Planners oppose oil test plans at Balcombe: “not in public interest” and “not appropriate to area”


Proposals to test the Balcombe oil well in West Sussex would compromise the protected landscape of the High Weald, council planners said today.

In a report opposing an application by Angus Energy, the planners recommended permission be refused.

They said the proposal for three years of testing would “establish a continued presence of industry which is not appropriate to the area”.

They also said the application did not pass tougher planning hurdles required for a major development in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

The developer has to show there are exceptional circumstances to support the scheme and that it is in the public interest.

But council planners said in the report published today:

“On balance, it is concluded that although there may be a need for onshore oil and gas development to contribute to national energy security, the need is not such that it represents exceptional circumstances, or that it is in the public interest for the proposed major development to be located in the High Weald AONB.”

The report said the High Weald had the highest level of protection:

“The proposal would establish a continued presence of industry which is not appropriate to the area and would not relate well to the landscape or character of its locality.

“It would therefore compromise the landscape qualities of the High Weald area of outstanding natural beauty.”

The report added:

“There are alternative sources of hydrocarbon supply, both indigenous and imported, to meet the national need, there would be minimal benefit to the local economy from the development, and there is scope for meeting the need in some other way, outside of protected landscapes.”

It concluded:

“It is recommended that planning permission is refused.”

The application is due to be considered next week (24 March 2020).

191009 Balcombe application section

Proposed equipment required for extended well test at Balcombe oil exploration site. Image: Angus Energy planning application

This is the first time planners have recommended refusal of an application for the Balcombe site. The council approved flow test proposals in 2014 and 2018.

Balcombe made national headlines in 2013 when the site became the focus of the first major anti-fracking protests in the UK.

The then site operator, Cuadrilla, drilled an exploratory well but ran out of time to test whether there were commercial flows of oil.

Since then, there has been just a seven-day well test at the site and for most of the past six-and-a-half years it has been empty.

Angus Energy, which took over as operator in 2018, is now seeking consent to remove previously-used drilling fluids from the well and carry out an extended flow test.

There were no objections to the application from statutory consultees, including the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive.

But Balcombe Parish Council objected, along with 535 third parties including Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association, Sussex Wildlife and CPRE. There were 28 representations in support.

Key concerns included:

  • Impacts of the flare on human health and the environment
  • Precedent for oil exploration throughout the Weald
  • Harm to local biodiversity
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from the flare, vehicles and produced fuel
  • Noise from the flare and generator
  • Groundwater contamination
  • Increase in heavy vehicles

The planners’ report concluded that the development would not pose a risk to surface or ground water. Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association and Balcombe Parish Council argued that measures to protect the environment at the site were “inadequate, incomplete and misleading”. (DrillOrDrop report).

It said the use of the site represented an “acceptable environmental option” when compared with developing a new site and the impact on ecology was considered acceptable.

It also said the increase in heavy goods vehicle traffic would “not be significant in highways terms and would not result in an unacceptable impact on highway safety or a severe impact on the road network”.

Increased noise from the flare and plant could be “adequately controlled by conditions”, the planners said. Emissions from the flare were controlled by the environmental permit, they added.

  • Shares in Angus Energy ended the day down 15.38%.
  • West Sussex planners also recommended planning permission be granted for another two years at UKOG’s oil site at Broadford Bridge. Full report here

19 replies »

  1. I would wait until the 23rd, Dorkinian.

    There may be some difficulty identifying what has changed. If that can not be demonstrated, and the Weald has not suddenly moved, you may be a little too amazed, too soon.

    • One thing which may have changed is the publication last year of the High Weald AONB Management Plan
      Page 20 quotes the National Planning Policy framework, which says that permission should be refused for major developments, unless there are exceptional circumstances, and “whether a proposal is a major development is a matter for the decision maker”.

      Planning meeting on 24th will come to a decision

      • I would have expected that a development previously approved may be a bit different to a new development, Paul, and that Angus will argue accordingly.

        In terms of major development, the decision maker can say it is, but the applicant can always challenge.

        As you indicate, we will see on 24th. Maybe there will be a decision, but I expect it will be challenged, either way.

        Wonder if the planners have yet considered a carbon border tax, and it’s implications regarding importation?

        (I did like the reference to Angus share price! Holding up pretty well in the current situation, wasn’t it!)

        • Holding on by its fingernails isomer would say eh Martin

          Share Price Information for Angus Energy (ANGS)
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          Share Price:
          -0.175 (-31.82%)

          • Well, Jono, holders in Angus could have sold on the recent rise and made some money. You know, the one you missed and then made out it didn’t happen!

            Don’t take a look at the recent share price decline for Tesla, Jono. If Angus has you worried, you would be in a heck of a state if you looked at that one. Some holders there may have also sold on the rise at $900, but those who bought then may not be such happy bunnies.

            Why are you so worried about the share price? With the WSC meeting now cancelled, there will be no need for Angus to raise any funds for Balcombe for some little while. Quite a help really. They can now concentrate upon the gas, and come back to Balcombe at a later date. No one loses money if a share price declines, unless they sell. At current oil prices, a delay at Balcombe will probably mean that Angus cash position remains healthier for longer than it would have. You may see the market reflect that at some future time.

  2. I’m sure the counsel will approve it. Time to get that lovely jubbly black gold out of the ground. I can almost smell the money

    • Excellent material planning reason for refusal. Angus are unable to provide evidence of a need that outweighs the need to protect the environment.

      Plenty of other sources of oil but only 1 High Weald AONB

  3. Meanwhile, RePower Balcombe, a local community owned renewable energy co-op, has been paying dividends to shareholders of around 5% and has also started repaying initial investments, as they continue to make profits, whilst their installation hosts benefit from reduced electricity prices. And they only started up after the 2013 demonstrations. More installations are due shortly, with one installation ‘oven ready’ and at least two more proceeding towards agreement. At the same time their community fund has allowed them to donate money for, battery storage in one school, LED lighting in several schools, a full solar installation in one school, LED lighting in the Balcombe Club and LED lighting in a Balcombe community building. A local community dreams of a better future, dreams of helping to reduce our dependence on burning fossil fuels for energy, then turns that dream into reality. And all the benefits, all of them, go into the local community.

    • Wonderful to hear how successful this has been especially as I seem to remember how much difficult some people made it in the beginning. Well done

  4. And, at HH there is a 6% Community Fund, which will kick into something quite large, if HH becomes quite large, with no requirement for initial investments.

    My local solar farm has enabled the developers to successfully argue change of agricultural use and the housing is now being built next door upon what was productive farmland.

    Be careful of the Planners unforeseen, or unpublished, consequences.

    • Most of that 6% would go in tax due to the council, and it isn’t payable until UKOG shows a profit.

      Still waiting.

  5. I think you will find that is the same with most community funds, Dorkinian.

    Maybe, when Tesla makes a profit, Mr.Musk may pass on some of his dough? Until then, he can live the high life on other peoples money, ignoring such silliness like Planning!

    Still waiting. Another 15 years??

  6. Seem Like a case of pulling the Rugg from under their feet Having granted previous Planning permissions to Drill the well & then to test. How can they now say its not Appropriate Nothing has changed. the Company should either be Compensated or allowed to complete what they started.

  7. If I was a betting man, gasman, I would expect that BOTH will happen, especially now that the decision is delayed.

    In light of the current circumstances, I would suggest there was little chance that Angus would rush into spending money at Balcombe. Later, they may be of a different mind, and would act accordingly.

  8. Having approved previous test drilling applications the Planners’ decision seem perverse. Did they not anticipate that test drilling might result in “continued presence”?
    At a time when we are all asked to do our bit to ease the Coronavirus outbreak, & the Nation faces the direst economic outlook since the war, companies prepared to invest, employ & potentially contribute tax should be encouraged.
    Previous test drillings near Balcombe had no adverse effects whatsoever, & indeed would have passed almost unnoticed, but for the antics of protesters.
    The permanent protest lobby rejoice that we shall import a bit more energy but Planners & the Parish Council should have no truck with this pointless virtue signalling.

  9. But they do, Rod, because that is often the least point of resistance. Then, local libraries are closed due to lack of funding, and the Government is blamed, but few ask why local income from business has not been increased through encouragement from Councils and MPs.

    Will continue until there are real costs as a consequence. Maybe unlikely with Angus, but some day some company will make a stand.

    Perhaps a few in WSCC need a little trip to Wytch Farm before they quote any more nonsense about impacts that are not there not far away?

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