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 »

  1. I notice that photos of the protesters show banners made of oil products, fleeces made of it also. photos taken by devices made of oil and transport to the site via vehicles mad of said oil products. Their travel issued CO 2 and rubber particulates into the environment. Their messages were sent via infra structure built on plastic materials. I have had a plastic christmas tree for 30 years, others have cut down 30 real trees and had 30 of them transported, most probably i individual cars made of oil products.

  2. I think this is great for the UK,cutting down on oil coming into this country,and also good for the environment, local councils will benefit from money earned from the oil produced, therefore local people will also benefit, a win win all round .

  3. Hmmm.

    20 years of oil production! Somewhat different to certain “expert” opinion. Time will tell, although the extensive testing to date does tend to side with UKOG data rather than others speculation.

    Majority of public comments in favour. So much for the well (excuse the pun) organised antis.

    I have stated before the real test will be the success, or otherwise, of horizontal drilling. If it does the job, the good people of Surrey should achieve a nice little bonus to income into Council coffers. Trust they don’t waste it on Bourbon biscuits to support more endless discussion, but invest it in projects to benefit the community.

    • Support from investors who have been fleeced by UKOG isn’t surprising, they are not local and don’t give a damn for those who have to put up with the misery of this dirty industry. I note that the water based eco friendly drilling mud isn’t being used here after Sanderson made such a big deal about it at Broadford Bridge.

      • And all the antis are local, Jono?? That is NOT what Ruth has supplied, although the semantics are interesting. And yes, some of the investors ARE local. And some supporting are not investors.

        Perhaps some of those supporting are from one of the most expensive areas for housing in the country, surrounded by nature reserves and have had no misery from this industry ie. around Wytch Farm, just interested in adding their EXPERIENCE to counter SPECULATION and FABRICATION. If so, well done to them shining the light of reality into the dark and scary space some would like to create.

  4. Finally some common sense from the UN:

    “We face a crisis

    Climate change is upon us, and its impacts are getting more severe with each passing year.

    Global actions to slow climate change are promising but insufficient. We must invest in a massive effort to adapt to conditions that are now inevitable: higher temperatures, rising seas, fiercer storms, more unpredictable rainfall, and more acidic oceans.

    We are not starting from a standstill. There are many bright spots where adaptation efforts have begun—but we need more urgency, innovation, and scale.

    Adaptation is not an alternative to a redoubled effort to stop climate change, but an essential complement to it. Failing to lead and act on adaptation will result in a huge economic and human toll, causing widespread increases in poverty and severely undermining long-term global economic prospects.

    The good news is that adaptation, done right, will lead to better growth and development. It will also protect nature, reduce inequalities, and create opportunities.

    We can do it.”

    Instead of wasting time and money trying to stop it, accept that the climate is changing, and adapt…..

  5. You mean return to historic times and drink English wine Paul?

    I can go with that.

    Might even make electric vehicles work that seem to lose up to 50% of their (limited) range in cold weather. Could even make replanting of oak forests in Scotland a starter-if there is land left free of wind turbines. More sea grass “plantations” around our coasts, protected from destruction by placing within off shore wind farms?

    Can hope, but not that confident there will be the joined up planning required.

  6. Some of these Arguments are farcical I mean How is it more environmentally friendly to extract oil in another country & ship it halfway round the world producing all that Extra CO2 when we can just pump it out of the ground here. its got to be better Because its not like we are going to stop using oil any Time soon is it

  7. Exactly Gasman!

    Spot the tanker at Fawley Refinery and then identify where it has puffed from. The same refinery planning to boost UK production of diesel by £800m investment, as we import a lot of that as well. The same refinery which has had far less supply from Wytch Farm in recent years as the production has declined and HH will, at best, only replace a fraction of that oil supply-which has caused none of the issues the antis keep harping on about. Whilst Gatwick Airport, and every other airport that takes aviation fuel from same refinery, have plans for expansion!

    No wonder more members of the public in support than against.

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