Plans to revive oil production at a small site in the Surrey greenbelt were approved this morning.
County Councillors voted by 8 to 2 in favour of the Angus Energy scheme for its site at Brockham near Dorking.
The company was granted planning permission to produce oil from the site’s BRX4 well until 2036. It was also allowed to reperforate the section of the well in the Portland sandstone formation.
But the company will have to apply for further consents to carry out the work.
Council planners had recommended approval of Angus Energy’s application, saying there was a “demonstratable need” for the scheme to address the “ongoing demand for oil”. Angus Energy had argued that oil from Brockham would reduce UK imports.
The site, which has five other wells, has produced no oil for more than three years. Since production began at Brockham in 2002, no oil was extracted in 78 months. A sidetrack well was drilled in January 2017 without planning permission, though this was later granted retrospectively.
The planners said the latest application was “appropriate development” in the greenbelt.
They said it would not harm residential amenity, heritage assets, flooding or groundwater. They also said it would not “conflict with the government’s climate change agenda”. Production from the BRX4 well would avoid the need to drill a new well, the planners said.
Opponents of the scheme included Mole Valley District Council, Brockham Parish Council, Weal Action Group, Brockham Oil Watch and more than 100 members of the public.
Weald Action Group said it was “misleading” and “a deliberate red herring” to suggest that oil extraction at Brockham would reduce the need for imports. There was no current government energy policy in favour of a strategic need for further exploitation of UK onshore oil, the group said.
Brockham Oil Watch said the application went “against the policy direction to reduce climate change impacts”.
Brockham Parish Council opposed production from the Portland formation because of “associated environmental risks”. It was also concerned about lorry traffic in the village.
Resident Jerry Hamilton told today’s meeting
“Angus has exposed gaps between regulators and pushed the boundaries to see what they can et away with. This does not give the local communities the peace of mind it deserves.”
He called for the site to be restored. But he said if the application were approved there should be monitoring boreholes to identify any contamination of groundwater.
George Lucan, Angus Energy’s managing director, said the company was a very different from the one referred to by Mr Hamilton.
Speaking by video link, Mr Lucan said since he took over Angus had been fully compliant with regulations and residents had been invited to visit the site. He said oil production would be done safely.
Too swift a transition to low-carbon energy would damage household finances, Mr Lucan said.
Cllr Helen Clack, the local county councillor, said local residents had lost trust in Angus Energy. She said she had not been invited to visit the site.
She questioned whether 15 years of oil production could be considered temporary. She asked whether Angus Energy would cease activity if there was any seismic activity until after professional investigation had proved no connection with production.
Cllr Clack asked whether Angus would establish a community liaison group. She said residents had previously experienced bad smells from the site during production. She also said lorry traffic could have a big impact on narrow local lanes.
Conflict of regulations
Cllr Catherine Powell, a member of the committee, said there was a conflict between environmental permits for the Brockham site and the planning application.
Last month, Angus Energy was granted a permit to reinject waste water at Brockham from the site itself.
This would help to improve the flow of oil from the Portland formation, Angus has said.
But residents are concerned that Brockham could become a waste water disposal site.
The meeting heard that Angus would need to make a separate planning application to inject waste water from other sites. Cllr Powell said there should be a condition in the current application specifically preventing the import of waste from other sites.
The Environment Agency has said Angus would need to apply for a radioactive substances permit to import waste water from other sites It must also apply to change the permit to perforate and extract oil from the Portland formation through BRX4.
Need for production
Cllr Jeffrey Gray described Angus Energy’s case for the need for production at Brockham as “flimsy”.
He said there was a very small chance that the well would contibute in a very small way to national energy supplies. He asked “Where is the bar in terms of needs? Is it a very low bar?”
Cllr David Lewis said the national demand for hydrocarbons had changed in recent weeks, because of the war in Ukraine. Whatever Surrey could do as a county should be considered in a positive way, he said.
Stephen Jenkins, planning development manager, said government policy had identified a national need for hydrocarbons.
Cllr Penny Rivers asked for a condition to prevent the export of any oil produced at Brockham. Mr Jenkins said this was not possible because it was beyond the company’s control.
“Then how can you argue national need?”, Cllr Rivers asked.
Mr Jenkins said the UK imports a lot and exports a lot of oil. He said it was a very low threshold. It adds to mix of energy supplies that the government requires, he said.
Planning permission was granted on condition that a legal agreement prevented lorries reaching the site through Brockham village.
There were also nearly 20 other conditions covering issues including working and delivery hours, noise levels, surface water management, flooding and decommissioning.
Councillors also asked for a condition of a more sustainable alternative to diesel generators and for the formation of a community liaison group.