Leading Surrey councillor lists challenges of working with Weald oil companies

Brockham lorry 2 Brockham Protection Camp

Photo: Brockham Protection Camp

Oil companies operating in Surrey have played regulators off against each other, failed to consult with residents and lacked professional advisers, the chair of the county council’s planning committee has complained.

Cllr Tim Hall, speaking at a meeting in the Houses of Parliament, said:

“Understandably the public are now quite quizzical about any activity at any of these sites.”

Cllr Hall was giving evidence to an All Party Parliamentary Group about government proposals to change the planning rules for shale gas exploration and production.

He gave details of how one company, Angus Energy, told the county planning authority in winter 2017 it was just doing maintenance on its well site at Brockham near Dorking. But after three months, he said:

“We discovered they had drilled a whole new well without any permissions. This was discovered on site with the county, the Oil & Gas Authority, the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency.”

At Bury Hill Wood, he said an oil exploration project had been in the planning system for more than nine years, including public inquiries and court cases. It was withdrawn only in September when the Environment Secretary refused to renew the lease on Forestry Commission land (DrillOrDrop report)

Cllr Hall said:

“It was up a sunken lane, behind Leith Hill, right in the middle of the AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty], the least accessible point in the county almost.”

He said the company had not done a proper transport assessment and it went to the planning committee at least three times on highways issues because a marshalling area, required by a planning inspector, did not have the owner’s consent.

“The first one was at Rykas [café] at the bottom of Box Hill. Somebody went into Rykas the week of the planning committee and said ‘What do you know?’. They knew nothing.

“The second time, it was the service station at Cobham on the M25. Again, there was correspondence before the meeting: ‘What do you know about this?’ ‘We know nothing, we don’t agree to this.’

“And the last time, which is quite amusing in its own way, they put out to consultation to use a layby on the M25 next to junction 9 only to meet the county planners the next day but also the police and Highways England. Highways England and the police both said ‘We’re not going to have demonstrators all over junction 9, get lost.’ So they had to withdraw it.”

Cllr Hall said:

“They did no proper consultation with the residents affected and they only had one serious access point which was one small lane full of agricultural premises and small businesses.”

At a third site, at Horse Hill, Cllr Hall said there had been “constant hype” in the financial press.

“So as a county planning authority, we are deluged with, on one side, objectors, protesters, campaign groups and on the other by shareholders who can’t understand why ‘our oil company’s told us this is the greatest thing since sliced bread and we’re having Houston in the Weald’.

“We spend a lot of time explaining to people, Brockham is a good example, your oil well hasn’t got planning permission, it’s not legit, there’s no way we’re agreeing this. But they say ‘our oil company tells us it’s all fine’.”

Cllr Hall said another problem involved the other regulators:

“There is a difficulty of getting all the regulators together at any one point to agree on what they need to do. Quite often the oil companies play us off against each other.”

At Brockham, he said the previously-disputed well now had planning permission site but it was operating under an old style environmental permit. “So we don’t know what water issues there are.”

He said another challenge was a lack of professional advisers in the oil companies. At the time of the Brockham dispute, he said Angus Energy had six staff, of which only two worked on the oil operation. At Bury Hill Wood, he said:

“They had ex security service personnel, which was interesting to watch their activities, rather than public affairs consultants.

“We did advise them at every stage to actually get some proper advice.

“I think they were quite surprised that they just couldn’t walk in and just drill over one of the most scenic parts of the south east.”

  • DrillOrDrop invited Angus Energy and Europa to comment on Cllr Hall’s points. Neither company responded but this post will be updated if they do.

Reporting from the parliamentary meeting was made possible by individual donations to DrillOrDrop

Categories: Regulation

25 replies »

    • It shows how clueless SCC are. Angus didn’t drill a whole new well. They drilled a sidetrack from an existing well within a site that has a production license until 2036, permissions for multiple wells, and other pre-existing sidetracks, and they had it in black & white from SCC that as long as they didn’t drill into new strata or new depths, it was considered maintenance works.

      Any ensuing debacle is equally the fault, if not more so, of SCC.

      • Samantha Murphy letter to Angus Energy 12th Dec 2016, “Should, however, Angus Energy wish to drill any new boreholes, including new side track boreholes from the existing Brockham No.s 1, 2 or 3; to different geological formations or to a deeper depth or into any undrilled area than already drilled to, then the County Planning Authority are of the opinion that planning permission would be required for such activity and a planning application would need to be submitted. ”

        They didn’t drill to different formations or deeper depths than had already been drilled, thus it was deemed to be maintenenace for which no PP was required.

  1. The word fiasco comes to mind having watched videos of planning meetings for the different sites. Wholeheartedly agree with Cllr Hall.

    • I agree it is a fiasco you have Novice Councillors making decisions on issues they Know Absolutely nothing about These Oil company’s are Oil Explores are just that They are Not Educators. Yet that is what they are having to do at these planning Meetings. I agree with the government on this we need planning officers who are conversant with the Oil & gas Industry & do not have to be led by the hand & have every detail explained to them time after time as appears to be the case as illustrated here by cllr Hall when he refers to a sidetrack as a new well.

      • Did you read the article?

        I remember at least four failed attempts for different dedicated holding areas, which they needed to fulfill a planning condition, but still they wasted everybody’s time applying for planning constent without having done the basic admin. Then they appealed one of tbe deferrals but had to drop the appeal when asked if they actually had Cobham MSA’s permission. Why appeal when the whole TMP relies on routes from a dedicated holding area you don’t have permission to use?
        Europa wasted everyones time, and money on a white elephant.

  2. Why didn’t Councillor Hall just come out and say these companies are cowboys instead of beating around the bush!

  3. Russia and America are without a doubt influencing governments by controlling fuel and oil the UK needs use its natural and free flowing oil in the weald . NO FRACKING. We are about 20 years from being able to sustain ourselves with solar or wind I purpose a levy from the oil and gas which is used from the weald to fund a solar farm in the weald which would cover about 30 acres of land with plastic and silicon to achieve the same energy .

    • John Penrose I do hope they build the next wind farm on your doorstep. as I would not normally wish it on anyone. I know people who live near these things & would class it as psychological torture. having to listen to that annoying high pitch whine 24-7. apart from that without suitable energy storage. they are near useless. either producing too much power or not enough. there is no way we could rely on such a hit or miss energy supply

  4. This is exactly why onshore O&G decisions need to be taken out of the hands of overstretched local councils. They are not competent enough.

    • Precisely. Cllr Hall has unwittingly invited government to look at the common denominator in all these perceived issues they’ve had with 3 different companies. Hmmm…is SCC really up to this task? They can’t operate within budget, nor make decisions within reasonable timeframes, and they ill-advise companies they interact with. A total shower.

  5. I was impressed with Tim Hall at the latest meeting regarding planning for Angus at Brockham. Now I see he is completely on the side of the Weald oil companies by announcing that the local councils cannot deal with these oil issues.

  6. They couldn’t find anywhere to park their vehicles and they couldn’t demonstrate how they could get them up the hill safely. Fact and end of!

  7. Ukog are NOT Angus energy. Ukog have done everything by the book. The issue that the ssc have is that they have got at least 2 cllr that should not be on planning as it is obvious they are against oil production and therefore should not be included.

  8. Quite correct Tommy.

    For all the bluster, it is apparent that Surrey CC have some real issues of competence. Did Tim Hall, after that, explain what is the situation with Brockham now? Why the change if they were so correct and Angus at fault?

    So, a few shareholders have become irate due to delays and therefore costs to them. Shock/horror. If councillors are not up to dealing with that they should let others do so. I would just add the costs to the shareholders are also costs against the income of the local authority.

    No wonder they have problems with their finances.

    • The Weald has been producing oil for over 30 years and includes Western Europe’s biggest onshore production field.

      Not viable, you say? The facts confirm otherwise…

      • So why did Shell, BP and Conoco abandon these prospects? What do these penny share companies know that the oil giants don’t?

        • Maybe new advanced technology in the oil producing industry.Which did not exist 15 /20 years ago Both companies have been flow testing up 3000 Bops .Very profitable for onshore well .Try to keep up to the times and do more research

        • I was working with Amoco in Hampshire in the 1980’s. Amoco sold their fields, Stockbridge, Goodworth and possibly others to Ultramar I recall. The reason Amoco / Conoco pulled out was return on investment. They made more money for less effort offshore and overseas – bigger fields. Each company has a limited investment pot and UK onshore did not meet the required economic returns for these large companies, primarily due to huge corporate overheads and small accumulations. Even then I remember that an onshore well took at least two three drawer filing cabinets of paperwork to plan and execute. An offshore well in the North Sea took one drawer. And returns offshore were much greater. BP was the exception as Wytch Farm was / is huge. They have now sold it to Perenco as it is in decline.

          Penny share companies have almost zero overheads so their economic thresholds are much lower. This is also happening in the North Sea – big companies selling up mature fields; small new starts buying these fields and making money.

          BP were apparently at the shale industry meeting with the Government which DOD wrote about. That is surprising – I wonder why? They have just re-purchased their US shale from BHP at a vastly reduced price so are going back into shale big time.

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