Breaking: Test plan for Balcombe oil well refused unanimously

More than seven years of controversial oil exploration in the West Sussex village of Balcombe could be at an end after councillors blocked plans for a well test.

Site plan for extended well test at Angus Energy’s oil site at Balcombe in West Sussex. Map: Angus Energy planning application

The county council’s planning committee today unanimously refused proposals for the site which saw mass daily protests and arrests during drilling in the summer of 2013.

The vote, against the advice of planning officers, decided the application for a one-year well test was not in the public interest and would have minimal benefit to the local economy.

More than 800 people had objected to the proposal by the site operator, Angus Energy.

The local campaign group, Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, welcomed the decision. Spokesperson Sue Taylor said:

“This verdict is such a relief. Thanks to all the hard work of so many people is looking positive for Balcombe.”

Balcombe resident Jon Millbanks said:

“We shall be heartily glad to see the back of oil companies in the village

“They have blighted village life for 10 years and threatened us with increased HGV traffic, noise and fumes from drilling and flaring.

“Now the children at our excellent local primary school will not have to put up with idling HGVs spewing out noxious fumes, metres from their classrooms and playground.”

Malcolm Kenward, a resident and supporter of the local renewable energy cooperative, Repower Balcombe, said:

“We’re far better off generating electricity from solar panels than looking for more fossil fuels.

“The world needs to change the way it thinks about how we generate energy.”

Balcombe resident and campaigner Helen Savage reflects on the lessons from the committee’s decision

In a statement, Angus Energy said it was disappointed with the decision.

“The company is presently evaluating all the options available with its partners”.

At 2.15pm, the share price was down 8% at 0.825p.

Today’s decision is the latest chapter in the saga of oil development in the village. The 2013 protests increased awareness of fracking in the UK and helped to launch a nationwide campaign against the process.

This is the sixth time in just over 10 years that oil companies have sought permission to test the viability of oil production at Balcombe. So far, only a short test has been carried out, in 2018, when unexpected water was found in the well.

Last year, Angus withdrew an application for a three-year test after council planners recommended refusal.

Then officials said the proposal would compromise the protected landscape of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There were no exceptional circumstances that would be needed in planning law to justify consent, they said.

The application decided today shortened the duration of the test to one year and Angus Energy proposed to install a new membrane on the well pad.

But councillors said nothing had changed since last year and there were still no exceptional circumstances to approve the plans.

Unless Angus Energy appeals against the decision, the Balcombe site should now be restored to its previous forestry use.

Councillors who spoke at today’s planning committee meeting

Villagers question benefits

Angus Energy’s managing director, George Lucan, told today’s online meeting that the well test was a “modest development”. But he estimated that it could bring £800,000 in local benefits.

Oil was an important source of energy and an industrial feedstock, the company said. Impacts of the well test would be minor, temporary and reversible, it added.

Council planners said the well test would contribute to national energy security and supply and the application was in the national interest. They accepted there would be adverse impacts but they could be dealt with by planning conditions.

The meeting heard that a 40m crane would be on site for up to 10 days and 13.8m flare to burn waste gas would be installed for the duration of the well test.

Local people and councillors questioned the planners U-turn.

John Millbanks, speaking to the committee as chair of Balcombe Parish Council, said:

“Considering there have been no material changes in the application, in our opinion, the planning officer has misdirected himself in reaching many of the conclusions in his recommendation

“There are no exceptional circumstances to this application and it is not in the public interest.”

Local people said the test was not needed and claims about local benefits were misleading. The potential contribution to national supply was negligible. They said the costs to the local community and environment in noise, pollution, traffic and impacts on nature far outweighed any benefit.

John Butcher, a Balcombe resident and director of a multinational company, said the application failed to meet the tests of sustainable development. The benefits were overstated, he said. The oil industry in Balcombe had caused physical and mental strain to local people.

“Our community has been weakened and worried since 2012.”

Local mother Rachel Hall told the committee she was speaking on behalf of her son. She said one of her main worries was that lorries going to the site would pass the primary school in the village.

“I have witnessed first-hand the sheer number and size of some of those vehicles when Angus was last on site in 2018. Honestly, they are the length of the school itself

“The school lies directly below the pavement and now, especially due to Covid, the windows in my son’s class open straight out towards that road and every day they play in the small space between the class and the road, so we are naturally concerned about the children’s exposure to pollution.”

Rachel Hall said 20-32 heavy goods vehicles were expected to pass the school, local scout hut, church and play area every day for more than five months.

“it only needs ONE of these to be idling outside the school, because they have to wait there before weaving through the parked cars on the residential London Road, to deliver the children a MASSIVE dose of particulate matter.”

There are no safe limits for particulate matter, she said. It is a potential cause of short and serious long-term illness.

“The planner mentions locals will be ‘adversely affected’, this feels like too big a price to pay.”

The traffic noise would disrupt lessons, she said. During the 2018 flow test, people had been kept awake at night she said.

Gary Marsh, a member of Mid Sussex district Council, said the committee should take into account the government’s green agenda.

Bill Acraman, the local West Sussex County Councillor, quoting from the film Casablanca, said:

“The reasons for doing it are not worth a hill of beans.”

  • Plans for a six-month well test at Balcombe in April 2014 was approved by all but one of the planning committee members (DrillOrDrop report)

Balcombe resident and campaigner Helen Savage reflects on the lessons from the committee’s decision

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37 replies »

  1. Perhaps they won’t appeal? Chances of success at Appeal are around 85% apparently if the Planning Department have recommended approval previously. But if they don’t appeal then this will definitely be over.

    Back on planet earth (no wind turbines on Mars unless there is one on the rover..):

    At 0900hrs this morning Electricity Generation UK:

    Demand 40GW
    Gas 60%
    Nuclear 10%
    Biomass (Drax) 7%
    Hydro 2%
    Coal 2%
    PV < 1%
    Wind < 1%
    OIL same as wind……
    Imports 11%

    And we don't need fossil fuels…….

    • Anti’s are a powerful force Mr Tresto, they can power the energy cycle from a plastic keyboard and hot air… it’s a shame most on this thread don’t know or understand the reality of producing power, the sort which is applicable in your above table of electricity generation!!
      Light switch, illumination!
      Gas cooking and heating at the touch of a button! Funny that, but no understanding of progression, and if you fill the UK with more turbines??? It’ll be alright?!?
      it’s a sad old world!

  2. Thank you, Patrick – (March 2, 2021 at 10:39 pm). Yet more evidence in the overwhelming case against fracking – see
    And still the applications roll in. Those guilty can no longer claim ignorance, nor hide behind the absence of the (notoriously difficult) direct causal link.

  3. Yes, I agree. Thanks Patrick Sudlow for posting that link, and for Iaith1720 for drawing my attention to it.

    Harrowing information isnt it? Its the denial of the fracking corporations and the local authorities representatives that impact the situation that is most telling of the “corporate/government” attitude isnt it?

    “Students play at the North Strabane Township Park, in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.
    The problem posed by fracking waste in the region’s waterways came to the public’s attention in 2008, when the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to some three hundred thousand people, suddenly acquired a salty taste. It turned out that waste haulers were trucking millions of gallons of fracking wastewater to municipal sewage plants along the river. Early in the fracking boom, lines of water trucks idled outside the plants’ gates. Many of these towns were poor and welcomed the cash that they received from fracking companies for taking the waste, until they realized that their facilities could not properly process it before sending it into the river. Justin Nobel and Kristen Locy, reporters for the Pittsburgh-based Public Herald, recently found that this liquid can contain levels of radium that are fifty-seven-hundred times the E.P.A.’s limit for safe drinking water. Chemicals in the waste, some known and others proprietary, were feeding into local drinking-water uptakes and filtering into tap water.”

    Perhaps all our registered waste treatment facilities need to be thoroughly tested for contaminants for radium and other contaminants such as benzine and other chemicals that are detailed in that report. And equally all adjacent water courses and streams that are nearby any of the waste treatment facilities and the fossil fuel exploration and extraction sites, including the abandoned ones, as a matter of urgency?

    Interesting that one of the effects of contamination by these carcinogenetic chemicals and radion is primarily symptomatic of a respiratory nature to begin with?

    Perhaps there is more going on in the UK than pandemic viruses?

  4. As you celebrate your victory will you allow a defeated supporter of the Lower Stumble well a final rant?
    Those of us who supported the well had hoped Balcombe might set an example of a community willing to welcome development of her natural resources as small contributions to the national & local economy & tax base, to the reduction of imports from, in many cases, unsavoury regimes, & perhaps as a reward squeeze some perks for the village from the land owners & drillers. And all this while proving the doom-mongers wrong by remaining a beautiful & safe place to live.
    The drillings that have taken place support this hope. The only real inconvenience to the community has been the antics of protest mobs.
    The only immediate consequence of the rejection will be a more peaceful Balcombe. What’s not to like?
    Just as anti-vaxers spare themselves the minute & largely invented risk of vaccination so long as the majority roll up their sleeves & do their duty, so anti drillers can spare themselves minute & largely invented risks so long as their energy is piped into them from “less precious “ places.
    However if Swampies & the like are allowed more “ victories” we will all , and especially the next generation, suffer the consequences.
    While Europe spends billions on a gas pipeline from Russia our industries are expected to compete based on windmills & sunshine. While anti-capitalist mobs are allowed to disrupt whatever internet trolls dictate our entrepreneurs & investors will give up & go elsewhere.
    We will discover that we cannot forever enjoy our Welfare Sate on borrowed money. Perhaps the next generation will have to experience seriously under-funded services consequent on Greta’s zero growth economy before reality returns. For the sake of my grandchildren and yours I hope not.
    History gives us reason for hope. Reflect that our predecessors who left us railways, sewers, inoculations, pain relief, birth control & airports, to name just a few, also had to contend with opponents just as passionate & misguided as todays anti-frackers.
    Finally, before I am pilloried for blasphemy against climate change, may I suggest that to make real progress the most practical short-term objective is to persuade those countries using AND COMMISSIONING NEW coal fired power stations to switch to oil & gas? We will not persuade them by impoverishing ourselves however virtuous a glow we get, but it would actually achieve a real reduction in emissions. A de-industrialised Britain will achieve nothing.
    Cheers, Eco-warriors, I have enjoyed our, usually courteous, exchanges over the last nine years. To all who suffer the consequences of this set back, my apologies. May others do better.

    • From:- The Defender

      Sky-High Levels of Dangerous Chemicals Found in Kids Living Near Fracking Wells

      “A small pilot study found chemicals linked to cancer and organ damage in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times higher than the average American, and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.”

      “It’s been 12 years since fracking reshaped the American energy landscape and much of the Pennsylvania countryside.”

      “And despite years of damning studies and shocking headlines about the industry’s impact — primarily on the state’s poor and rural families — people that live amongst wellpads remain in the dark about what this proximity is doing to their health and the health of their families. A two-year investigation by Environmental Health News (EHN) set out to close some of those gaps by measuring chemical exposures in residents’ air, water, and bodies.”

      “In the summer of 2019, we collected air, water, and urine samples from five nonsmoking southwestern Pennsylvania households. All of the households included at least one child. Three households were in Washington County within two miles of numerous fracking wells, pipelines, and compressor stations. Two households were in Westmoreland County, at least five miles away from the nearest active fracking well.”

      “Over a 9-week period we collected a total of 59 urine samples, 39 air samples, and 13 water samples. Scientists at the University of Missouri analyzed the samples using the best available technology to look for 40 of the chemicals most commonly found in emissions from fracking sites (based on other air and water monitoring studies).”

      Heavy toll on families

      This was a small pilot study, so we aren’t able to draw any sweeping scientific conclusions from our findings. Instead, we hope our findings will provide a snapshot of environmental exposures in southwestern Pennsylvania families and help pave the way for additional research.”

      “We found chemicals like benzene and butylcyclohexane in drinking water and air samples, and breakdown products for chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.”

      “The chemicals we found in the air and water — and inside of people’s bodies — are linked to a wide range of harmful health impacts, from skin and respiratory irritation to organ damage and increased cancer risk.”

      “But these stories are about more than a list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. They’re about a single father on disability who fears these exposures are causing his son’s illness but can’t afford to move; a family that did move to escape a school surrounded by well pads, but found themselves living next to a new set of wells and still being exposed; and quiet rural lifestyles once defined by idyllic farms, rolling hills and fresh air now overwhelmed by heavy truck traffic, heavy industry and communities at odds over whether to protest that loss or try and cash in by leasing their mineral rights.”

      Children from two families involved in EHN’s study participate in a 2019 youth climate change protest in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo credit: Connor Mulvaney for Environmental Health News

      Far-reaching impacts

      “In the U.S., fracking has become a flashpoint in national debates about climate change and America’s energy future. In Pennsylvania, study after study after study has found that state lawmakers who support pro-fracking legislation have received vast amounts of money from the industry, while polls show that a majority of Pennsylvania residents oppose fracking. Meanwhile, financial analysts fret about the industry’s massive debt overhang and uncertain future, especially post-COVID-19.”

      “While financial analysts, policymakers, and massive corporations squabble over the finer points of the fracking debate, families living amidst the wells day in and day out live in constant fear about what the industry might cost them — if they had another child, would they need to worry about birth defects? Are these exposures increasing their kids’ cancer risk? Would it be safer to move to a place far away from all of this, even if it would also mean being far from their extended families, friends, and communities? And even if they could move, how far would they have to go to feel safe?”

      “EHN’s analysis also found unexpected exposures even in families that live further away from fracking wells in Westmoreland County, proving that in southwestern Pennsylvania, we really are all sharing the same airshed — and that exposure impacts from the oil and gas industry’s emissions likely extend far beyond just the people living right next door to well pads.”

      “Environmental Health News is an award-winning nonpartisan organization dedicated to driving science into public discussion and policy. Read the 4-part series below, and listen to an interview with reporter Kristina Marusic about the science and investigation.” (parts 2 to 4 links in document)

      Well worth reading, for those who actually do want to know the risks for our families and our children, rather than the increasingly bizarre petro chemical industry spin.

      • Still wasting your time and space Paul? What is it you are fond of saying? Oh Yes, “Get a Life” wasnt it?

        No time like the present old thing?

        Have a nice afternoon, the sun is shining, i’ve already been out having fun.

        Go out and enjoy yourself.

        • Raining here PhilC – but don’t worry – chain saw work this afternoon for the woodstore to keep the wood burners going – a big no no now apparently. Perhaps I shall have to switch the gas central heating on instead?

          I do use “green” 2 stroke oil and “green” chain oil – does this help? Unfortunately the petrol is still just petrol….but cleaner than it used to be.

          • I hope the rain clears up for you. The skies are clear and blue here, cold still and a frost this morning, but almost spring like, and the snow is gradually clearing from the sunnier parts of the garden.

            Perhaps while you are inside, you can read through the links I provided in such good faith for your information?

            I’m always prepared to help you understand why people are so wary of fracking and its related avoidances of the word Paul?

            What you use is between you and your conscience Paul. Unlike some on Drill or Drop, I dont attempt to dictate what or who, should use anything they have at hand when the weather is cold.

            My concern is more to do with how the human race, and our future generations, will have to deal with the legacy of our present habitual insanity of poisoning the ecology and destroying the climate long before they can do something about it for themselves.

            As I’ve said before, there may well be a day when our children and their children and future generations, look to us and ask what we did to avert the accelerating disaster we have left for them.

            For some of our children, they are already asking the questions. I speak to my children, now married, and their children on skype or zoom. their questions and discussions often dwell on the present weather fluctuations and the future.

            The look of concern on their faces and their very pointed questions about climate and what we are doing about it, are very apparent. I try to give them hope and a good prognosis.

            Then afterwards I think about the reactions on Drill or Drop. And the apparent lack of any concern for the future generations in their words. Then I feel we havent even asked the right questions yet, let alone looked for the right solutions.

            I see no very great fundamental changes in our present energy animal vegetable and mineral exploitations and attitudes towards the planets climate and ecology, that constitute a solution that bears much scrutiny at all.

            I dont see that changing the subject from something relevant to something irrelevant does anything to find or even seek those solutions, no matter how painful they may be in the short term.

            Are we having fun yet?

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