An oil company in Surrey is expected to get permission to dispose of waste gas that could have powered up to 3,500 homes a year, campaigners said today.
Horse Hill Developments Limited (HHDL) is seeking changes to its environmental permit that would allow it to burn up to 10 tonnes of gas a day that come to the surface with oil extraction.
But two and a half years ago, the company promised to install four generators at the Horse Hill site near Horley to turn the waste gas into electricity. At the time, it said the electricity would would power the site and be exported to the grid.
The company’s commercial director, Matt Cartwright, told Surrey County Council’s planning committee in September 2019:
“The gas that comes with oil production will be converted to electricity. We are not flaring gas. We are going to tie into the national grid.”
A leaflet to residents said:
“During production, gas will not be flared”.
But more recently, it told the Environment Agency (EA):
“It is not feasible at this stage to design or order appropriate generators due to having unknown/unreliable gas composition or PVT [pressure-volume-temperature].”
Campaigners from the Weald Action Group said today:
“This is a major U-turn on HHDL’s original promise to use the gas from its oil wells to generate electricity.”
The group, which opposes oil and gas operations in southern England, said:
“Theoretically this means up to 3,650 tonnes of gas each year – or enough to heat up to 3,500 homes – could be simply burned, with the energy potentially wasted.”
DrillOrDrop reported last month that the EA, which decides permit changes, was “minded” to approve HHDL’s application for flaring up to 10 tonnes a day. A consultation is due to end tomorrow (31 March 2022).
A draft decision document on the permit changes said flaring during both extended well testing and oil production was the “only technically and commercially viable solution at present” because gas flow was likely to be low.
Weald Action Group said:
“The council granted planning permission to HHDL on the basis that any gas would be used to generate electricity to power the site, with excess electricity being fed into the national grid. Flaring would only occur in the event of an emergency or during maintenance.
“Yet now HHDL propose to ‘incinerate natural gas at a rate not exceeding 10 tonnes per day during production operations.’ No electricity will be generated under current plans.”
The group’s Sarah Finch, who has challenged the Horse Hill planning permission in the courts, said:
“This clearly contradicts the promises HHDL made in order to gain planning permission. Surrey County Council should require a fresh planning application so that HHDL’s real plans can be properly scrutinised.”
Last year, the government’s climate advisor, the CCC, recommended flaring should be permitted only for safety reasons from 2025. This year, the World Bank described flaring as “a monumental waste of a valuable natural resource that should either be used for productive purposes, such as generating power, or conserved.”
Jamie Peters, director of campaign impact at Friends of the Earth, said:
“It is difficult to believe that the Environment Agency would be minded to approve up to 10 tonnes a day of gas flaring at Horse Hill at the time of an energy crisis and climate emergency. The UK needs to urgently ramp up renewables and insulation plans. Projects like this should simply not be taking place, especially with such loose regulations as this.”
HHDL’s parent company, UK Oil & Gas plc, did not respond to our invitation to comment on the changes to its plans.
It did, however, tell the EA:
“In the event additional wells are added to the production line, then a revised Waste Gas Management Plan may consider this option [of flaring] further.”
The EA said HHDL had committed to produce a revised gas management plan if additional wells generated enough gas to change the assessment on flaring.
Campaigners are also concerned about emissions of the climate-changing gas methane from oil sites.
Last year, DrillOrDrop reported on research by the international NGO, the Clean Air Task Force, which found methane emissions at Horse Hill from three separator tanks, a connection hose and an unlit flare.
Lorraine Inglis of Weald Action Group said:
“HHDL claim they will have methane detection units on-site for this very purpose but they have not shown willing to monitor leaks to date, even after leaks had been exposed by the Clean Air Task Force, so how can we expect them to do so in future”
The Clean Air Task Force said inspections for leaks should be monthly.
- Weald Action Group calculation Up to 10 tonnes of waste gas per day is 3,650 tonnes per year, or 3,650,000kg. The Horse Hill Waste Gas Management Plan said methane density was 0.68kg/m3. This results in 5,367,647 m3 of gas. Weald Action Group used the UK Power converter to get 60,046,646 kWh. The group said the average UK home uses 17,000 kWh of gas per year. 60,046,646 kWh gas could therefore provide the annual gas needed for heating and cooking for 3,532 homes.