Regulation

Breaking: 20 years of oil production at Horse Hill approved – live news updates

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Campaigners gathering outside Surrey County Council in advance of decision meeting on oil production at Horse Hill, 11 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

This post has live news updates on the decision over plans for 20 years of oil production and four additional wells at the Horse Hill site near Gatwick Airport.

Opponents of the proposal gathered outside Surrey County Council’s headquarters, where the planning committee meets today (due to start 10.30am). They are objecting about the risks of pollution and the impact of a series of earth tremors centred near Horse Hill. The site operator denies oil operations are linked to the seismic activity.

Council officials have recommended approval, with more than 30 conditions. See DrillOrDrop background report.

The site currently has one well, with permission for two more. DrillOrDrop Horse Hill key facts and timeline.

These are news updates reported live and are not an official or verbatim record of the meeting of the council’s planning committee. Please let us know if you spot mistakes or feel we have misrepresented evidence.


Reporting from this meeting has been made possible by individual donations by DrillOrDrop readers


Key issues

  • Application approved by seven votes to two
  • Vote for a deferral defeated
  • Councillors to ask UK Oil & Gas to carry out public consultation and seismic monitoring throughout oil production
  • Several councillors say a decision to approve would be seen as “uncomfortable” in years to come
  • Two councillors say the UK will need domestic oil supplies for “many years to come”, despite net zero targets and the council’s motion accepting a climate emergency
  • Committee warned against voting for a deferral because of the risks of appeal and costs
  • Head of planning says seismicity is not a matter for the council 
  • Calls for a restoration bond refused

190911-horse-hill-vote-dod9pg.jpg12.14pm Vote to approve

Approved seven to two.

The conditions include an informative on community engagement and seismic monitoring.


12.09pm Vote to defer

Defeated two to seven.

11.26am Committee discussion

Cllr Helyn Clack, deputy chair of the council

Cllr Clack, the councillor for the neighbouring ward, says there is real concern that the earth tremor sensors will not stay in place. They are paid for by universities, not the company, she says.

Can we ask the company to continue seismic monitoring and cease production if tremors reach a certain level, she says.

We are the forum where people can be represented. I don’t see that at the OGA.


Cllr Ernest Mallett

Cllr Mallett says a vote on deferral is “very dangerous”.

The company could go to appeal for non-determination. We would lose control if this were ever to be done. The applicant would be in their right to ask for substantial costs in that we are exceeding our remit. We should not allow a member of the committee to distract this discussion. You should rule this out, Mr Chairman.


Cllr Bernie Muir

Cllr Muir says she understands the reason for a refusal. She asks whether there were no tremors before oil activity or because the tremors were not being measured. If it were the first case, she says, the committee should ask to meet the Oil & Gas Authority.

Caroline Smith, planning development manager

Ms Smith says the committee should assume the Oil & Gas Authority and the Environment Agency will do their jobs properly.


Stephen CookseyCllr Stephen Cooksey

Cllr Cooksey (left) confirms he will propose a deferral. He says local people need a reassurance that the earthquakes are not related to drilling.

The committee needs the assurance of the Oil & Gas Authority on earthquakes before it gives planning permission he says.

A deferral would also allow the committee to look at the duration for the site, he says.

Caroline Smith, planning development manager

Ms Smith says this deferral is not in the committee’s remit and could result in an appeal on non-determination.


PennyRivers

Cllr Penny Rivers Surrey CC webcast

Cllr Penny Rivers

Cllr Rivers (right) says the decision to drill for 25 years could look “uncomfortable in future years”. She calls for a review of the permission every 5 years.

Caroline Smith, planning development manager

Ms Smith says benefits of mineral applications are reviewed automatically after 15 years.


Cllr Ernest Mallett SCCCllr Ernest Mallett

Cllr Mallett (left) says exploration and appraisal stages predicate production, if it is possible. In my opinion, the production phase is not really a planning issue, he says. Refusal is unlikely, he says.

We live in a high oil or gas economy. This relies on the fuel being available. There is a much higher standard of living now but those that have the expectation of that standard living expect the resources that deliver it to be next to someone else. This is what we have to stand for with the standard of living we have.

He says we should produce our own resources. Any contribution affects the carbon imprint, he says. If the fuel is produced locally it has a lower carbon imprint. From a carbon situation, we have to have oil and gas for a some period of time, he says.

On planning, we have to be careful to stay within the committee’s remit, Cllr Mallet says.

If we exceed the remit, we will be in trouble.

In an appeal, the council would be slapped down by an inspector on seismicity. This should not be included in any refusal. There will be massive costs against you.

It is easy to talk about the extraneous matters but you have to sit by the rules and conventions, even if they are unpopular with the local population.

Previous comments on exploration and appraisal were the same as those for this production application. They need a bit more land and equipment for production, he says, and there would be just 2 tankers an hour on the road network.

I am in favour of the application. I do not see any reasons for a delay or a bond.  The chief executive said arrangements were being made for local people. We do find that applicants come here without making proper provision of the local population but in this case these concerns are being met.

Cllr Mallett supports a proposal that UKOG should consult with the local population.


Cllr Rose Thorn

Cllr Thorn asks whether there have been tremors in areas with no oil and gas. She says she is surprised that the officer’s report did not refer to comments made in the consultation on water quality, ancient woodland and emergency planning.

Duncan Evans, planning officer

Mr Evans says the site was subject to robust ecological assessment when it was first established. Tree works and restoration would be subject to conditions, he says. On water pollution, the Environment Agency is the regulator and has no objections, he says. A sustainable drainage system is one of the conditions, he says.


EdwardHawkins

Cllr Edward Hawkins

Cllr Hawkins (right) says the protection of the UK is a responsibility for local and national government and this includes protection of energy supplies.

The journey to low carbon is an ambition, one we have to work for, he says. But we can’t achieve it immediately.

Cllr Hawkins proposes a informative condition to “encourage UKOG to progress greater community engagement”.

We need to be listening to the officers’ statements about our responsibilities, Cllr Hawkins says.


Cllr Bernie Muir

Cllr Muir asks whether seismicity experts are saying that the tremors are naturally-occurring.

Stephen Jenkins, deputy planning development manager

Mr Jenkins says the Newdigate tremors are in the BGS list of natural tremors. There are extra sensors which are picking up more tremors


Cllr Saj Hussain

Cllr Hussain  asks for evidence of the cause of the earthquakes

Stephen Jenkins, deputy planning development manager

Mr Jenkins repeats that the council has to rely on the findings of the Oil & Gas Authority that the tremors are natural.


01KingstonStephenCookseyCllr Stephen Cooksey

Cllr Cooksey (left) asks for details of the response from Banstead and Reigate Council. He says Mole Valley Council did make comments on the application but they were not recorded in the officer’s report.

He says the committee has to face the climate emergency issue. There is an indication in information from residents, he says, that local authorities should take into account environmental issues and not simply rely on government requirements.

In the light of the climate emergency we have declared, the issue of a need over a 25 year period is different from government policy, he says. This issue should be addressed.

There is also huge local concern. There have been two petitions with 700 signatures that have not been recorded, Cllr Cooksey adds.

If we give permission to drill and there is a link to the earthquakes, we need to have the information from the Oil & Gas Authority before we give permission. There may be a case for deferral.

Duncan Evans, planning officer

Banstead and Reigate Council did not respond on the application, Mr Evans says. Mole Valley Council mentioned concerns, which were referred to as general issues in the officer’s report, he adds.

Stephen Jenkins, deputy planning development manager

Mr Jenkins says the council’s climate emergency does not need to be considered because it is not in local or national policy.

Legal opinion

A statement is read out on the council’s position on the result of the Stephenson case at the High Court on the NPPF. This ruled unlawful a paragraph of the NPPF on government support for onshore oil and gas as a transition to a low carbon economy.

The council says the NPPF paragraph was ruled unlawful because a consultation was flawed. The remainder of the NPPF was kept intact, the statement says.

A written ministerial statement reinforced government support for onshore oil and gas. NPPF Paragraph 204a continued to state that planning policy should provide for the extraction of local mineral resources, the statement says.

Planning practice guidance is unaffected. This, along with NPPF and written ministerial statements, should be accorded appropriate weight by decision-makers, the statement adds.

Stephen Jenkins, deputy planning development manager

Mr Jenkins says the council has to rely on the Oil & Gas Authority on seismicity. We don’t have these powers, he says.


Cllr Penny Rivers

Cllr Rivers says:

if the tremors are natural, we should accept it is in an earthquake zone. If the company is drilling in an earthquake zone can’t we ask for a very large bond for drilling now and in the future?

Caroline Smith, planning development manager

Ms Smith says the licence to drill is issued by the Oil & Gas Authority. Production consent from the OGA would require a financial assessment.

If the earthquakes are nothing to do with the industry it would be unreasonable to impose a bond, she says.


Bernie MuirCllr Bernie Muir

Cllr Muir says she wants more evidence on why expert reports which link the earth tremors to activity should be set aside. Without that evidence, she says she would be in favour of continuing seismic monitoring.

She also asks for more explanation of which regulators are responsible for which part of the oil and gas regulations.

She further asks for a condition on seismic monitoring.

Caroline Smith, planning development manager

Ms Smith says the Oil & Gas Authority is responsible for seismicity.

Stephen Jenkins, deputy planning development manager

Mr Jenkins gives details of a workshop on the earth tremors and a paper which concluded the  tremors were natural.

He says planning practice guidance gives control of seismic risk  to the Oil & Gas Authority.

A condition on seismicity would go beyond the council’s remit, he says. The council should rely on other bodies.


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11.16am Planning officer

Duncan Evans (pictured second left), the planning officer, sets out the history of the site.

He says the nearest home is 50m from the site access.

He says the application seeks to retain the site for 25 years, with 20 years of oil production. He says the site would include six production wells, tanker loading and oil storage areas.

He says the drilling rig would be lit at night and would be visible from some homes.

There has been strong local interest in the application, he says. (See DrillOrDrop report for details on comments)

Most of the period of the development will see 20 hgv movement per day but this could rise to 32 during some phases, he says.

On the green belt, Mr Evans says the development would not be inappropriate providing it retains openness. The site would be restored, he says, and the application should be approved.

Other regulators will require permits and consents. The council should assume other regulatory regimes will operate properly, he says.

Mr Evans concludes

The development would not give rise to unacceptable environmental or amenity impacts and the development is consistent with the NPPF and the development plan, the application may therefore be permitted.


11.09am Councillor speakers

Helyn ClackCllr Helyn Clack

Cllr Clack is speaking as the member of the neighbouring county council division. She says her residents have expressed concern about the application.

Cllr Clack speaks about the series of earthquakes in the area. It was a very frightening experience, she says.

She asks for a condition to require the company to support seismic monitoring of further earthquakes.

Production should stop if there is an earthquake measuring 2.5ml, she proposes.

It would be a great move, if the applicant came forward on this issue, she says.

Expert evidence is expert evidence but it is not what we experience. We don’t feel any more sure with two conflicting reports from when this started.

The issue of seismological monitoring has not been addressed by officers, Cllr Clack says.

This would add reassurance to residents, she says.

Cllr Jim Blackmore, vice chair, Salfords and Sidlow Parish Council

The parish council raises concerns about the finances of UK Oil and Gas plc, Cllr Blackmore says.

He says the company could find it impossible to restore the site if finances were as poor as feared and if oil extraction were not successful.

A bond is essential, he says, if permissions were granted for future work. The exceptional circumstances required for a bond are met at Horse Hill, the parish council says.

A commercial organisation should not be allowed to play roulette with the environment


10.52am Company speakers

Stephen Sanderson, chief executive of UK Oil & Gas plc.

Mr Sanderson says the company is committed to contributing to and safeguarding the local environment. The Horse Hill site is operated with full compliance, he says. The Environment Agency has no objections to the proposals.

The liaison with the local community has expanded with the company’s success, he says. We strive to be good neighbours and follow industry best practice.

The benefits of the Horse Hill application will be significant nationally, generating £500m at current oil prices, he says.

I will ensure that the company will share in the benefit. There will be a rolling community benefit programme.

Net zero carbon will not mean a phase out of oil, Mr Stephenson. Oil is used in aviation (20%) and feedstocks for materials in varied items, including computers, phones, appliances, wind turbines, and Greta Thunberg’s high-tech yacht, he says

A world without these products is neither desirable or sensible.

Without domestic supplies, the UK will be exposed to energy interruption from unpredictable supply side shocks, Mr Sanderson says.

Domestic production allows the UK to supply oil for manufacturing, allowing it to remain competitive. Without domestic production the UK would have had to import £17bn of oil.

What we learn at Horse Hill will inform future developments in the onshore industry. It is a unique opportunity to generate profit for the local and national economy.

Matt Cartwright, director of UK Oil & Gas

Mr Cartwright says tests at Horse Hill recorded the highest onshore rates in the UK. The site was declared commercial in 2018, with benefits to the local and national economy, he says.

Onshore oil has tax benefits and reduced carbon emissions by avoiding transport on pipelines and by road, he says.

He says the company is seeking six extra production wells. The site gives the most efficient use of land by directional drilling and the most efficient use of resources. Gas produced would be turned into electricity. Water would be returned to the ground. Oil would be sent to a refinery nearby for export all over the world.

It is the most sustainable form of development, he says.

The company has a constructive relationship with the council and other regulators, he says. The site will continue to be run in a responsible manner and to the highest environmental and other standards, he says. Lorry movements will be largely restricted to tankers, he says.

On earthquakes, Mr Cartwright says three groups of independent experts have said there is a natural cause.

Nigel Moore, UKOG planning consultant

Mr Moore welcomes the officer’s report recommending approval. He says the Horse Hill site is the best available and fully complies with planning policies.

He says energy policy provides resilience to local and global events. Brexit could see a halving of UK emergency petrol reserves, Mr Moore says. UK energy supplies should not be taken for granted, he says.

The government’s national energy strategy on net zero emissions requires oil and gas to have a significant role to play in transition to a low-carbon economy, he says.

Approval will make the UK more resilience, make business more competitive, give us control over pricing and supply. It is development for a wider public good and for the benefit of all.

55% of comments to the application were in favour, Mr Moore says.


10.34am Public speakers

Christopher Lowe

Mr Lowe represents Norwood Hill Residents. He lives within 800 metres of the site.

Mr Lowe says the legal position has changed with the Stephenson case at the High Court which ruled a section of the NPPF illegal. The planning officers’ case does not take this into account, he says. He urges the council to take legal advice.

Mr Lowe says:

you are about to grant an irreversible permission for 25 years – this sits uncomfortably with climate change moves.

He asks what happens if the company cannot pay to restore the site if it goes out of business. The council should ask for a bond to protect public funds.

The planning framework is “ducking many of the issues that the modern world faces”, he says. We think the decision on this application could “look uncomfortable” in years to come, he says.

Pat Smith

Ms Smith lives in Dorking and says she has become concerned about oil and gas extraction in the Weald.

She says she is making a submission about conditions if the application were approved.

Ms Smith says she monitored oil operations at Brockham. She says she has doubts about the operator at Horse Hill. At present, conditions do not meet public concerns and previous conditions may not have been enforced, she says.

Methane monitoring throughout the project should be required, she says. The 25 year application term should not be granted because the country has to reduce its carbon budget progressively. There should be 5-year break points.

The water reinjection well is a huge risk, she says. It should be reconsidered.

There is no requirement for community engagement. The company has a poor record on this, she says. If the application was for  fracking a community liaison group would be required.

People have taken the time to come to the committee because they are deeply concerned about the application. We are counting on you to oppose the application.

Lynette von Kaufmann

Ms von Kaufmann lives in Newdigate. She says there have been 122 tremors in the area since 2018. Residents have felt 13 of them. The ,3.2ML, was reported by 1,600 people to the British Geological Survey, she says.

You hear a loud explosive bang followed by the house shaking, she describes. There has been damage to her house and to those of other people in the area.

A paper by Dr Stephen Hicks concluded the earthquakes were natural and non induced. But other scientists at Edinburgh University believe they are caused by human activity.

She asks:

Whatever the cause, is it sensible to drill five further wells, particularly horizontal wells, so close to a stressed fault?

Referring to damage from gas extraction in the Netherlands, she calls for a deferral until there has been a full 3D seismic survey, a traffic light system, full disclosure of the operating logs and provision for compensation.

Surrey County Councillors have a duty of care to their residents and the precautionary principle should be applied.

Vicki Elcoate – opponent of the scheme – statement read by Julian Everett

The statement for Ms Elcoate, of Weald Action Group, says the county council has approved a motion about climate emergency.

But this application is being treated by planning officers as a business as usual, she says. The application is not the change that Surrey residents are asking for it, she says.

Ms Elcoate asks what independent verification there is for a statement by the applicant that the development will produce negligible greenhouse gases.

The applicant’s estimate does not include greenhouse gases from burning the oil, she says. The methodology and references are out of date. There is no oil-bridge to a low carbon future, Ms Elcoate says.

The committee is likely to hear further applications in the area, she adds. Actions to lower carbon in Surrey will have no impact if the schemes go ahead.

Angus Energy has withdrawn from the Kimmeridge formation at Brockham, Ms Elcoate says. How do you know this will not be the same here? You don’t have enough information to make a decision, Ms Elcoate says.

James Knapp – opponent of the scheme

Mr Knapp is a mention of the campaigning organisation, the Weald Action Group.

He talks about about the swarm of earth tremors centred on Newdigate starting in 2018. He says experts have shown that a fault is critically stressed and was responsible for the tremors.

Mr Knapp says the officers’ report on the application did not refer to earthquakes and the council said it was not responsible for sub-surface issues. He says a landslide following an earthquake caused £600,000 damage to gardens. There was also damage to buildings. It was a miracle that no one had been hurt, he says.

Edinburgh University concluded that oil activity caused the tremors and more would continue if activity continued, Mr Knapps says. There is no way of predicting when the next ones would be or how big, he adds.


10.30am Meeting begins

Cllr Tim Hall opens the planning committee meeting . The Horse Hill application is the only item on the agenda.

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Surrey County Council planning meeting 11 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop


10.15am Councillors begin to take their seats

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Surrey County Council meeting on Horse Hill oil production decision, 11 September 2019. Photo@ DrillOrDrop


9.30am Campaigners gather outside county hall in advance of the meeting

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Campaigners outside Surrey Country Council before Horse Hill decision, 11 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

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Campaigners gathering outside Surrey County Council in advance of decision meeting on oil production at Horse Hill, 11 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

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Campaigners gathering outside Surrey County Council in advance of decision meeting on oil production at Horse Hill, 11 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

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Campaigners gathering outside Surrey County Council in advance of decision meeting on oil production at Horse Hill, 11 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Reporting from this meeting has been made possible by individual donations by DrillOrDrop readers

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