Surrey villagers urged to challenge oil company over Dunsfold drilling plans

190224 Dunsfold audience

Audience at meeting on UKOG plans for Dunsfold, 24 February 2019. Photo: Jane Mote

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.

190224 Dunsfold Jane Mote

Jane Mote, who chaired this evening’s meeting. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Key issues


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.”

Conventional drilling

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.”

190224 Dunsfold Lisa Scott2

Lisa Scott Photo:DrillOrDrop

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.

Climate change

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.

190224 Dunsfold Nicola Peel

Nicola Peel. Photo: DrillOrDrop

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”.

She asked:

“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.”

190224 Dunsfold Tony Bosworth

Tony Bosworth Photo: DrillOrDrop

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”.


UKOG said:

“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.”

Community benefit

UKOG said:

“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

31 replies »

  1. What a load of scaremongering nonsense. There is not a shred of evidence for any of the claims about the benign and well used acidising technique, in use for 120 years IIRC. As for horizontal drilling Wytch Farm in Poole harbour shows this doesnt affect anything, and is done with no environmental effect.

    How many of these protesters drove to the meeting or heat their homes with gas? Please do not bleat on about fossil fuels if you are a major user of exactly the same products. THe words ‘hypocrite’ and ‘NIMBY’ comes to mind.

    • Thanks for your very detailed report Ruth.

      There are some very Interesting discussions there.

      Not least the Climate Change impact that even the children are protesting about, as they will inherit the consequences.

      The minimum of a 22% increase in traffic in unsuitable rural roads, of between 6 litre and 8 litre diesel tankers and trucks. Far greater than that obsessive 3 litre diesel that gets trotted out here regularly.

      The call for more chemicals to be used in drilling operations proposed by Cuadrilla and no doubt will be extended here if approved.

      The definition of conventional due to government massaging of the conventional/unconventional parameters that would not apply in the USA, and hence the COMAH health and safety emergency regulations would not apply, and that would be reduced to a simple directorial “sign off” and mean nothing for public and emergency services health and safety measures who would not be allowed to be informed of any emergency procedures until it happened.

      Then the reported pollution nosebleeds headaches and illness’ of passers by and residents.

      The comment by Tony Whitbread, former chief executive of Sussex Wildlife Trust is missing a word I see and ends with:
      “The people in these organisations are good but they are massively.”….? Underfunded and understaffed perhaps?

      And then to cap it all, (capital?) the proposed location we are told, is called “Pratts Corner”?!!

      That just about says it all doesn’t it.

      [Thanks for pointing out the missing word in the original post – this has now been corrected]

  2. There was no scaremongering at all, just well informed people whom have donr the reserch into the techniques used that the industry uses based on legitimate concerns for the health and wellbeing of the environment. People maybe using cars to get to meetings etc, but in exploring for yet more oil just perpetuates the use at a time when we need be phasing oil out.
    Investing in renewable energy is without doubt the smart and logical way forward. As Sanderson said; ‘the way to make it viable, you need to have back to back wells industrialising the countryside.
    People are waking to the concerns of climate change and UKOG will find it difficult to make money out of this industry as proving already.

    We may be NIMBY’s but we care about the area too.

    • It is interesting to see all the name calling and labelling by the anti antis isnt it.
      But if we wanted to descend down that particular slippery snake, we could equally say that Corporations who take out injunctions to prevent protest and complicit councils who evict necessary monitors when no one else will do it, and then label individuals in such a way are just as clearly “troublemakers, NIMBY’s and scaremongers” themselves aren’t they.
      That, is hypocrisy indeed

  3. Hello, the traffic survey was undertaken at Broadford Bridge. The company’s Celtique Energie at the time in 2013 and thus before it was bought up by UKOG in June 2016) Environment Statement referred to a 22% increase in HGVs. The survey established a 68% increase which adversely impacted the residents of Adversane.

  4. What says it all is that an anti meeting is organised ahead of the meeting planned by UKOG to inform residents!

    Just shows the desperation. “Lets get you excited with misinformation before you have any detailed information from those making the plans.”

    Can’t have the locals forming their opinion around the facts.

    However, the majority will.

    They will even realise Cuadrilla are fracking, UKOG are not, and will not enjoy being taken for fools. Desperate attempts at misinformation.

  5. The meeting with UKOG is a PR exercise, this meeting with people who’ve lived with these sites and sought out the facts and therefore is more reliable for those threatened with yet another well for the Weald. What part of climate change science do you not understand Martin?

  6. What a wonderful turnout at such short notice, I understand that UKOG won’t be holding a meeting as such, rather a drop in type of event that won’t allow debate or difficult questions. It was good to hear that local people had already done so much research of their own. Also good to hear from local councillor that UKOG had named me as a troublemaker, I feel I’m getting through to them, made my day. I can’t believe that HGVs could get down some of those roads.

  7. Really Paula? Looking at the comments from this board “sought out the facts” has to be joke of the week!

    I understand climate change Paula. No need to be patronising. I do not agree with the antis lame suggestions to counter it. Failure to extract oil from the Weald will not decrease the UK use of oil, it will just mean more imports and greater impact upon climate change. Your attempts to cloak such issues is fine in Harry Potter, but in the real world the majority see through them-many having just returned through Gatwick from their half term break, thanks to the good service from Fawley Oil Refinery.

    If you want to make a real difference, get the diesel trains and buses switched to hydrogen. Then Fawley may be encouraged to replace the £500m expansion programme to increase diesel output with a programme to produce the required hydrogen.

    Meanwhile, carry on with your approach and you can help, by so doing, the Donald to build his wall, via the tax proceeds from US oil exports to UK produced via fracking! (US now largest supplier of UK imported oil.) Facts, but best to keep those away from the audience.

    Perhaps the younger ones, need reminding of the facts around the Torrey Canyon? Somewhat more serious than HGV movements.

    • “£1bn underwater electricity cable out of action.” 26/2/19.

      So, another alternative energy system goes wrong very quickly! Windfarms in Scotland supposed to be adding to the Grid, but not, because the interconnector was “not very reliable”. However, £2.4m paid in “constraint payments” in one week-that is payment to power down turbines-paid by consumers as added on to electricity bills.

      Looking good, Paula. LOL

      Mr. Musk in difficulties again, share price dropping again.

      Lame suggestions commercialised and then failing.

  8. Martin, I think you must have been exposed to too much sun at the weekend, you seam more desperate and delusional than ever you usually are. You’re forgetting the facts, and in particular one such fact is that people have legitimate concerns to what is being done in “their back yard” and are wanting to inform themselves as much as possible. “Anti’s” are people who were just normal everyday folk who decided to look in more detail at the industry and companies themselves and not just take what the company say are facts. The anti’s have nothing to gain out of all of this. Trying desperately to ramp up enthusiasm for this industry by making out that it’s financially and even “ecologically” important is desperate and as far as “energy security ” is concerned, well, of course industry has to say that …why wouldn’t they? Investing in renewable energy is where the smart money is and protecting our environment is also of paramount importance. As I keep saying to you money grabbing soulless people who are desperately trying to win hearts and minds in order to push for this evil industry to take off, the many years that the companies have been trying to make this work has proven that it’s not financially or ecologically viable and never will be. The “anti’s” are winning albeit slowly but winning non the less because they care about the truth and understand that money isn’t everything and we will still be driving cars etc for some time to come but will have to rely on other countries as we have done for manyany decades. This government will have to learn to be responsible in it’s actions and start heavily investing in the renewable sector.

    • One flew over the cuckoo’s nest – the problem is that it’s not so easy to just do a bit of “Google research” and then think you know as much as the experts. Many of us have worked on this or similar subjects for a day jobs for 30 years including PhD’s and post-doctoral research and interpretation of the data cannot be done by people without a lot of education in the subject. For example, even critically appraising reports of methane in drinking water requires quite detailed understanding of not only organic and inorganic chemistry but also knowledge of isotope geochemistry. It’s not quite as easy as seeing high methane and then blaming fracking. Essentially, you’d not walk into an operating theatre and start telling the surgeon how to do their job based on a few hours at the university of google and I don’t see why you think you can do the same with this subject.

      • JG, laying aside any possibilities of toxic spills and exposure to ground water/ run-off, you don’t need a degree or specialism to understand there will be an increase in air pollution as a result of this heavy industry coming into this area, it’s impact on traffic and the local community. These are basic facts.

        Heavy industry has detrimental effects on already fragile ecosystems and the fragmentation of threatened habitats that support them.
        Dr Tony Whitbread knows a lot more about the biological, environmental and ecological sciences than the oil and gas industry and its experts on extracting fossil fuels we don’t need.

        • Dr Tony Whitbread an expert in the environmental impact of oil and gas production – don’t make me laugh – it’s too early in the day

          • So you think the oil and gas industry knows more about environmental and ecological impacts from habitat fragmentation? Now that would be funny!

        • Far more impact from new housing and extra flights from Gatwick, Destroy. But then, you seem to want to try and suggest that on shore oil in UK has problems that there is no real evidence for. “Fragile ecosystems”-really? Last time I looked Wytch Farm-Europes largest on-shore oil field, which has been operating for many years, was surrounded by thriving “fragile ecosystems”.

          “Fragile ecosystems” are not threatened by on shore oil, who have a good record in this respect. Stockbridge has not interfered with the River Test maintaining its record of one of the worlds most pristine trout fisheries.

          Remember the Torrey Canyon reference fragile ecosystems. That is the “alternative”. Check maritime annual sinkings. Surprisingly high still. (Well, not that surprising because advocates of importing stuff rather than producing it ourselves, promote it.) How good is UK control over ships that are sailing towards us compared to what is allowed on land within national borders?

          • As before, the aim is to reduce both offshore and onshore fossil fuel consumption, locally and globally (including transportation) due to extreme, rapidly accelerating climate change. Of course, increasing onshore fossil fuel sites across the British countryside can only increase the risks of potential spills and deteriorating air quality from this heavy industry. It takes just one spill to permanently pollute an underground aquifer from which the south-east gets most of their potable water from: https://education.affinitywater.co.uk/water-stressed-south-east/ Just hope Sanderson isn’t planning back-to-back oil sites and using lots of our precious water in the process?

            Would much rather see wildlife-friendly solar farms linking up wild habitat than fossil fuel heavy industry carving up rural areas, releasing toxic volatile organic compounds, CO2 and fugitive methane emissions, ad nauseum. Somehow, i doubt wildlife can thrive in that toxic environment. These solar farms are great for native vegetation, insect pollinators and other species, maybe even your favourite insects, MCFly! Even flies have their important ecological role, though sometimes get stuck in the ointment and occasionally spread disease https://ag.umass.edu/clean-energy/current-initiatives/wildlife-friendly-solar-pv-for-massachusetts

            The RSPB even recommends them for birds, and sometimes even onshore wind turbines (our now well known cheapest form of energy production) in suitable areas away from bird migratory hotspots: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2016/03/09/uk-solar-farms-to-become-more-wildlife-friendly_100023627/

            • All the biggest oil spills are from conventional offshore reservoirs – if you were interested in the environment you would be supporting onshore developments – they are far safer

              • I’d rather have no fossil fuel spills anywhere. If you were interested in protecting the environment and public health you wouldn’t be advocating opening yet more fossil fuel frontiers onshore.

                • Why not, Destroy? Where have the spills been with regard to UK on shore? Do the sites not have extensive protection measures to deal with any spillage.

                  Sorry, your argument is based upon scaremongering and not reality. More fossil fuel has been spilled on garage forecourts than UK on shore sites.

                  Never mind. Good old Sir Jim about to invest £millions to upgrade the Forties pipeline, showing how dedicated he is to protecting the environment. Lucky he is, as the interconnector which was supposed to enable utilisation of Scottish wind is already broken, shortly after it was commissioned 3 years late!

                  Your doubts need a little more researching. Wildlife does flourish around sites like Wytch Farm. Even refineries, such as Fawley, can be beneficial to wildlife, with water extracted from the Solent and returned cleaner than it was when it was extracted! The same Solent that is the waterway for migrating salmon to the River Test and Itchen.

                • There’s that incessantly annoying buzzing sound again or is it Back to The Future?

                  You don’t seem to understand habitat fragmentation and the self-evident detriment to health and well-being from multiple well sites across the UK countryside, that is the inevitable consequence of forcing additional fossil fuel development on local communities, not to mention the increasingly polluted atmosphere we all share globally.

                  If you have any awareness and sense, you would be feeling quite unsettled by the warmest February since records began, when only yesterday actual summer temperatures were experienced in parts of Scotland and Wales. You were ranting on about the beast from the east this time last year remember, but this is just the beginning of extreme climate change events, already destroying people in poorer parts of the world.

                  But you carry on wanting government and banks to prop the industry responsible for accelerating all this mess, it’s really tired and old now and frankly not worth engaging with.

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