About 120 people attended a meeting this evening about plans by UK Oil and Gas to drill for oil near the Surrey village of Dunsfold, near Guildford.
Opponents of oil exploration across southern England, urged residents to challenge the company about its plans in the village.
Environmentalist, Nicola Peel, who campaigned against UKOG’s operation at Broadford Bridge, told the audience:
“You need to ask UKOG very specific questions.”
John Gray, the village’s representative on Waverley Borough Council, said:
“It is very much down to people of Dunsfold to get themselves organised”.
Julian Neal, a member of Markwells Wood Watch, said villagers should lobby their MPs and councillors. He said the Conservative MP, Penny Mordant, had supported his group’s campaign against UKOG’s proposals at Markwells Wood:
“I was able to convince Penny Mordant in a hour-and-a-half meeting of the environmental and public health dangers of the Markwells Wood proposals.”
The first indication of UKOG’s plans for Dunsfold emerged just over a week ago when letters were distributed in the village on 15 February 2019. (DrillOrDrop report)
UKOG said it was looking at a site north east of the village. It did not identify the exact location but residents described the site as Pratt’s Corner.
A Don’t Drill Dunsfold Facebook page was established within hours of the UKOG letters being distributed and tonight’s meeting was organised days later. The venue changed to a larger room because too many people wanted to attend.
UKOG issued a press statement last week to address questions it said it was being asked about the plans for Dunsfold.
The company’s chief executive, Stephen Sanderson, said he hoped to “fully engage” with residents at a meeting in the village next week. He accused, what he described as, “well-known and ill-informed scaremongers” of “circulating fiction” about the company’s plans for exploratory drilling in Dunsfold.
Stephen Sanderson, of UKOG, said in the company’s statement:
“We are not fracking. We do not want to and do not need to because the rock formations we’re targeting are naturally fractured by Mother Nature and can flow oil & gas sufficiently well on their own. This statement of fact is supported by our activities at Horse Hill near Gatwick Airport and at Broadford Bridge near Billingshurst.”
Opponents of UKOG’s operations acknowledged that the company would not be fracking, based on the definition in legislation. But they said UKOG would need to use well stimulation techniques, such as acidising, to release oil trapped inside rocks.
The local campaign network, Weald Action Group, said in a leaflet:
“Acidising means more chemicals. Acidising uses much higher concentrations of chemicals that might be used to frack shale”.
Nicola Peel told this evening’s meeting:
“It is not about how they get the oil out of the ground. It is that they should not be getting it out of the ground at all.”
UKOG said in its statement:
“Our work uses only conventional oil field techniques as used in over 2,000 wells in the onshore UK and the three wells drilled in the Dunsfold area in the late 1980s. Our aim is to assess the commercial viability of the conventional oil and gas discovery made by these three 1980s wells. Our well will involve drilling a small 7-inch diameter hole (i.e. the size of a small domestic drain pipe) which will be lined with steel and impermeable concrete some three-quarters of a mile or more below the surface.”
Lisa Scott, who has campaigned against UKOG’s operation at Horse Hill, told the meeting UKOG wanted people to imagine that it would be using traditional nodding donkey techniques. But its operation was much more intensive than this.
She said the United States regarded vertical drilling as conventional exploration while horizontal drilling and well stimulation, as used by UKOG in the Weald, was defined as unconventional.
She said changing definitions in the UK had allowed companies to describe operations as conventional that would previously have been defined as unconventional.
“It is very difficult for us to get a clear picture. There seems to be a lot of inconsistency.”
UKOG’s statement said:
“We are heavily regulated by four bodies that ensure our practices are physically safe (Heath and Safety Executive), environmentally safe and best practice (Environment Agency), have minimal impact on the locality (Surrey CC) and comply with the terms and operational standards of the licence issued by the Government (Oil and Gas Authority). We cannot undertake any activities without the relevant permits from all four regulators.”
But tonight’s meeting questioned the standards of regulation and the ability of regulators to enforce the rules.
Tony Whitbread, former chief executive of Sussex Wildlife Trust said,
“The Environment Agency and Natural England, have gone through the most massive cuts. The people in these organisations are good but they are massively overstretched.”
Emily Mott, of Markwells Wood Watch, said there had been limited regulation of acidisation techniques. Between 2009 and 2018, there had been no visits to UKOG’s Markwells Wood site by the Environment Agency or the Health and Safety Executive, she said.
UKOG said in its statement:
“We are not polluting the area. Just like our other sites at Horse Hill and Broadford Bridge, Dunsfold will be a zero-discharge site. The ground will be protected over the whole well pad area and perimeter ditches by an impermeable membrane. Any water (including rainwater) cannot penetrate below or away from the site and will be removed and disposed of at an Environment Agency approved waste facility. There will also be secondary containment protecting oil and water based drilling fluid tanks, plus the membrane lined ditch to contain any external floodwater and other liquids within the site perimeter. As per Broadford Bridge and Horse Hill, there are also no significant potable drinking water aquifers below our site as we rest upon a thick sequence of impermeable Weald Clay.”
Nicola Peel questioned UKOG’s statements on risk. She asked:
“How can you possibly say there is no risk? Are you absolutely sure there will not be any kind of spillage.”
She said Sussex fire and rescue service told her it had no details of the chemicals used on site at Broadford Bridge. She said:
“I repeatedly asked UKOG ‘What is our emergency rapid response plan?’. ‘What do we do with local people if there is an accident?’ They never answered me.”
Tony Whitbread raised concerns about the risk of contamination of the aquifer.
“It is a small probability but it is always there. If you contaminate the aquifer, there is almost never a cure.”
Lisa Scott told the meeting that UKOG’s operation at Horse Hill was expected to generate 140,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from diesel generators alone.
She said horses kept in fields next to the Horse Hill site had experienced nose bleeds while people had become ill while walking or running alongside the compound during flow tests.
UKOG did not refer to climate change in its statement but this was a major reason to oppose the Dunsfold proposals for speakers at this evening’s meeting.
Tony Whitbread said the impact of climate change on wildlife was the equivalent to an asteroid hitting the earth. He described fossil fuels as an “old fashioned industry” and said the world should be looking to renewable alternatives.
Nicola Peel quoted the broadcaster, David Attenborough:
“Climate change is our greatest threat and it could lead to the collapse of our civilisation and the extinction of much of the natural world”.
“Do we just say we are addicted to fossil fuels but we keep having another shot? We have to move into the ecological age.”
UKOG said in its statement that it was not causing the recent earthquakes centred on the Newdigate area of Surrey.
But the opponents raised concerns about the earthquakes caused by drilling for gas in Groningen in the Netherlands, where there had been 6,000 claims for damage, and in parts of the US. There had been no earthquakes in the Newdigate area in living memory, they said.
UKOG said in its statement it would not industrialise Surrey. Its sites were well-screened, it said, and each site was less than the size of two football pitches.
“We are only seeking initial permission to drill and flow test one well, on a limited size well pad. Oil and gas activities are by nature temporary. Once our activities have finished at the site, we will plug the well by filling it with high grade impermeable concrete and restore the site, with the original topsoil, to green fields and trees.”
Tony Whitbread, formerly of Sussex Wildlife, told tonight’s meeting:
“This is a big industrial process that is going to affect this area. In order to be successful, UKOG is going to have to drill well after well. How is this going to affect the road, the wildlife, the countryside? This is going to be highly dangerous to the local area.”
Mr Whitbread said the industry’s use of water, in an already stressed area, would be very significant.
“There are fantastic wetland habitats in this area. But what will happen to them if they start to lose water”.
“We will not create HGV chaos in the area. From our experience and actual data from the nearby Broadford Bridge well site and at Horse Hill, the number of lorries during the short drilling phase average at about 2.5 per day with a peak in the first and last week of drilling up to about 8 per day. Significantly fewer than a construction site of the same size.”
But Lisa Scott said tankers delivering to UKOG’s Horse Hill site were too large to enter the gates without damaging road-side verges.
Jill Sutcliffe, of the campaign group Keep Wisborough Green, urged people to check UKOG’s traffic forecasts. She said heavy goods vehicles generated by a proposed drilling site at Broadford Bridge in West Sussex had been predicted to increase traffic by 22% but the group had established the increase was more likely to be 68%. She said:
“The more information you can gather before anything happens the better.”
One member of tonight’s audience said:
“This is a eco double whammy. They will be using lots of tankers to get the fossil fuels out of the ground which we should not be using for climate change reasons.”
“We will share our profits with the community. We will commit to paying a discretionary 6% of revenues to cover business rates and contributions to the local community and near-neighbours.”
Speakers at this evening’s meeting questioned how much benefit would go to the local community. Lisa Scott said the Horse Hill site would employ 30 temporary full time posts but the staff would come from outside the region, or even from abroad. During production, she said, the site would be unstaffed.
Stephen Sanderson, of UKOG, said in his statement that oil was needed for countless everyday items. He said:
“Our activities are designed to increase the UK’s energy security by reducing the increasing dependence on long-distance oil imports from places that often have less rigorous safety and environmental standards than the UK. Even if all vehicles become electric by 2030, we’ll still need to import 300-400,000 barrels of oil per day without increased UK onshore oil production.”
Tony Whitbread told the meeting:
“I am sure there will be people telling you it is good for the economy. Well so was slavery, so is the arms race and so is selling drugs. That’s not the only answer. Alternative technology is good for the economy as well.
“I am really worried that we are still here, 30 years after we should have started a smooth transition to a different economy, talking about old-fashioned industries.”
Mr Whitbread described fossil fuels as “a strength that had been overplayed for many decades too far”.
“This is the wrong thing to do. We’re in the wrong place, we’re in the wrong frame, it is the wrong discussion to have. We should be looking to the future, to modern technologies, not to twentieth century technologies.”
UKOG is holding an information meeting from 3pm-7pm, Winn Hall, Dunsfold Common Road, Dunsfold GU8 4AJ.
Reporting at tonight’s meeting was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers