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 is recommended that planning permission is refused.”
The application is due to be considered next week (24 March 2020).
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