Legal challenge issued to Horse Hill oil production plans

191026 HH Sarah Finch DoD

Sarah Finch at Horse Hill protest rally. 26 October 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

A Surrey resident has issued a legal challenge against the county council’s decision to grant planning permission for long-term oil production and more drilling at the Horse Hill exploration site.

Sarah Finch, from Redhill, has campaigned against drilling for oil at the site in the green belt near Gatwick Airport since 2013.

She said today:

“I believe the council’s decision to grant permission for more oil production at Horse Hill is wholly wrong.

“It is astonishing that while the planet is in the grip of a climate crisis, permission is being granted for the production of fossil fuels, which we should be trying to eradicate, not encourage.”

Her case is backed by the law firm, Leigh Day. Solicitor with the firm, Anna Dews, said:

“Our client believes that the council’s decision to grant permission for this development was unlawful and comes at a time when there is an increasing awareness both locally and globally of the need to urgently address the climate crisis and the requirement to reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 100% below the 1990 baseline.”

The county council approved plans on 11 September 2019 for four new oil production wells and a new water reinjection well. The permission allows the operator, Horse Hill Developments Limited, to produce oil for 20 years and increase the area of the site from just over 2ha to 2.8ha. It also permits four gas-to-power generators and seven new oil tanks, each with a capacity of 1,300 barrels.

190911 Horse Hill vote DoD9pg

Surrey County Council voting in favour of 20 years of oil production at the Horse Hill oil site near Gatwick, 11 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The legal challenge asserts that the permission was unlawful for four main reasons:

  • failure to assess the indirect climate change impact of the plans
  • failure to assess the greenhouse gas impact from the oil the site will produce
  • failure to assess the impact of the development on seismicity
  • the detrimental impact of the development on green belt land

The case, brought with the support of Weald Action Group, will argue that the county council failed to comply with obligations of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and regulations by not assessing the greenhouse gas impact of the proposals.

It will also argue that the council’s approach to the climate change impact was unlawful when considered against the requirements of its development plan and National Planning Policy Framework.

On seismicity, Ms Finch will argue that the council’s planning officer failed to address this issue, even though academics from Edinburgh and Glasgow universities predicted in statements that operations at Horse Hill could induce earthquakes. A series of seismic events has affected the area near Horse Hill since April 2018. The site operator has repeatedly said it has not caused the seismicity.

Sarah Finch is crowdfunding for her case.

  • Work to drill a horizontal well at Horse Hill finished yesterday, the owner of Horse Hill Developments Limited said in a statement. UK Oil & Gas said the HH-2z well, approved by the county council two years ago, had been drilled to a length of 2,500ft into the Portland reservoir’s most productive zone of “sweet spot”. An extended well test would begin in the coming weeks, the statement said.

27 replies »

  1. [Edited by moderator]We need oil for industry , which in turn gives people a livelihood ,without oil this country would grind to a halt ,so should we ship it from half way round the world which in turn would create more pollution,?? Bet you have central heating and a car to run about in.

    • We can do some things ourselves, but not others. We have given up the car and meat eating, and haven’t flown for 20 years. But we are all in a global energy system which is why we need systemic change to make our homes and transport entirely fossil-fuel free. Only governments can do that. If we produce our own fossil fuels it won’t mean less production elsewhere – simply that the global price will fall and lead to increased consumption overall.

      • Sorry Alastair, your knowledge of global supply/demand/price for fossil fuels is just incorrect. The amount of oil produced at HH will have absolutely no impact upon global prices or consumption. It will simply replace imported oil that is CURRENTLY coming into Fawley Refinery. As a result, the UK government will get a bit of income, the local community will get a bit of income and UKOG will get a bit of income.

        Whilst you have given up the car and flying have you not noticed that EVERY major airport in the south of England have plans for expansion (even Bristol where they plan to ban diesel cars!) and Fawley Refinery has an £800m expansion plan?

  2. How strange these lot are not giving up the use of fossil fuels themselves. They are happy to use petrol and diesel for their cars, 4x4s and vans; gas or wood for heating their homes and electricity to illuminate their posh houses. But hey climate change is real “you” need. Do as I say, don’t do as I do.

  3. Thanks to everyone who has given so far, amazing support from the heart of our community.
    Keep sharing the crowdfund link with your friends and help save our air, water and climate.
    Together we can hold Surrey County Council to account.

    • You are all a bunch of. Hypocrites. You all use fossil fuels and this oil you are using is currently being imported which creates a greater carbon footprint. Local oil extraction is more environmentally friendly then oil imports . We are not able to fully rely on green energy unfortunately and so in the meantime local extraction is better overall (plus will help boast our economy). If you live in wooden huts and don’t drive cars then I will apologise .

    • Yes send your diesel to; Surrey County Council Planning & Regulatory Committee, County Hall
      Penrhyn Road
      Kingston upon Thames
      KT1 2DW
      So pleased you investors have enough money left to send a donation, however modest.

      • Perhaps Dorkinian, as you have enough money to constantly burn the midnight oil you could pay?

        Don’t worry-the investors have already written to that address.

        • I have replied to that address supporting UKOG will be great for the economy of this country, and create lots of jobs. Also the local council have a percentage of the cash generated for local people so everyone is a Winer .

  4. Will there be an independent monitor to oversee every single penny of yet another crowd fund campaign using climage change as a money raising excuse? Will the legal team act with such conviction that they offer their services pro bono? Of course the legal team will not be acting for free. Money, money, money. Follow the money! Just how many millions and billions of pounds are funnelled into the back pockets of people advocating for the climate change industry? The last thing these people want is for HH to be closed down. Why? No more legal challanges, no more crowd funding of the gullible and no more cash in the pockets of advocates. Well, you go ahead and hand over your hard earned cash to fund the salaries and expense accounts, the 4x4s, the 1st class tickets to all those conferences in paradise locations, of these campaign groups and advocates. Then try getting information about the accounting of that money. Just see what a response you get when you start questioning where has all the climate change money gone!!

  5. Thank you so much I have also been standing in the road, knocking on doors at Horse Hill. I was born in Surrey. Began activism Balcombe and then north. Many people are hoodwinked into thinking the Government will now ban fracking. Horsehill are determined to poison our water and give us earthquakes. Gatwick flights and people trying to leave this country will need to begin praying. The local people to this well in my experience eg nearby houses have not wanted to help us (i hope now one or two more are doing this). IYou have my heartfelt support Frances Ocean Sussex resident now

  6. UKOG DO NOT DO FRACKING AND THEY DO NOT POISON THE Water supply , and local people are in favour of UKOG drilling, . And the local community will benefit with jobs and the council will also benefit financially so everyone wins .

  7. Can you justify your assertion that “most local people are in favour of UKOG drilling”?

    Having knocked on doors in Newdigate most people I spoke to were totally opposed to Horsehill because they are frightened that there will be a devastating earthquake. They understand clearly that it is Horsehill that is causing the earthquakes and that the OGA conclusion that the earthquakes are natural was fudged by EXCLUDING Horsehill from their discussion. If 6 wells at Horsehill produce 500 barrels each pd (and that is a big if) it will represent 0.2% of UK daily needs. It will need 15×160 mile round trips top deliver it. If I could do the sums, the CO2, fuel, road damage, pollution, etc .,is probably greater that bringing in the fuel in huge ships.

    The precautionary principle says this well should be closed down. Its output will most likely be insignificant and it could cause huge costly damage to 1000s of homes and the operator would not have the financial resources to compensate householders so the burden would fall on the taxpayer.

    • I think you are missing the bigger picture.

      Lots of oil production by will be needed for the new refinery after the £800 million being spent on it to produce diesil.

      The people of Newgate are being mislead by people like you scaremongering & using them for your own purpose.

      • MH You are missing the bigger picture. Whatever crude oil input Fawley needs will never be provided by the piddling short term output from Horsehill. So I don’t have to worry about helping Fawley fulfil its investment plans. I just have to worry about when the next earthquake will come and if it will be of a size to damage my lovely home. When I stop to think about £800 million it is the potential cost that could result from a damaging earthquake in this area.

        • Peter

          The earthquakes around Newgate started months before the flow tests at Horse Hill.

          They happen all over the country. In Shropshire where I live we have no oil exploration or production but have had more earthquakes & of a much higher magnitude than Newgate in the last 50 or so days.

          Horse Hill is just being used a a scapegoat by extremist’s.
          There are no sismic events being caused by the drill or tests.

          • MH Shropshire is known for earthquakes. Newdigate isn’t. Flow tests aren’t the only cause of earthquakes but the OGA chose to focus on this in order to exclude Horsehill as a cause of the earthquakes. What is cettainly true is that now Horsehill has activated the fault, flow from 6 production wells and water re-injection can only make matters worse. And for what? An insignificant amount of oil in terms of UK needs. It just isn’t worth the risk.

              • MH You are mis-infomed. Significant activity started in March 2018 in preparation for the flow tests and the first earthquake happened on April 1st. Clearly not due to oil flow. One would have hoped that the OGA would have recognised the coincidence and set in train an investigation of what actually took place. One would have hoped that the “independent” experts and academics would have had their curiosity raised and would have started a research project. Even the Davis & Frohlich question “is there a well in the vicinity” was answered with a No because (echoing your words) there was nothing happening at Horsehill. I don’t believe the D&F question asks “is there an active well” and anyway, as was proved later, there certainly was activity. Only one person, Stuart Haszeldine looked for and proposed a possible causal link and that was dismissed by the OGA. Since then Greg Hocking of Geo Sierra has proposed a similar hypothesis. Unfortunately it seems there is a strong agenda in support of onshore exploration so no-one is interested and it will need a really serious earthquake to wake them from their complacency. Luckily Haszeldine and Hocking are on record so no-one will be able to say they weren’t told. BTW Hocking was also ignored by the OGA when he predicted the PNR earthquakes based on the same hypothesis. Go to GeoSierra where he talks about PNR and Newdigate.

                I took a look at your recent Shropshire earthquake. It was deep, 7km, and presumably in bed rock and almost certainly natural. Ours are shallow, 2km, and in sedimentary rock with overlying clay which transmits the shock waves. A 3.1 here has caused damage to property. A 3.1 in your area probably isn’t felt as you say. I understand that earthquake swarms in sedimentary rock due to natural causes are very rare, maybe unheard of.

                • You seem determined to blame Horse Hill but as you say no oil flow.

                  Also no drilling or activity that would cause any seismic activity.

                  At this stage there was not even equipment on site for the flow tests.

                  So I am not misinformed.

                  I have followed & will continue to follow the events at Horse Hill closely.

  8. I forgot the other big lie.


    It has no need due to the natural fractures which allow the oil to flow naturally.

    These conventional oil recovery methods have been safely used for many years onshore.

    Look at Whych farm which produced over 100,000BOPD at its peak, which is a popular tourist destination & has had no effect on property or its values.

    So it can not be compared in any way to PNR.

    • MH There haven’t been any earthquakes at Wytch Farm. It is the earthquakes that are the issue at Horsehill.

      I didn’t say that UKOG are fracking. I said that Greg Hocking believes that the same explanation for the cause of the earthquakes applies. Did you read his explanation at the Geo Sierra site

        • MH. Grant Hocking himself says he may not be right.

          What is unacceptable is that he has put forward his hypothesis and the OGA and supporting experts from academia have chosen to ignore him, presumably because it doesn’t suit their agenda. Very sad.

          It is clear from the timeline that the earthquakes are caused by Horeshill. Horsehill was excluded because the experts couldn’t fit the circumstances with their experience. Unlike Grant they chose to not look beyond their experience.

          Grant comes along with a possible hypothesis that does fit the circumstances and they aren’t at all interested. I think you will agree it doesn’t say much for the mind set of the academics involved. With such an outlook we would still be living in the Stoneage.

          With the drilling of HH2Z I think we will soon be clearer.

          More earthquakes will definitely point the finger at Horeshill and Government will have to take action as at PNR. If so, hopefully my home will survive the experience

          And we will know whether Horeshill really will flow oil in any quantity or simply go the way of Brockham, Broadford Bridge,………

  9. PeterM

    Your views as Grants are subjective!

    You are right & we do not live in the stone age & this is a democracy.

    Different parts of the country have faced challenges over the years for the national interest.

    While I understand your frustrations & concerns:

    I will say that as a individual with your concerns that you to have chooses & decisions that you could make to move should you consider the personal risk to great although that must be your decision.

    LA in America sits on major fault lines & has had major earthquakes far bigger than England but this is a thriving US city.

    As Grant says there may be no problem & as such all the worry may be for nothing.

    That is obviously what the majority of the experts believe based on the evidence & processes involved.

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