Waverley Borough is preparing to object to plans for oil and gas drilling near the Surrey village of Dunsfold, the council reported this evening.
The news came at the council’s first ever listening panel, organised to hear the views of local residents and organisations.
The three-hour session heard from 22 people, who all objected to the scheme. They included representatives of parish councils, local businesses, community groups and residents.
There were no presentations in support of the scheme. The applicant, UK Oil & Gas (UKOG), was invited but did not attend.
Waverley Borough is a statutory consultee on the application. It said the listening panel would shape its response to Surrey County Council, which will make the final decision.
Planning officers said the application had insufficient information on issues such as the impact on wildlife habitat, hedgerows and trees, highways, noise, archaeology, lighting, noise and air quality. They also said they wanted more detail on the choice of the site and the effect of the development on climate change.
The application is for three years, to construct a well site and drill and test two wells. UKOG wants to explore the Portland sandstone for gas and the Kimmeridge limestone for oil.
The application has an access track off High Loxley Road (left). A second application was published last week with an alternative access of Dunsfold Road (right).
“Applications should be withdrawn”
Stephen Hayward, Dunsfold Parish Council
Cllr Hayward told the panel the parish council objected to both applications and called for them to be withdrawn.
He said a public meeting in the village had raised concerns about the possible release of hydrogen sulphide or sour gas from a further well. He said this had been found in the Portland reservoir in a well drilled at Godley Bridge. He called for independent monitoring of air quality before and during any operations, paid for by UKOG.
Cllr Hayward said there should be a legal agreement on the route used by lorries and a requirement that heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) should not start deliveries until after 9am.
If the site were found to be commercially-viable, oil should be transported by pipeline, not tanker, to limit the impact, he said. If this was not acceptable to UKOG then Dunsfold was not a suitable site.
“Oil rush in the Weald”
Chris Britton, Alfold Parish Council
Cllr Britton said Alford Parish Council also objected to the scheme.
“The decision reached by Surrey County Council will set a precedent for what is rapidly becoming clear is an oil rush in the Weald which could affect all our lives for generations.”
He referred to proposals by IGas to drill two more wells “a few fields away” from the Dunsfold site.
Waverley Borough Council should submit a “robust response”, reflecting residents’ concerns and highlighting what he said was the UKOG application’s lack of compliance with the National Planning Policy Framework.
Several hundred residents in the villages of Alfold and Bramley live within 500m-600m of the Dunsfold site and would be directly affected, he said. Thousands more people would be moving to the area to new homes at Dunsfold aerodrome.
Direct adverse impacts on their quality of life, such as noise, light pollution and traffic, had been dismissed by UKOG, he said. These impacts were “entirely contrary” to Waverley Borough Council policies.
The 37m drilling rig would be a few hundred metres from the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Cllr Britton said.
UKOG comments that the site would be screened by woodland could not be trusted, he said. This was managed forestry that could be felled at any point.
The transport statement made no reference to the safety of road users, he said. The second application moved the access road closer to the site of a fatal accident and to homes.
If the oil reserve was confirmed to be what UKOG predicted, from 12-300 million barrels, it would result in a total of 60,000-1.5m tanker journeys.
Referring to recent seismic activity near the Horse Hill oil site, Cllr Britton called for moratorim on drilling.
Natasha Fletcher, SW Surrey Labour Party
Ms Fletcher called for the Waverley to object to the application.
Speaking at the branch’s climate change coordinator, she said it was “wildly irresponsible” to search for more fossil fuels.
She said the 1.5 degrees limit of global warming would be exceeded if known reserves were burned.
Surrey County Council had declared a climate emergency earlier this month and should now “rule out any search for carbon minerals”.
She said the application was against UK government and Surrey County Council policies.
“It is a threat to the well-being of our local community, our children and our planet.”
“We need our councillors to be activists”
Chris Neill, Extinction Rebellion, Godalming
Mr Neill said “the vast majority” of Waverley residents were against the UKOG plans.
“We expect you listen and represent them”.
He called for a survey of residents to justify what he described as “determined resistance” by the council.
“You have a duty to represent the community against this voracious industry that puts profit before morality.”
Mr Neill said the area had to be ruthless in fighting against the onshore oil and industry. “Every new well is a nail in the coffin of our future.”
“We need our councillors to be activists, to represent our views as best they can.
“Use every regulatory means at your disposal. When they run out, then Surrey County Council should do the same.”
He urged Waverley councillors to lobby the government to change the National Planning Policy Framework.
“We need you to do everything we can think of and things that you have not yet imagined. This is simply wrong and we need you to be on our side, the side that is right.”
“Scheme would destroy business”
Tom Gordon, owner of local wedding venue
Mr Gordon said his property, High Billingshurst Farm, was 100m from the well site. It was the only property in the line of sight of the proposed well pad.
He said he had restored the farm into an exclusive rural wedding venue that was well-known for its tranquil setting and unspoilt views.
His clients had spent £1.5m at the venue, supporting local businesses and churches, he said.
He said some clients were looking to invest £100,000 in a wedding. They would immediately rule out the farm because of the proposed access.
Their first impression would be security staff, activists, police and injunction notices. It would destroy his business, he said. Asked if UKOG had offered mitigation or compensation, he said “no”.
Mr Gordon said he was also concerned about potential air and water pollution and seismic activity.
Unconventional oil and gas relies on back-to-back, he said. This is the tip of the iceberg. It would threaten the local economy, ecology and landscape.
“Breach of human rights”
Ashley Herman, farmer
Mr Herman said UKOG had got the figures wrong for the distance of local properties from the proposed well site.
He said UKOG had described his home as 350m away but it was actually 226m.
He said he promotes his livestock as reared in the Surrey Hills, not next to an oil well.
His farm hosts an annual international cancer awareness festival, at which 900 people come to learn and talk about health. The farm also offers retreat weekends for cancer patients. They are not going to enjoy that 226m away from an oil well, he said.
The farm employs 11-15 local people in an onsite brewery and up to 30 during the festival.
When the commercial forestry was felled, the well site would be exposed. It would be visible from the AONB and local houses.
Nightime noise levels would treble from the current 19 decibels, he said.
Mr Herman said the UKOG scheme could breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to respect private and family life and home.
He added that the UKOG vehicles would have to cross verges to access its site. These were owned by the local authority, he said.
“You can prevent right of easement and the whole thing will go away.”
“Confused application risked public engagement”
Melanie Shone, resident
Ms Shone said she had lived locally for 10 years and valued the peace and tranquillity at night, abundant local wildlife and clean air.
She said poorer air quality would reduce her use of High Loxley Road for recreation and would affect other users, such as cyclists and horse riders.
Increased noise and light at night would be a nuisance, she said.
She rejected the application’s statement on community involvement and she said it had missed information on the ecological impact.
She said traffic would be displaced through Dunsfold. There would also be an impact on the traveller community who lived very close to the proposed site in vulnerable accommodation.
She said any benefits relied on full development of the site. It was hard to evaluate the application because there was a mismatch between negative impacts now and uncertain long-term benefits, she said.
The second application added to the confusion. This put at risk public engagement and perceptions of fairness.
“We are being asked to be unsecured creditors”
Chris Lindesay, publican
Mr Lindesay said he had lived in Dunsfold for 34 years.
He owns the village pub after a career in the city assessing risk. He said:
“UKOG represents a serious cumulative counter-party credit risk to Dunsfold, Waverley, Surrey and Sussex” .
The county council must mitigate these risk before it allows the company to do anything further, he said.
Mr Lindesay said UKOG accounts counted the costs of drilling and future costs of restoration as assets on its balance sheet. It currently reported £25m worth of intangible assets. The auditors of the accounts said given the significance of these intangible assets there was an increased risk of material misstatement. The auditors added that they could not make a comment on this.
“When you are assessing UKOG’s ability to restore our countryside, we are on our own”, Mr Lindsay said. It comes down to our confidence in the management of UKOG and its unique assessment of Weald geology.
He referred to UKOG’s Dunsfold application which said flow tests and pressure data from Broadford Bridge and Horse Hill well sites had been sub-commercial. This was why, he said, some experimental stimulation methods need to be tested at Dunsfold in the search for higher sustainable recovery rates.
Experiments at the Dunsfold site were needed for UKOG to have any hope of revenue, Mr Lindesay said.
“We are asked to be unsecured creditors to UKOG, dependent on them striking it rich at Dunsfold so they can afford to give us back our countryside as it presently is.”
If there was a failure at Dunsfold and UKOG could not pay for restoration, the responsibility would lie with the local communities, he said.
Mr Lindesay said if Surrey allowed UKOG to carry out more drilling, comprehensive security must be required “before a spade hits the ground”.
Based on UKOG’s accounts, this security should be between £7.5m and £9m.
“Oppose application to prevent harm”
Ryan Campbell, Hindhead
Mr Campbell said he was concerned about the global impact of the application on climate change.
“This is not the time to consider new applications for fossil fuels”.
“We cannot beat the climate crisis by extracting more fossil fuels. By opposing this application we are preventing harm.”
Mr Campbell said
“I am proud of where I live It is beautiful. Environmental protection should be everything.”
“Risky application, risky process”
Jennifer Condiss, risk manager
Ms Condiss described UKOG as a risky application seeking to undertake a risking process.
She said the company’s business model fell apart if it could not access funds from the market place. This was a real risk, she said. If that happens the company would not be able to repair pollution or restore the site.
She described a UKOG fundraising document, which listed for potential investors the possible risks. These included: blow outs, fires, oil spills, equipment failure, abnormal pressures and seismic events.
The company said it may elect not to have insurance for some operations because of the high cost. It also said it may not be able to access funds.
Quoting the share price of 0.98p, she said “there is not support for them in the market.” The application should be denied, she said.
“Worst served site by trunk road network”
Paul Osbourne, resident
Mr Osbourne said the location of the Dunsfold site was unsuitable
The site was not served by a road network suitable for industrial-scale use, he said.
“In Waverley, this site is the worst served by the trunk road network. The site cannot be accessed without using roads that are under-designed for high volume and high tonnage. It is surrounded by roads that are designated unsuitable for HGVs.”
Mr Osbourne quoted UKOG as saying the estimated 20 HGV movements a day was not significant. “For a road designated as unsuitable that really isn’t right”, he said.
“I totalled from their figures 9,280 HGV movements and that is significant and they have no plan to mitigate the impact on rural roads in the wider area.”
He predicted the site traffic would cause unavoidable damage to the road surfaces and verges. Homes on the route would be affected by poor air quality, noise and structural damage. There would be an increased risk to road users and increased delays, he said.
There would also be a cumulative impact because part of the proposed lorry route would also be used by construction traffic for housing developments at Cranleigh and Dunsfold Park.
The application is unsustainable and should be rejected, Mr Osbourne said. If it were approved, he said he had little confidence that the prescribed routes would be enforced.
“Proposal is just about money”
Alison Canton, Godalming
Ms Canton said urged the council to object to the application. She said:
“I love living in this area. It is very unique. I brought up my children here. I am here for them.”
She said the proposal was “just about money”. There are things that stand to be destroyed that we cannot put a financial value on, she said.
“Law is waking up”
Rob Wainwright, international development specialist
Mr Wainwright said the UN goals on sustainable development were undermined when the term “sustainable development” was used to describe oil and gas developments.
But he said:
“The tide is changing. The law is waking up to the disaster before us and will catch up with the fossil fuel industry.”
He said law suits against fossil fuel companies were “mushrooming” and firms were being held responsible for their contribution to damage from climate change.
Referring to the recent quashing of paragraph 209a of the NPPF, Mr Wainwright said the UK regulatory environment was changing.
UKOG should be refused permission to undermine the rights of people across the world, he said.
“Little or no mitigation for wildlife”
Matt Phelps, nature conservationist
Mr Phelps said the proposed site was used by lapwing and skylark in the breeding season. They were species on the UK red list – of the highest conservation concern.
The surrounding trees and hedgerows were used by birds and were foraging areas for bats. Badger movements could also be disturbed by the development, he said.
The application proposed little or no mitigation for impacts on wildlife, he said. Natural systems are very complex. Removing a tree or hedgerow may look like a minor change but it could cause a massive knock-on effects to the local ecosystems.
He said wildlife could be disturbed by increased traffic. There could be disruption of song bird communication in the breeding season and interference with the food chain and predator-prey dynamics.
Lighting at night would cause additional disturbance to bats and badgers.
Impacts of Horse Hill drilling site
Lisa Scott, Horley
Ms Scott lives about a mile from UKOG’s Horse Hill drilling site. She described residents there as guinea pigs for techniques not tested in other parts of the world.
She described running on the footpath about 50m from the site and feeling weak. She found out later that this was the day of the first flow test at Horse Hill. She experienced a burning sensation in her throat, which took three months to recover.
The immediate neighbour of the Horse Hill site had been unable to sell her house. Her horses had become ill, her fields had been affected by rainwater from the site and her privacy invaded by site cameras, Ms Scott said.
She said UKOG had failed to comply with the traffic management plan and failed to consider cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.
“Lacks the most basic information”
Dr Jill Sutcliffe, environmental scientist
Dr Sutcliffe, who campaigned successfully against a prospective oil site near her home in West Sussex, said she was concerned about the lack of specific information in the application.
“This application lacks the most basic information with which to make an informed decision.”
Baseline information on air, water, wildlife and health should be gathered before any operation was permitted to begin, she said.
She said fracking was a toxic word so companies did not use it. But the North Yorkshire Minerals Plan defined fracking as the breaking of rocks underground to obtain minerals. This is the substance of the application here, she said.
Dr Sutcliffe called for a 3d profile of the site underground. She said the government had been advised there should be a setback distance from drill sites of 850m-5000m
She said the application at the UKOG drilling site at Broadford Bridge in West Sussex had predicted a 22% increase in HGVs. The actual increase was 68%, she said. West Sussex had to repair the roads and residents in the tiny village of nearby Adversane complained about noise, disruption and increased risk.
Key lessons from Brockham
Ada Zaffina, Brockham Oil Watch
Ms Zaffina said Brockham Oil Watch had been formed in 2017 when Angus Energy drilled an unpermitted well at its site at Brockham, near Dorking in Surrey.
She said the group had learned key lessons:
- Oil and gas companies cannot be trusted.
- Regulators cannot properly police conditions.
- Operations are very hard to police
She said the industry regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority was conflicted because its objective was to maximise production. She described the idea that regulations were gold standard as “frankly nonsense”.
She said UKOG sought to explore the Kimmeridge layers at Dunsfold. This was unconventional strata, she said, that would require stimulation. Angus Energy recently said in a statement that it could not produce commercially from the Kimmeridge well at Brockham without fracking.
“Nothing to recommend application”
Max Rosenberg, CPRE Surrey
Mr Rosenberg described how Leith Hill Action Group and other groups won a nine-and-a-half year campaign to prevent Europa drilling for oil in the Surrey Hills AONB.
He said CPRE Surrey had grave concerns about what he said was “sprawling industrialisation”. Once the green belt has been blighted by any form of oil and gas development it can be rebranded as a brown field site, he said.
He described the horizontal wellbore proposed at Dunsfold as unconventional. It would require the use of acid to extract the oil, he said.
He said the application was based on information that pre-dated the Paris climate agreement. The scheme failed to represent UK government climate commitments, he said.
“There is nothing to recommend this application. CPRE Surrey recommends you refuse this application as one of many attempts to desecrate the Surrey countryside.”
Call for “strongest objection”
Patrick Haveron, Waverley Friends of the Earth
Mr Haveron said the group objected in principal on climate change grounds.
He also called on Waverley to object in the strongest terms on planning grounds.
He listed the group’s main planning concerns:
- The access from High Loxley Road would have an unacceptable impact on highway safety and was contrary to paragraph 109 of the NPPF
- The proposed 20m boundary between the site and coppice woodland should be extended to at least 50m.
- Hydrogen sulphide, found at Godley Bridge gas well, had not beem specifically addressed in this application
“This is a serious omission which needs to be remedied before this matter is considered by Surrey County Council’s planning committee”.
- Concern that UKOG would not have funds to restore the site. The company should be required to provide a bond or guarantee to cover the costs.
- Concern about the relationship between the two applications for the sites. There was a risk that the High Loxley Road access in the first application would be permitted “by the backdoor”.
“UK has moral responsibility”
Sarah Smithies and Kirstie Clough, Extinction Rebellion, Godalming
Ms Smithies (right) said one of the targets, the Kimmeridge limestone, was an unconventional formation. This mattered because unconventional rocks needs more wells.
She said it was unclear what stimulation techniques would be used. UKOG must be asked what it planned.
Ms Clough (left) said it was critical that the remaining reserves of hydrocarbons should be left in the ground.
“As the birthplace of the industrial revolution and a nation responsible for a significant proportion of man-made greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere, the UK has a moral responsibility to act first and act fast.”
“Our job to resist”
Cllr Richard Ashworth, Godalming Town Council
Cllr Ashworth said the application was based on an “out-dated cold war view of energy”.
“When we have seven times as many people against this as for it is our job as representatives of people to resist it in anyway we can.
“We do not want to be remembered as the authority that washed its hands of this issue.”
“Concerns will be relayed”
Cllr Steve Williams, chair of the listening panel
Cllr Williams said the session had raised “real concerns about the future of the planet if we carry on plundering hydrocarbons”. He said this would form part of the council’s response.
He said Waverley would also consider the impact on residents, including the traveller community, the unconventional nature of the operation, highway and traffic capacity, the financial ability of the company to restore the site, the effect on local businesses and the experiences of residents near other sites.
“This evening has to be about responding appropriately. Climate emergency and other concerns may not have a direct bearing on the planning process and technical response but it is important that these concerns are relayed to councillors at Surrey.”
“We shall leave no stone un-turned to relate the concerns of Waverley residents.”
All pictures from Waverley Borough Council webcast