Opponents of onshore oil drilling in Surrey are at the forefront of the fight against climate change, a county councillor said this morning.
The Green Party’s Jonathan Essex told a rally outside a UK Oil & Gas site near Gatwick Airport:
“The climate front line is here in the south of England and here in Surrey.”
He said new technology would allow companies to extract almost limitless amounts of oil. But he said:
“This is the time to reduce the amount of oil coming out of the ground, not to increase it.”
The rally was protesting about a vote last month by Surrey County Council to allow four more oil wells and 20 years of oil production at the site at Horse Hill. Opponents of the decision said it would make Horse Hill the UK’s second largest onshore oil site.
The vote came just two months after the council declared a climate emergency.
Cllr Essex said:
“I am here to call out the emptiness of Surrey County Council declaring a climate emergency and continuing the promotion of expansion of oil and gas sites.
“This is not acceptable. We need to show this council what having declared a climate emergency means in practical terms.
“We need to reduce the amount of car travel and flights from the south of England. We need to change the way we heat our buildings. We cannot have our cake and eat it.
“Expansion of oil and gas sites is not acceptable.”
About 100 people joined the rally for speeches and a march to the site, where UK Oil & Gas is currently drilling the horizontal section of a second well.
Dr Emily Grossman, science broadcaster and co-founder of Scientists for Extinction Rebellion, said:
“The overwhelming scientific consensus is that we urgently need to move away from the use of fossil fuels and rapidly bring down greenhouse emissions if we are to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
“Allowing 20 years’ worth of oil extraction here in Surrey flies in the face of both local and national climate targets, and will cause not only a direct threat to our financial stability but also criminal damage towards our planet.
“I’m here to support the people standing up for reason at Horse Hill – and to urge Surrey County Council to think again.”
Sarah Finch, from Redhill, is seeking a judicial review of the Surrey County Council decision.
She said lawyers acting for Weald Action Group had advised there were four grounds to challenge the planning approval: two on climate change, one on earthquakes which have affected the area over the past 18 months, and one on greenbelt.
Legal papers have been sent to Surrey County Council and it has until 1 November to respond.
Ms Finch said:
“If we are not satisfied with that response we will go ahead with seeking the judicial review.
“We will put the decision in front of a judge and get it made properly.”
Petra Todd, of the Youth Strike for Climate, told the rally:
“I am watching my future being broken down in front of my own eyes.
“Now is the time to invest in renewables, not fossil fuels.
“Surrey county council knows how it should be behaving but it is choosing not to. It is doing the opposite.”
In a warning to councillors, she said:
“Empty worlds will not save us.
“If you do not act for the planet, future generations will judge you as guilty.”
Rev Helen Barnett, vicar in Chaldon and a member of Extinction Rebellion, urged people to find friends and families to join the campaign. Speaking outside the site entrance, she said:
“Find 10 more people with time and energy to make this the focus of an on-going rebellion.”
She described oil drilling in leafy rural Surrey as like a “dystopian fiction”:
“The relentless pursuit of fossil fuels in the interest of profit stops here. We are not going to put profit before people.”
Rev Barnett said she began opposing oil and gas drilling when she was named by the exploration company, Europa, in an injunction against protests at Leith Hill in Surrey. She said she had done nothing unlawful to justify being included in the legal papers:
“I was furious. This was the beginning of my journey of understanding how these powerful these companies are and just how frightening they are.”
But she added:
“We are frightened but we don’t lack courage.”
Lisa Scott, a parish councillor from nearby Charlwood, said:
“Approving more drilling here was the wrong decision. 20 years of drilling will take us way past the time when the government’s own advisers say we need to have stopped using oil in transport and heating.”
Cllr Clayton Wellman, a member of Mole Valley District Council, urged people to look for “every opportunity” to work with local councillors to oppose the onshore oil and gas industry.
He described how he and fellow Mole Valley councillors had worked on landowners to prevent oil drilling by Europa near Leith Hill. In 2018, the Secretary of State refused to renew the lease of Forestry Commission land for a well site and the drilling plans were scrapped.
“You can win and you will win.”
Lock the gate!
Campaigners against oil drilling found themselves on the wrong side of the anti-fracking slogan, ‘lock the gate’ after the climate rally outside Horse Hill today.
Around 50 people had walked along a public footpath which runs alongside the Horse Hill oil site.
But when they tried to return to the road, they found the landowner had locked the gate and they were trapped inside a field.
A police officer negotiated with the landowner and unlocked the gate, releasing the campaigners.
‘Lock the gate’ was adopted by opponents of fracking in Australia after landowners locked gates to keep out oil companies.
Reporting of this event was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers
(26/10) Rev Burnett’s name and area where she ministers corrected.