Broadford Bridge exploration site. Photo: Broadford Bridge Action Group
Councillors in West Sussex have voted by 10-1 to allow another two years at the oil exploration site at Broadford Bridge.
This post has live updates from the county council’s planning committee, meeting in a “virtual” session to discuss an application by the site operator, UKOG234, a subsidiary of UK Oil & Gas plc. Links to webcast and agenda
This is the third request for a time extension at the site near Billingshurst, which is currently suspended.
UKOG said it does not plan to do any more drilling or testing at Broadford Bridge during the additional two years. It said it needed the time to assess its other site at Horse Hill and the proposed exploration operation at Dunsfold, both in Surrey.
Opponents of UKOG’s operation said yesterday the extension should be refused because of recent developments at Horse Hill and Dunsfold. Broadford Bridge Action Group described Horse Hill as “beset by water problems”. Last week, Surrey County Council refused permission for Dunsfold.
These are news updates reported live and are not an official or verbatim report of the committee. Please let us know if you spot mistakes or feel we have misrepresented evidence.
Key points from the meeting
- Application approved by 10 votes to 1
- Condition added to prevent site lighting
- Planning officers recommend approval to extend the life of the site for two more years
- Application meets local and national planning policy, officers say
- Opponents say the committee should take into account recent developments in Surrey
- The application contradicts West Sussex policy on climate change, say opponents
- 413 of 538 comments to a public consultation on extending the site opposed the proposals
- No objection from Horsham District Council but West Chiltington and Pulborough Parish Councils did object
Broadford Bridge Action Group said this afternoon:
“We are disappointed at this short-sighted decision to allow yet another two years of uncertainty for this site.
“This will leave West Sussex County Council (WSCC) tax payers exposed to a potential high cost to the environment and the economy (should UKOG be unable to afford restoration of the site.)
“The biggest threat of all – the effect of Climate Change on this region – has been ignored which flies in the face of WSCC’s commitments.
“The local WSCC councillor Pat Arculus called this site ‘an irritant and an annoyance’ yet only one Councillor was willing to refuse to allow the permission to be granted. Their eyes are open to the risks and we hope we will not be paying the price for ignoring them.”
After the meeting, DrillOrDrop invited UKOG to comment on the decision. The company issued the follow statement to investors on Thursday 9 July: The chief executive, Stephen Sanderson, said:
“The Kimmeridge play, where UKOG holds industry leading knowledge and an unrivalled acreage position within the sweet spot, remains of primary Company interest. This extension will enable us to incorporate key future well and test information into our understanding of this new play before any further appraisal of our BB-1 Kimmeridge discovery.”
The committee votes to extend the life of the site and security fencing and cabins for two years by 10 to 1.
11.50am: New condition proposed
Chairman Cllr Paul High says the planners have recommended approval of both the site compound and security fencing.
Cllr Peter Montyn proposed new conditions of no flood lighting on both applications. Councillors agree to add the conditions.
11.25am: Questions by councillors
Cllr Simon Oakley
Cllr Oakley asks what is the relevance of the related sites in Surrey. He also asks whether climate change legislation may take precedence over planning policy.
Chris Barlett says UKOG is “after a suite of data” from Broadford Bridge and other sites from the Weald Basin. He says planning policy takes precedence. The application is in accordance with the minerals plan. National policy says indigenous oil and gas is to be explored, Mr Bartlett says.
Cllr Oakley asks what is the progress at the other sites. Is there a reasonable prospect that those other sites will produce the information needed in time.
Mr Bartlett says the Dunsfold site has been refused. The Horse Hill site has permission for production but is still being tested. Even without them, the application still meets local planning policy. The application is not reliance on the other sites, he says. It is about building a picture in the Weald Basin, Mr Bartlett says. The application is justified in its own right, he adds.
Cllr Pieter Montyn
Cllr Montyn asks whether delays at other sites would require another application for extension.
Planning officer Chris Bartlett says the applicant can’t be prejudged on what it might do. We would expect the site to be restored by 2022.
Mr Bartlett is asked why nothing has been done. The applicant is trying to build a bigger picture, he replies. The committee chair says: You don’t get information by doing nothing? Mr Bartlett says UKOG has been working at other sites.
Mr Barlett adds there will be no overnight security lighting or impact on nesting birds.
Cllr Brian Quinn
Cllr Quinn says UKOG has had enough time at Broadford Bridge. Why hasn’t there been a restoration bond, he asks.
The majority against the application would mean it would be refused in a referendum, he says.
Chris Bartlett says a restoration bond is not needed. On the consultation, he says the substance is considered from comments, not the numbers.
Cllr Richard Burrett
Cllr Burrett says the current planning permission has expired. He asks whether this is an issue.
He says he was surprised about the number of extensions at Broadford Bridge. He asks how normal this is.
Chris Bartlett says the best case scenario for the duration of restoration is six weeks. He says the application to extend was submitted before the current permission had expired. The delay was because of the Void-19 crisis, he says. If approved, the permission would be extended to March 2022.
Other sites had extended their permissions. It was not abnormal, Mr Bartlett says. We look at applications on their own merit, he says. This application accords with local planning policy.
Cllr Burrett asks why the estimated testing phase, of several weeks, was so short in the original application, compared to what has actually happened on the site. Mr Bartlett says the testing phase has been completed. The site is now in its retention phase. It is just a gravelled site with a container over the borehole, he says. Only the retention phase would be allowed if the application were approved.
Cllr Andrew Barrett Miles
Cllr Barrett Miles says he understands the feelings of the opponents that it seems contrary to climate change objectives. But the application must be judged against rules and regulations. There will be an ongoing need for oil and gas to feed industry and personal needs for some time to come, he says.
There is a need for onshore oil and gas exploration to happen as long as it does not have have adverse impact. There is no adverse impact from this site. The committee has to support the recommendation of officers.
11.22am: Review by planning officer
Chris Bartlett, the chief planning officer, says opponents have asked for a bond or financial guarantee. He says a bond is not considered necessary for an oil and gas site.
The Oil & Gas Authority is required to assess the financial capability of the site operator.
11.18am: Local councillor
Pat Arculus, the local councillor for Pulborugh, is invited to speak.
Cllr Arculus says most residents hope we will not need fossil fuels in future. We should be encouraging the alternative, she says.
We have seen an increase in use of products from the fossil fuel industry during Covid-19 crisis.
I would like to see the Broadford Bridge site restored. It is an irritant and an annoyance but I cannot see forcing restoration early will help. She says the delay would not cause any new problems. Restoration now would increase impacts. I’m not sure this is what the residents would want, she says.
11.07am: Speakers supporting the application
11.13am: Nigel Moore, UKOG agent
Mr Moore says he is responsible for planning compliance at Broadford Bridge. The 24 months will allow for review and restoration. No new works are planned and no new impacts are expected.
The review process takes time because the reserve is 1km beneath ground. The applicant gets one shot at appraisal of the reserve so it pays to be precise, he says.
All this work has to be done through a 6 inch drill pipe from the surface.
Analysis of data also takes time, he says.
Why bother, he asks. Security of the UK’s oil and gas supply is a matter of overriding public interest, he says. Our future use of oil and gas must become smarter to meet climate target. But it must be managed so the transition is not at the expense of jobs and prosperity. A managed transition would insulate us from imported supply.
Our systems must be made more resilient. “Just in time” needs to be replaced by “local supplies”.
We can live greener lifestyle, as shown by Covid-19, but two decades of growth have been lost in two months.
Achieving net zero emissions in 2050 requires economic resilience in 2020. We need to back UK business and ensure investment stays in the UK.
We will only have a future if we can get through the current crisis. We need to build on our own strengths and plot a future to protect jobs and the economy.
Broadford Bridge has the potential to do this.
11.08: Matt Cartwright, commercial director of UKOG
Mr Cartwright says only seven months of operations were carried out during the initial period of permission.
When UKOG acquired the site, it wasted no time to extract oil from Broadford Bridge. Data has also been acquired from Horse Hill and the wider Weald basin, he says.
Additional analysis is needed to assess the Kimmeridge limestone oil at Broadford Bridge. The decision is driven entirely by the technology.
During the Covid-19 crisis, people had changed their behaviour. But without oil and gas there would be no aprons, masks or visors for care workers, he says.
Most oil and gas is imported, he says. To protect our citizens, we need a secure supply, he says.
On the net zero target for UK emissions, also requires domestic oil and gas, he says in the short term. Sourcing supplies closer to home would reduce emissions, he says.
To do nothing is not an option. To rely on imports is not in the public interest. Domestic oil and gas would provide high skilled jobs and revenue.
He asks the committee to support the application.
10.49am: Speakers opposed to the application
10.58am Caroline Instant, local resident
Ms Instant says she regularly passes the Broadford Bridge site. She says she hopes to reflect the views of other objectors.
Another councillor, Noel Atkins, drops off the meeting temporarily.
She says her prime reason for objecting was on consistency. She says the county council has acknowledged a climate emergency. Everyone has a part to play, the council has told residents. It is completely hypocritical to extract more fossil fuels, she says. She urges councillors to see the application in the round.
There is no need for the development, she says. UKOG has not found any commercial resource and will not. They have had sufficient time and should move to restoration.
There must be a reduction in fossil fuel extraction. There should no attempt to find new sources of oil and gas, she says. The council’s mineral plan should be urgently revised.
UKOG said the oil would be used for plastics. This should not be encouraged, Ms Instant says.
There was a three-fold increase in traffic on the road when the site was in operation, she says. We are trying to encourage cycling. People should not face heavy goods vehicles, she says.
While the site remains unrestored, the greater impact on wildlife. The council should be trying to encourage biodiversity where it can, she says.
The company is just trying to avoid restitution of the site. This is a political, not planning decision. The council should residents it is consistent in its thinking. There is no benefit from the site in its suspended site. I urge you to reject the application and assure restitution by October 2020.
10.50am Dr Jill Sutcliffe, chair of Keep Wisborough and Kirdford Green
Dr Sutcliffe says this is the third time the committee has considered the Broadford Bridge site.
The drilling rig was removed two years ago after the original well developed a washout zone when drilling fluid was lost, she says.
UKOG stated the well had produced little of commercial value – so no economic gain. It repeatedly said if it found nothing it would stop and restore the site.
Dr Sutcliffe says:
Their worst case scenario allocates 30 months for retention of which they’ve had 27 months so they should finish including that restoration of 6 weeks by October.
While the drill was working, harm was done. Above all, Adversane residents suffered from the enormous disruption Let’s not burden Adversane again.
The company says it might need to use Broadford Bridge to access or work with those at Horse Hill in Surrey. It’s too late, she says.
Fossil Fuel companies need to stop and clear up the damage that has been created to the climate by their pollution and should pay according to the Polluter pays principle
Cllrs must represent residents of Sussex and extend to them a duty of care, she says. If the average increase in temperature exceeds 1.5 degrees C, which could happen in the next 10 years, Dr Sutcliffe says:
we will start losing bits of the county to Sea Level Rise – Climping, West Wittering and Selsey on the Manhood Peninsula, which form part of the “buffer zone” for Chichester
There is a clear legal requirement that local planning authorities must address climate change, she says.
Dr Sutcliffe says UKOG is in a precarious financial position,. The county should consider requiring a restoration bond for Broadford Bridge, she adds.
Mineral planning authorities are responsibility for taking financial security for restoration if they consider it necessary.
Dr Sutcliffe says:
Given the well integrity failure, potential contamination could yet come to light. This is a real risk that the chemicals used in the drilling could have got into the environment
She says the Environment Agency’s chief executive, Sir James Bevan, has said “We need to mitigate the damage from climate change by reducing or stopping the human activities which are causing it. We can do that by cutting our emission of greenhouse gases.
Dr Sutcliffe says:
The applicant has stated repeatedly that if they found nothing they would stop and restore the site. They found nothing so they should go.
Cllrs: There is no substitute for taking action. Refuse this unnecessary, untimely, application.
Cllr Morwen Milson drops off the meeting. She is to be excluded from the vote.
10.39am: Planning officer’s statement
Chris Bartlett, the council’s principal planner, says two applications seek to extend permission for the Broadford Bridge site, security fencing and cabins.
The wellpad is about 430m from Adversane Lane. There are designated ancient woodlands close to the well site. The area is not designated for wildlife or landscape quality.
Mr Bartlett says the site was first granted planning permission in 2013. An extension was granted last year. Drilling and testing has been completed.
The extra time is needed to allow UKOG to assess boreholes in the region.
If data indicates that there is not a viable hydrocarbon resource, the
well would be plugged and abandoned.
West Chiltington and Pulborough Parish Councils objected saying UKOG had had enough time on site and the applications should be refused.
Horsham District Council made no comments.
On the well site, 413 of 538 comments objected. On the fencing application, 59 of 162 objected.
Mr Bartlett says
It is concluded that there is a current identified need for the retention of the well pad and associated infrastructure on this site.
Impact on local residents
Mr Barlett says:
Given the low key, temporary nature of the development, it is considered acceptable with regards to its impact upon local residents.
Impact on the environment
Mr Bartlett says:
Although the site use is of an industrial nature within a rural setting, it is well-screened from public views and, therefore, it is considered that the proposal is acceptable in terms of landscape and visual impact. Other than restoration, no physical works are proposed and so the development does not pose a risk to the water environment, either at the surface or groundwater. The potential impact of the development on habitats and species would be minimal.
Mr Bartlett says:
the extensions of time to enable an overarching evaluation of the results of
hydrocarbon exploration are considered to have minimal impacts on people or the environment, and would help to meet an identified need for hydrocarbon exploration and appraisal. Both developments accord with the development plan and other material considerations, including the National Planning Policy Framework. Therefore, it is considered that the proposals are acceptable subject to the imposition of appropriate conditions to control the potential impacts as it progresses through the final stage of development.
Mr Bartlett says an objection received this weeks draws attention to the refusal of UKOG’s application for Dunsfold. He says UKOG said the Horse Hill site was still being tested and the data would be relevant to Broadford Bridge. The extra objection does not change his view, he says.
10.38am: Broadford Bridge application
Discussion on the Broadford Bridge application begins.
Chairman Cllr Paul High says there are two applications for Broadford Bridge oil site at Woodbarn Farm, Adversane Lane near Billingshurst. They cover extensions of time for the well site and for security fencing and cabins.
He says there have been many responses to the public consultation.
10.30am: Meeting opens
Cllr Paul High opens the meeting.