company nor in the regulatory system that we have. The comments by some councillors and the Chair of the committee show that they weren’t happy at giving this permission today.
“With the government’s proposals to fast track ‘non fracking’ in England it feels like we are on the way to completely messing up our environment.”
Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for south east England
“Dangerous precedent set. The committee votes in favour of the application for retrospective planning permission for a sidetrack drilled without the permission Angus—”the least reliable hydrocarbon operation the council has dealt with” (Tweet)
David Lenigas, oil entrepreneur
“Great to see and watch the Surrey County Council decision today on Brockham. Very exciting for all concerned. Not going to say much more than … This is a very big decision for the UK as a whole and I’m very proud to be part of what’s happening in Surrey. Jobs, jobs and jobs.” (Tweet)
Lorraine Inglis, Weald Action Group
“We’re shocked and disappointed that the members of the planning committee could so blatantly ignore the advice they’ve received from experts.”
Reporting from this meeting was made possible by donations by individual DrillOrDrop readers
Updated 9/8/2018 with additional comments