UK Oil & Gas plc announced this morning it has relinquished an oil exploration licence near Dorking in Surrey, which included a controversial site near the Leith Hill beauty spot.
The news comes just over two years after clearance of the Leith Hill site, which had planning permission and an environmental permit. But it was never drilled because the lease on Forestry Commission land expired.
Much of the licence, also known as Holmwood, and more recently A24, was in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Last year UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) said it was “making good progress” in finding alternative drilling locations. It said the new sites were outside the AONB.
But in the statement this morning, UKOG said:
“A detailed study examining the viability of drilling the A24 (formerly Holmwood) Portland prospect’s centre from selected sites outside the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, each over 3 km from the target, concludes that the required long-reach/shallow target-depth wells are neither technically viable or economically feasible.
“Consequently, UKOG and its partners have now relinquished their interests in the licence.”
Update: The Oil & Gas Authority, in response to a freedom of information request, later said UKOG asked to relinquish the licence on 28 August 2020 and this was granted on 26 September 2020.
UKOG took over operation of the licence, PEDL143, from Europa in March 2019 and held a 67.5% interest.
The UKOG statement added:
“It remains a great disappointment to the Company that the licence’s former operator, Europa Oil and Gas, whilst in possession of planning consent, failed to drill the prospect from the Holmwood site, around 1 km from the target.”
The other main partners in the licence were Egdon Resources plc (18.4%) and Angus Energy (12.5%).
Egdon’s managing director, Mark Abbott, said:
“The relinquishment is supported by Egdon, as a technically and commercially viable site to drill the A24 Prospect (formerly Holmwood) couldn’t be identified. It enables Egdon to focus its resources on the core near-term priorities; namely, moving to production at Wressle during this quarter, progressing drilling options at Biscathorpe and North Kelsey, and acquiring a marine 3D seismic survey over the Resolution and Endeavour gas discoveries during the coming period.”
Angus Energy’s managing director, George Lucan, said:
“We support the decision to relinquish this interest which will better enable us to focus our efforts and resources on our principal assets at Balcombe, where we await the planning decision before year end and Saltfleetby where pipeline installation is underway.”
Today’s announcement finally brings to an end a long-running local campaign to prevent oil drilling in the Surrey Hills.
The Leith Hill site, also known as Bury Hill Wood, was considered at two public inquiries and two court cases. The site was also the subject of a High Court injunction and was occupied by protesters until an eviction in June 2017.
Even though it had planning permission and an environmental permit, the site was finally abandoned when the then environment secretary, Michael Gove, decided not to renew the lease.
Julian Everett, of the campaign group A Voice for Leith Hill, said:
“It was obvious from the outset to anyone with even a passing familiarity of the area that this proposal always had zero chance of success. Once you add in the wider implications of fossil fuel divestment and climate breakdown, it beggars belief that this was ever considered viable.
“If this study had been conducted in 2008 then a massive amount of time and money would have been saved that was rightly spent on the protection of this beautiful place from indefensible speculative greed. However we would still like to thank Europa and UKOG: for all the wonderful community bonds and deep friendships with amazing people locally, nationally and as far away as Bentley in Australia which have been forged during the campaigning of the last ten years. It leaves a legacy of renewed community belief, strength and history which would not have existed otherwise.”
Pat Smith, from Pixham, who recently did a 100-mile sponsored walk to raise money for a legal challenge to oil drilling at Horse Hill, said:
“It’s hard to express how wonderful this news is. On my 100 mile walk I stopped at the site of the original planning application and the threat hung heavy over this beautiful woodland. Finally, we can relax: Leith Hill is safe. But the threat remains across the Weald. Oil is a dinosaur. We must move on.”
Ada Zaffina, another campaigner against drilling in PEDL143, said this morning:
“That’s such amazing news! I live just on the other side of the A24, and discovering, back in 2016, that Leith Hill was going to be drilled was traumatising.
“When that plan was stopped, many local people remained worried about the alternative location.
“So, my reaction is tears of joy that the hill and this area will be left alone, though I still find it unconceivable that such a beautiful and precious ecosystem was put under threat and that it came so close to completely destroying part of it.”
Updated 18/11/2020 to include response to freedom of information request