Planners back Balcombe oil well test

Council planners have supported proposals for a one-year well test at the controversial Balcombe oil site in West Sussex, which saw daily protests in summer 2013.

Police escorting equipment leaving Balcombe after drilling in 2013. Photo: David Burr

A planning application by the site operator, Angus Energy, will be decided by county councillors next month (2 March 2021).

More than 800 people and Balcombe Parish Council have objected to the well test plans.

They raised concerns about noise, risk of water pollution, the need for the development, greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on health, highways, amenity, wildlife and the protected landscape of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

This is the sixth planning application for a well test at Balcombe in just over a decade.

In 2020, an application for a three-year test was withdrawn when planners recommended refusal. They said that test was not in the public interest and would compromise the landscape of the AONB.

The current application has reduced the duration of the well test to 12 months. It also includes installation of a new membrane on the well pad.

The work aims to establish whether the Balcombe site is economically viable. If it is, Angus Energy has said it will apply for permission to produce oil. If oil does not flow, the well will be shut down, the company has said.

In a report published this evening, planners concluded the well test would contribute to national energy security and supply and was in the public interest.

They said there would be some adverse impacts. But these could be dealt with by planning conditions. Apart from Balcombe Parish Council, there were no objections from statutory consultees, they said.

They concluded the proposals were acceptable and recommended planning permission, with 14 conditions.

“Major development”

A key issue is the site’s setting in the High Weald AONB. The well test is considered to be a major development, which would normally not be allowed in an AONB unless there were exceptional circumstances.

A 40m crane would be on the site for up to 10 days and a 13.8m flare to burn waste gas would be installed for the duration of the well test. There would also be pumps, cabins and oil storage tanks onsite.

The planners said the “industrial-style operation” could affect the local countryside. But they concluded the impact would not be unacceptable. They said:

“the overall assessment is that there are exceptional circumstances and the development is in the public interest.”

The planners also said testing the Balcombe well was an “acceptable environmental option”, compared with developing a new site elsewhere in the licence area.

On traffic, the planners said the well test would increase the number of heavy lorries on local roads. During mobilisation of equipment, there would be an estimated 56 two-way lorry movements a week. But the planners said the increase 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”.

On wildlife, the planners noted that the site is next to ancient woodland and could have an impact on bats. They recommended conditions to control lighting and monitor the bats.

On water pollution, the planners said the risk to surface water would be minimised by an impermeable membrane and sealed drainage system. They said “it must be assumed” that the well had been constructed and operated to appropriate standards to protect groundwater.

Noise would be controlled by planning conditions, the planners said. The impact of the flare on air quality would be controlled by the site’s environmental permit.

  • The decision will be made at a virtual meeting of West Sussex County Council’s planning committee on Tuesday 2 March at 10.30am. The meeting will be webcast. Link to agenda and reports

15 replies »

  1. Another 50 barrels a week toward UK energy security, at this rate they will want 500,000 wells and then there’s all that water to dispose of.

  2. It’s in the public interest not to add to methane and CO2 levels. Lorry movements not having an impact down country roads is not a logical statement. Bats will be faced with the bright lights that every site uses and for periods this will be throught the night as on every site. Noise from lorries, machinery and site vehicles will be very noticeable and a nuisance. Has the EA got enough staff to monitor conditions or will it be self reporting? How close is this to Newdigate?

    • How does agriculture, in the countryside, not happen to create issues that small scale oil exploration does, PaulaC?

      I have bats living within my garden, but I have lights on at night. Wind turbines are noisy also, and mince bats and birds-and some would like to industrialise the countryside with large numbers of them. Grain driers on farms make a noise all night long at certain times of the year, and I have two friends, one in Lincoln and one in Hampshire who have told me the lights of combines and the noise of the grain driers were more intrusive than the local oil sites. Lorries in the countryside? That’s sugar beet and grain and livestock off the farming list. What’s left?

      You are right about not adding methane and CO2. So, then UK production wins against imports in that respect, and whilst UK imports, then why not improve by controlling the controllable?

  3. Planners, as often, lacking, well, every kind of perspective, understanding of local health, environmental and wider climate impact, any understanding of their moral duty. Can we hope for better from the minerals planning committee??? I love how my phone now underlines all English words as foreign, as spelling mistakes. Good riddance for me to fracking (oh yes, one day fracking), good riddance to Brexit Britain. Both have inspired me to live elsewhere, not in Balcombe.

  4. The climate emergency just got an order of magnitude worse:
    “The truth about atmospheric GHG concentrations is astonishing.

    Global rise: 2-2.5 ppm/year
    (2016: 405 ppm, 2021: 420 ppm)
    Rise in the Arctic: 7-8 ppm/year
    (2016: 407 ppm, 2021: 442 ppm!)

    Local GHG concentrations (<1000 km²) are about to reach a CO2 equivalent of 1,400 ppm!"

    And even the government's own civil servants know carrying on with business as usual is fatal:

  5. And, of course, shipping currently represents more emissions than Germany!

    So, there are some-as above- who prefer to maintain the current levels of shipping emissions to maintain their own back yard, or dogma, whilst claiming they are protecting the environment. LOL. It really would be better to just admit being a Nimby. They are not bad people. But, not loved by the planning process, so there you go.

    All those objections?

    As Chris Bartlett stated regarding another application:

    “On the consultation, the substance is considered from comments, not the numbers”.

    Quality, DoD, not quantity.

    (Had your jab yet, Kathryn??)

  6. The UN report, ‘Making Peace with Nature,….’, published a few days ago, leaves us in no doubt as to the urgency of the global warming crisis and the imperative to act, not least in the scrapping of fossil fuels. I quote from the Executive Summary – “…combating climate change involves a rapid transition to low-carbon energy systems encompassing both production and consumption. Investments in the energy transition need to grow five- or sixfold between now and 2050 to achieve the Paris Agreement aspiration of limiting warming to 1.5°C. Renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar, along with improved energy efficiency in buildings and elsewhere, will be key. Governments must develop laws and policies that enable greater public and private investments in generation and distribution, while also encouraging more responsible energy consumption. Government policy and incentives can speed the phase-out of fossil fuels in power generation and transportation, including by supporting the development of renewable energy storage and electric vehicles.”
    Throughout, the report emphasizes the duty to protect the vulnerable at all stages and with all actions to address the planetary threat. Solutions must protect those who suffer because of their implementation.
    There is no “claiming to protect the environment”: there surely can be no doubt amongst reasonable people that those who resist new sources of fossil fuels are indeed seeking to protect the environment. “Claiming to” is an implication of bad faith which few of those advocating the phasing out of fossil fuels deserve.
    The accusation of nimbyism is unhelpful and on a par with anthropogenic climate change denial. Throwing pejorative labels at those with whom we disagree simply ignores or belittles the fact that there is a corpus of relevant intelIigent argument which supports that position. Such behaviour constitutes an attempt to close down arguments from one’s opponents. We have seen a lot of this recently at home and abroad.
    It matters not what Germany’s emissions are now, least of all in relation to ours, nor does it matter what planners may think if they are ignoring higher imperatives. There is a difference between on the one hand using up existing available resources whilst investing in alternatives and rejecting further pollution, and on the other hand searching for and exploiting yet more polluting resources. What is important is that the world realises that all must now act in concert if we are to have any chance of holding down global heating, now on target for a three degree boost this century thanks to our continuing refusal to accept that we are responsible – a fact that some call ‘dogma’. The United Nations Secretary General tells us that 2021 is “make or break” year.
    “Quality not quantity”? This may occasionally be useful as a rejoinder, but it does not stand alone as axiomatic, nor does it imply – as this selective use suggests – that quantity invariably conceals lack of quality. Nor does it suggest that lack of quantity implies quality.

  7. Nonsense, 1720!

    Using an existing resource? What a fake assessment. Maybe you have a financial interest in oil being imported into UK, or shipping? Otherwise, that really is nonsense.

    Anyone with any semblance of any intelligence knows that when a well overseas dries up, if the export market is still there ie. UK, they drill ANOTHER one. Or, another country does. So, a new resource is opened up to supply an export market, and then the oil is transported! Not really that difficult, is it?

    Your attempts to deny simple maths. is constant-but constantly incorrect. If you are unaware of how the energy market operates that is your choice, but do not expect others to be so lazy. And, yes it does matter if maritime emissions are higher than all of those from Germany. UK may not have any ability to reduce Germany’s emissions, but it has an ability to minimise unnecessary maritime transport emissions that come through importing what can be produced locally.

    Maybe you would like UK chicken production to be limited? I am sure US and Brazilians would agree, but apart from any issues regarding standards (hmm, similar for oil too), then there would again be more unnecessary maritime emissions.

    You have stated yourself that transition will take time. I agree, but I suggest whilst that happens UK can still optimise our sourcing. If you like UN reports, there was one that particularly referenced the importance of local sourcing as a quick and effective way to help in respect to climate change. Your dogma seems more important to you than progress. And, please don’t change my text regarding Nimbys. It is there for all to see, and was fairly positive about them. Others, who do not have that as a reason, then, yes, I have far less respect.

  8. WSCC, at the very least, must insist upon a ring-fenced fund towards site restoration.
    Similar to imposed by Notts Council who insist upon a Bond topped up annually in line with rising costs.
    Okay, so this application is only for a year? Plenty of time for Angus to go bust and leave their responsibilities to others!

    • I seem to recall, mrpgm, Angus did reserve funds for restoration a while ago. Unless they have spent that on other things, your concern should be covered.

      Perhaps there should be more concern about what would happen to these sites as and when abandoned by the exploration companies? There is no guarantee they will end up with an improvement for the locals.

  9. As I said earlier, Martin, you are trying (Feb 20 4.19pm) to close down dissent with pejorative labels, derogatory comments and accusations of self interest or hypocrisy against those who disagree with your assessments, who even risk losing your respect! Be that as it may: we may have to live with that.
    “Not really that difficult, is it?’ Notwithstanding the disparaging implication and explicit attribution of intellectual laziness to me, which I’ll pass over, I should like to suggest that it is not my “simple maths” – you mean, of course, arithmetic – which is faulty: the real difference in our approaches has little to do with “semblance of intelligence”, and much more to do with our interpretation of human behaviour. You are pessimistic in this regard and have a lot of evidence on your side. I prefer possibly to err in the belief that there is much good in humanity, and that, for example, as understanding and empathy dawn upon more of us, we won’t invariably rush out and drill another well when one dries up and the export market is there. Despite the evidential basis of your beliefs, there is also much evidence to the contrary, that when the chips are down, humanity rises to the challenges. We neither of us know which choice we humans will make, the common good or the self-seeking. There may be a propensity in each of us to make a particular choice depending on the hand we have been dealt, but this is not a fait accompli and the choice is there for us all to make.
    The real issue here is whether we continue to search for and exploit new sources of fossil fuels, certain as we are, that a massive and rapid reduction in associated emissions is the sine qua non for a hoped-for and entirely possible draw down of greenhouse gases. We can carry on as before – the pessimists tell us we will – or we can hope for better and address the problem relying on humanity’s history of cooperation and community to overcome immense problems.

    • For all of that, 1720, you avoided an explanation to support what YOU had posted.

      If you want to claim that a country importing large quantities of oil will NOT create more oil exploration/development in countries doing the exporting, then you need to explain how that is the case-but, it isn’t and you can’t. So, why suggest it is?

      I made the perfectly logical, and correct point, that if local production can be achieved with the standards we have in the UK, that is better for the environment than shipping with it’s attending emissions from countries with much lower environmental standards (see current issues regarding Nigeria.)

      You may not like it that my points are fact, but they are, and are not overturned by you posting something that is just factually incorrect, but you would like it to be true.

      Once that is corrected, then indeed there are Nimby arguments to be made. And, many have used them. So, let them be shown as such rather than try to cover that up. Sometimes, they are quite valid.

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