Oil exploration plans on the Isle of Wight would “make the best use” of mineral resources in the transition to a low carbon future, the company behind the proposals has said. But local campaigners have disputed the arguments and said they should be rejected.
UK Oil & Gas plc (UKOG) has submitted an updated planning statement to Isle of Wight Council, which will decide its application for drilling at Arreton.
The statement, by UKOG’s planning consultant Nigel Moore, refers to changes to government energy and climate change policies made since the Arreton application was submitted more than a year ago.
There are striking similarities between the Arreton statement and Mr Moore’s proof of evidence to the inquiry into UKOG’s gas exploration plans at Loxley, near Dunsfold in Surrey, at which he was a witness last week.
Both Arreton and Loxley are on greenfield sites, near Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and have plans for an initial borehole with a potential sidetrack.
A key difference between them is the target hydrocarbon at the two sites.
The Arreton site would target the Portland oil formation, UKOG told local people at a community exhibition, in December 2019. The company said a former oil well, Arreton-1, confirmed the existence of hydrocarbon. A report by the consultancy Xodus estimated a gross mean aggregated oil in place at Arreton of 227 million barrels. There are no proposals at Arreton to use any gas found in association with oil exploration.
Despite this, Mr Moore’s planning update for the proposed site said:
“In helping to secure the gas supplies the UK will need the proposed development will help deliver a ‘well-managed transition’ that will improve people’s lives and reduce their exposure to climate risks while making the UK economy more resilient in the face of a wide range of import-dependent energy supply risks.”
This is an exact copy of a paragraph from Mr Moore’s proof of evidence for the Dunsfold public inquiry.
His updated statement referred six times to the smaller carbon footprint of domestically-produced gas, compared with imported liquified natural gas (LNG).
He also said the potential contribution of the site to hydrogen production was of “particular relevance”, to which he attributed “significant weight”.
Don’t Drill The Wight said:
“There will be no capture of gas [at Arreton] to help achieve national strategies for net zero emissions. The quantities of gas predicted even from full development are not economically viable for harvesting and storage.”
Comparison of the two documents by DrillOrDrop shows there are a total of 10 paragraphs which are identical (1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 1.7, 1.9, 2.1-2.4 in the update and 4.3, 4.4, 4.37, 4.6, 4.9, 3.14 and 4.33-4.36 in the Dunsfold proof of evidence).
Paragraphs 1.3, 1.6, 1.10 and 1.11 in the update are virtually the same as paragraphs 4.20, 4.7, 3.15, 4.12 in the proof of evidence.
Mr Moore makes the case in his update that UK policies, including the 2020 Energy White Paper, establish a strategic need for further onshore exploration of conventional hydrocarbons for energy security and climate change mitigation.
Sylvia May, of Don’t Drill The Wight, responded:
“there is no current Government Energy policy that I am aware of, that can be used to confirm Mr. Moore’s view, that there is a strategic need for exploitation from new conventional onshore fossil fuel reserves.”
The group said the White Paper focussed almost exclusively on the offshore sector and the objective of ensuring the UK Continental Shelf (North Sea) is a net zero emissions basin by 2050.
A ministerial statement and policy paper from earlier this year do not relate to the new development of an onshore oil and gas sector either, the group said.
Climate change and net zero
Mr Moore said the Arreton proposal would help the UK meet the needs of climate change targets, including net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Don’t Drill The Wight described the Arreton oil proposal as “the antithesis of Mr Moore’s claims for supporting NPPF policy and National strategies for emissions reduction”.
It said reports submitted in the application indicated that it would increase, rather than reduce current levels of emissions.
Local economic benefits
Mr Moore said exploration at Arreton would bring “significant national economic and employment benefits”.
The proposed site would, he said, create 30 full-time jobs, sustain permanent jobs at UKOG’s Guildford headquarters and pay Isle of Wight business rates.
There would also be income from farm diversification that would “secure the long-term viability” of an agricultural business, he said. Expenditure on the site would also benefit the local economy, in compliance with the National Planning Policy Framework.
Don’t Drill The Wight said employment opportunities would be temporary and limited, with no guarantee of extended permanent employment. Some local business would benefit – through providing materials, transportation and accommodation – but only in the short-term, the group said.
There would be no local or national economic benefit from oil production because the application was for exploration and appraisal only, Don’t Drill The Wight said. Business rates would be minimal, it added.
In a response to Isle of Wight Council planners, Sylvia May said:
“I respectfully ask you to review and reject these claims made by Mr Moore and not give them credence in your recommendation to the planning committee.”
- Isle of Wight Council is expected to decide the Arreton application in the autumn.