Planners back 15 months of drilling and 20 years of oil production in Surrey green belt

181220 Horse Hill diagram HHDL

Proposed additional wells at Horse Hill site in Surrey. Source: Horse Hill Developments Ltd

Proposals to drill four more production wells at the Horse Hill oil site, near Gatwick Airport, have been supported by Surrey County Council planners.

The scheme is recommended for approval with 31 conditions when it comes before the council’s planning committee on Wednesday (11 September 2019).

The Horse Hill site, nicknamed the ‘Gatwick Gusher’, is in the green belt, 2km away from the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 300m from ancient woodland.

The main investor in the scheme, UK Oil & Gas (UKOG), has already drilled and tested one well and has planning permission for two more. The latest application said, if approved, the new plans would bring the number of oil production wells at the site to six.

The application also seeks to allow oil production for 20 years, drill a water re-injection well and add an oil processing and storage area and tanker loading facility. Full DrillOrDrop review of the application

In a 91-page report to this week’s committee, council planners said the key issues in favour of the application were:

  • Government support for UK onshore oil and gas in energy policy
  • Temporary mineral development in the green belt was not necessarily inappropriate
  • Intended restoration of the site to agriculture and woodland
  • No hydraulic fracturing proposed
  • Comments on the application

The report concluded:

“Taking into account the need for the development in the context of national policy and other relevant policy tests, officers recommend that the application be permitted subject to appropriate conditions to protect the environment and amenity.”


The report said there had been no objections from technical consultees, including the Environment Agency. Natural England made no comments on the impact on designated wildlife sites but it said it had not assessed the scheme for its effects on protected species.

There were objections from parish councils at Salfords & Sidlow, Charlwood, and Newdigate, along with Surrey Wildlife Trust, Norwood Hills Residents, CPRE, Friends of the Earth Bromley, Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green and Weald Action Group.

The council received more than 1,650 public comments on the proposal.

Of these, it said 921 from across the UK were in support. They focused on a national need for oil and need to reduce imports. Onshore oil sites were possible with minimal environmental impacts, the supporters said. They also said the site was discrete and had no nature conservation designations.

According to the report, 717 public comments were objections. These covered issues including:

  • Harm to green belt, community, environment, wildlife Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • The scheme is for a total of 25 years, which should not be considered to be temporary
  • Not in the public interest, minimal contribution to UK energy security, and no local benefit
  • Out-of-character over-development and industrialisation of the countryside, with impacts on nearby farm, stables, homes and schools
  • Lack of appropriate public consultation and inadequate surveys
  • Inadequate independent monitoring of emissions and risk of water contamination
  • Inconvenience during construction, including impacts of traffic, policing and protests
  • Use of acidisation makes it unconventional oil extraction
  • Continuing local earth tremors:  1.2ML tremor was recorded on 6 September; a 1.1ML tremor was felt in Newdigate on 2 September.
  • Does not comply with national and local policy and sets precedent for future applications
  • Lack of trust in operator and its economic viability
  • Contribution to climate change
  • Risk of light, noise, vibration, air and water pollution
  • Property devaluation
  • No emergency plan

Planning report’s conclusions

The report to the committee said the proposed development would not have “significant impacts” on climate, noise, groundwater, the local road network, visual impact or lighting.

On the green belt, the report concluded that the development would have a temporary impact on the openness. But it said:

“provided there is adequate provision for clearance of the site and restoration, this is a temporary use of land, and therefore preserve the openness of the Green Belt.”

The report added:

“there is no reason to believe that the site could not be well restored to the proposed after-uses, which are uses consistent with Green Belt objectives.”

The report concluded that the location was the “best viable option”

It noted that the application was for a total of 25 years and acknowledged the concerns of local residents.

181220 Horse Hill site plan HHDL

Site plan for the proposed extension to the Horse Hill oil site in Surrey. Source: Horse Hill Developments Ltd

Key points on the application

Size: Existing HH1 wellsite measures 1.16ha. The application would increase this to 2.08ha

Distance from nearest village: 1.6km from Hookwood.

Nearest homes: Wellpad is about 370m away from properties; access track is 50m.

Designation: Green belt land

Distance from ancient woodland: Rowgarden Wood is 300m to north of the site

Proposed phases of the work

Phase 1: well site modification and construction

  • Construction of 5 new drilling cellars within existing well site pad to accommodate 4 hew hydrocarbon production wells and 1 new produced water re-injection well.
  • Construction of oil processing, storage and tanker loading on land east of the well site to accommodate separator,s pumps, water storage tanks, seven storage tanks each with a capacity of 1,300 barrels.
  • Installation of 4 gas-to-power generators  to convert produced gas to electricity to be used to power the site and red to the grid
  • Existing 2.5m security boundary fence extended to enclose new facilities. New security gate installed next to woodland edge on access track

Duration: 3 months
Hours: 8am-6.30pm Monday-Friday; 9am-1pm Saturdays
Daily HGV movements: 20

Phase 2: Well management and drilling

  • Mobilisation and demobilisation of workover equipment
    Duration: 2 weeks
    Hours: 8am-6.30pm Monday-Friday; 9am-1pm Saturdays
  • Workover of HH-1z and HH-2
    Duration: 1 month
    Hours: 24 hours, 7 days per week
  • Mobilisation of 37m drilling rig 
    Duration: 2 weeks
    Hours: 8am-6.30pm Monday-Friday; 9am-1pm Saturdays
  • Drilling and completion of four new hydrocarbon wells
    Duration: 15 months
    Hours: 24 hours, 7 days per week

Daily HGV movements: 20

Phase 3: production and management

  • Installation of oil processing, storage and tanker loading facilities and production equipment
    Duration: 4 months
    Hours: 8am-6.30pm, Monday-Friday; 9am-1pm Saturdays
    Daily HGV movements: 6
  • Oil production
    Duration: 20 years
    Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
    Daily HGV movements: 4-32

  • Maintenance workovers
    Duration: 1 month
    Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
    Daily HGV movements: 20

  • Sidetrack drilling
    Duration: 3 months
    Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
    Daily HGV movements: 20

Phase 4: Plugging, abandonment, decommissioning

Duration: 5 months
Hours: 8am-6.30pm, Monday-Friday; 9am-1pm Saturdays
Daily HGV movements: 20

Phase 5: Restoration

Duration: 2 months
Hours: 8am-6.30pm, Monday-Friday; 9am-1pm Saturdays
Daily HGV movements: 20

  • Last week, the Environment Agency reported in correspondence that it had granted a variation to the Horse Hill permit. This allows the use of oil-based muds for drilling fluids and the drilling of a sidetrack.

DrillOrDrop will be reporting from the planning committee on Wednesday 11 September 2019. The meeting begins at 10.30am in the Aschombe Suite, County Hall, County Hall, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2DN. Opponents of the scheme are expected to gather outside County Hall at 9am (details)


25 replies »

    • Thank you Jono and thank you Will Cottrell, Chairman, Brighton Energy Coop, that is very enlightening and illustrates exactly how incestuous and deeply the entire OGA EA and BGS mess are so tied to the fossil fuel industry so that they cannot be trusted to be in the slightest bit independent.

      • Quite amazing that the OGA is associated with the fossil fuel industry – who would have thought it? Incredible news! And geologists and Geophysicists as well….

        • And marine biologists are often associated with aquaculture and the fishing industry. Absolutely shocking!

          (Much more interesting if you look into the “relationship” between some doctors and medical reps.)

      • It must be whacky Wednesday? I see the grinning clowns and jokers are prancing and dancing again?

        Must have coincided with Natural Fake News day too?

        Have a nice day!

          • Yup! Precisely Paul. Was there any actual doubt that it would not be rail-roaded through? There must have been enough threats of personal bankruptcy salted about to make even a hardened tory blush?

            I try not to be right all the time Paul, but frankly, or rather Paully, you lot make it far too easy.

            Well UKOG seem to have supplied their own council planners and thoroughly compromised OGA planted fanfare, accent on the fans of course though fanfare could be spelled fanfair in this case. 

            Are UKOG going to do a triumphal parade and pirouette with their brainwashed jeerleaders for us perhaps? 

            Maybe that natural fake news trick cyclist will do tricks on his Milankovitch cycle for us too? Would need a cycle path though.

            Such fun!

            Hope the hangover tomorrow morning is no toooo, painful….

    • Jono

      Will Cottrell writes I good piece on the blindingly obvious ( that the OGA, BGS and Universities employ ex fossil fuel industry personnel ( amongst others such as barristers, chairmen of community renewable companies et al ).

      But good to see that the treasury £5 million was not for onshore oil and gas activities, a point brushed over in the rush to paint the required picture.

    • If you expected a rational reply Nicholas, I am sorry but the anti antis don’t do rational, they barely do sane. You see that any rational discussion of the subject is forbidden, since the truth is not admissable regarding the leaks from frack wells.

      They will tell you they have “no knowledge” of gas leaks as shown by Professor Anthony Ingraffea in the video.

      What that means is that they have not read the evidence and haven’t watched the videos which show it, hence all that you will get from the anti antis is bizarre irrelevance and desperate avoidance such as that reply displays.

      Dr Wayne Somerville of “The Bently Effect” illustrates the degree of excuses and avoidances employed by the oil and gas operators PR departments in order to divert away from any contentious issues that would damage their operations.

      Keep plugging away, and take no notice of those irrelevancies that pretend to address anything at all relevant but their own deperate empty hyperbolae.

      [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

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