Breaking: Restoration of dormant Broadford Bridge oil site delayed for another two years

The life of a dormant oil site was extended today for the fourth time by councillors in West Sussex.

Aerial image of Broadford Bridge shown to today’s committee

The Broadford Bridge site, near Billingshurst, has seen no work since March 2018 and has produced no usable oil or gas.

The extension, agreed by the county council’s planning committee, by seven to two votes with one abstention, means the site can remain suspended and unrestored until March 2024.

Another vote by the same margin allowed for the retention of cabins, gates and security fencing.

The operator, UK Oil & Gas plc (UKOG), told the committee it did not want to carry out work at Broadford Bridge in the next two years.

It said it needed the extra time to review data from its Horse Hill oil production site and a proposed gas site at Loxley, near Dunsfold, both in Surrey.

Planning permission for an exploration site at Broadford Bridge was first granted in 2013 for three years. West Sussex councillors later approved extensions totalling another four and a half years: in 2017 (one year), 2018 (18 months) and 2020 (two years).

In 2017, UKOG announced cement bond problems with the Broadford Bridge well and revealed that a section of the reservoir was unproductive because of low permeability.

Broadford Bridge site cleared of equipment. Image shown to councillors at meeting on 18 May 2022.

“Potential contribution to UK energy security”

UKOG’s planning consultant, Nigel Moore, told today’s committee the proposal sought to defer restoration in order to analyse existing data. It made economic and environmental sense to analyse data in advance and avoid restoring the site prematurely, he said.

UKOG was exploring new methods of oil exploration at Horse Hill, he said. The company’s understanding of the local geology was “improving all the time”.

Mr Moore said no material effects on residents were predicted. Impacts on the environment were considered acceptable.

The British energy strategy requires better use of domestic hydrocarbons, Mr Moore said. He said Broadford Bridge could contribute to future energy security.

UKOG’s commercial director, Matt Cartwright, said nothing had changed since 2020 when the last extension was approved. But he said there had been delays to the appraisal of data by a legal challenge at Horse Hill and a planning inquiry at Loxley.

The covid-19 pandemic had shown that the UK needed speedy access to supplies of oil and gas, Mr Cartwright said. The war in Ukraine had demonstrated that the UK had neglected its energy security.

Sourcing supplies closer to home would avoid greater carbon emissions from transport, he said. Energy independence would allow the UK to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, he added. UKOG sites could be repurposed for geothermal energy, he said.

Mr Cartwright urged the committee to “keep the porch light on for Broadford Bridge.”

“UKOG has had enough time”

Dr Jill Sutcliffe, of Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green, speaking against the proposal, asked:

“How many times can a company say it’s going to restore a site, not do it and then expect to be believed when it says it again?

She said

“Four times we have been told that the site will be restored

“‘The site is restored if no oil or gas is discovered, [and takes] 6 weeks. If nothing was found the site would be remediated.’”

“So what was found? Nothing – no viable hydrocarbon resource.”

Having found no oil or gas, the company was obliged to abandon the site and restore it to its original state, Dr Sutcliffe said. “This they have repeatedly failed to do.

The company told us the well had failed, Dr Sutcliffe said. This had been predicted and risked contaminating groundwater.

National planning policy required a site should be restored at the earliest opportunity, she said.

“This is now the earliest opportunity as those previous ones have been missed.”

Dr Sutcliffe quoted planning policy which said “Effective enforcement is important to maintain public confidence in the planning system”.

Where is the evidence that more time is needed?, Dr Sutcliffe asked. None is provided, she said. The same reasons were given last time, she said. Why does it need to be repeated?, she asked.

Dr Sutcliffe said 45% of carbon emissions must be cut in eight years to reach climate change targets. Net zero policies will have to become much tighter to achieve the targets. This could mean that Broadford Bridge site would become unviable anyway, she said.

“UKOG has had enough time in which to assess the operation of this failed well; and should pack up and restore the site.”

Dr Sutcliffe also raised concerns that enforcement action had been taken against UKOG at its site at Markwells Wood in the South Downs National Park.

“Sceptical about need”

Cllr Charlotte Kenyon, the local councillor for Broadford Bridge, said she was in favour of using domestic energy supplies. But she said she had reservations about UKOG’s application.

“This was the fourth requested extension in nine years and repeatedly extended time limits undermine public confidence in the planning system.”

“I am sceptical about the contribution of the site to UK energy needs”, Cllr Kenyon said. “It is not fully clear to me that the extension is justified”.

How long are they going to go on looking?, she asked. Will another application come forward?, she said.

There had been no discernible benefits for the site in the past nine years, Cllr Kenyon said.

“I don’t fully see the justification for restoration being further delayed”.

“Justified need for extension”

In today’s decision, the committee followed the recommendation of council planners, with 14 conditions controlling the use of the site.

James Neave, West Sussex’s principal planner, told the committee:

“there is a justified need for the proposed extension for the further appraisal of the viability of the target hydrocarbon resource through analysis of other sites that may share commonality with the target hydrocarbon discovery”.

He said a delay to restoration to farmland would “not result in any permanent impact on the locality”. He said Broadford Bridge was “of an industrial character within a rural setting”. But he said the site was not in a protected landscape and was “well-screened from public views”.

UKOG’s proposals were “acceptable in terms of landscape/character impact”, Mr Neave said. It would not result in increased traffic to the site or to activities producing noise or dust, he added. Extension would have minimal impact on people or the environment, Mr Neave said.

Committee debate

Cllr Sean McDonald said the site should be kept open if there was a possibility of cheaper fuel.

Cllr Sarah Sharp said she didn’t believe the Broadford Bridge site would result in cheaper oil. Hydrocarbon prices were set globally, she said. People assume onshore sites will help bring down prices, she said. But onshore sites produce much smaller amounts of oil than offshore sites, which produce most of the UK’s oil. What guarantee is there that this site will bring down prices for our residents? Onshore oil will not solve the problem overnight, she said.

Evidence was also required that the extension was needed, Cllr Sharp said. The committee must decide whether the applicant has had long enough. How much analysis has taken place over the past two years, she asked. Testing so far had not proved that the site could be productive or viable, she said.

Granting an extension would “push the decision down the road”, Cllr Sharp said. Continual extensions “made a mockery” of the use of the word “temporary”. She said West Sussex planning policy required restoration at the earliest opportunity. Can we be sure we are in line with this, she asked. If we don’t restore the site at the earliest opportunity, we lose public confidence in the planning system, she said.

Cllr Sharp also asked planners whether the committee should consider issues outside the boundary of the site, including data analysis at other sites.

She also asked why there had been far fewer objections to the latest application, compared with previous ones. There should have been a pubic liaison group to keep the local community involved. If there had, there may have been more objections, she said.

Response from planner

Planning officer, James Neave, said temporary permission can be for up to 50 year. Restoring at the earliest opportunity had to be balanced against whether there was a justifiable need for extensions, he said. Mr Neave said the application had been advertised in the same way as previous applications for extensions. The committee chair, Cllr Richard Burrett, said previous applications had attracted a lot of objections from outside West Sussex. Mr Neave said the site had not had a community liaison group and he wouldn’t recommend this as a condition.

More comments

Cllr Janet Duncton said she was happy for UKOG to have another extension for two years.

Cllr Ian Gibson said he wanted to hear more about flow rates before he could be confident about oil coming out of the area. Restoration should have begun in February 2022, he said, but the application for an extension was being considered only in May 2022. He said the committee should impose a condition that restoration should begin. Planning officer, James Neave, said he was satisfied conditions and safeguards in place were sufficient.

Cllr Simon Oakley asked how much weight should be given in the decision to the energy strategy and UKOG’s reliance on data analysis at other sites. “My patience is wearing thin with this. The restoration requirements are put there because of the harm to the countryside”, he said. Planning officer, James Neave, said the application was not for production. He said information from other sites may be relevant to Broadford Bridge.

Reporting on this decision has been made possible by donations from DrillOrDrop readers

16 replies »

  1. That’s quick! Thanks for coming across and do have a lovely break when it comes. Jillx

  2. I would have thought the 60 bopd at Horse Hill would have given the committee a clear indication of what they could expect from Broadford Bridge which is further away from the centre of the Weald Basin.
    Even UKOG said “Broadford Bridge and Horse Hill wells sites have been sub-commercial “. So much for energy security. It will keep the BoD in jobs if nothing else.

  3. Not sure your location “logic” is supported by other UK on shore localities, Mike.

    However, both sites HAVE been sub commercial. Now the company wishes to attempt to make them commercial. Oil at $110/barrel may make the past a little more irrelevant than it might have been. HH have just been authorized to reduce costs, that might be accompanied by extra wells and extra production. Maybe cost reduction, increased output and high product prices add up? It did when I looked at projects. Sometimes, only one factor needed to change, not all three.

    Time will tell. Good job it is not your money though to find out.

    • MFC
      Unlike some I did check when UKOG said it. It was back in 2019 when they were producing 220 barrels of oil per day and oil was at $72 a barrel so it is even worse now.

  4. Yes, it may be even worse now, but isn’t that why they are targeting reduced costs and increased output going forward, Mike? Besides which, you seem to have become confused/conflated regarding sales price and margin over costs. Other things being equal, and they rarely are, then the $38/barrel ($110-$72) would mainly be increased profit per barrel. Then reduce costs, then increase output and maybe they have a going concern.

    Other businesses do the same sort of exercise continuously. Farmers who produce your milk have to do so, for example. Guess what? They also find there are onlookers who wander past and pass comment upon how it will not work, or they could make it work better. Unfortunately, those milk producers can not add high sales prices or high margins into their arithmetic, UKOG can, so they are ahead in that vital respect. Still a risky business to get the other two, but human endeavour has always featured risk takers. As long as they do it with others money, I can not identify why that aspect should worry you. Others will pay the price or reap the reward. If they are unaware of the risk they should probably not invest, but they still seem to be willing to take that risk.

  5. Oh Martin, so many maybes, well maybe they are just stalling in order to draw another £1million in wages ? After all Angus Energy already said that the Kimmeridge can’t produce without fracking at Brockham and that Broadford bridge was a mirror of Brockham. That is why Angus will be sealing off the Kimmeridge ( which also produced nothing at Lidsey) in favour of reperforating the Portland. We all know that UDOG said the Kimmeridge was the big prize , the Portland has produced nothing but a dribble and wouldn’t keep a petrol station open for half a day . Perhaps we should all take government advice and get better paid jobs like Salmon Slacks or Liargas or even Pretorius to get us through these difficult times?
    You can do all your fancy posts about maybe this and maybe that but the facts are all plain to see , the major companies found nothing of interest and a tin pot cowboy outfit hasn’t either . It ain’t Texas old boy .

    Nice job Jill x

  6. Ahh, another fantasy football manager who knows what the result will be before the real game has even arrived at half time.

    The reason, Jono, I am not invested in UKOG is there are indeed a lot of maybes. But, I was invested in UKOG some while ago which is why I still take an interest. Did I lose my shirt, or anything else? Nope. I made a profit. Where did my profit go? To lease a hybrid, on a 7 month lease to assess. Then another for a few more months as my “real” car was built. Now, Jono, if you want to exclude maybes, then follow my lead and try one. I have, and that maybe has been excluded from my thought process. No maybe, just useless. For me, anyway. But, just like dating, each to their own, and I am sure dear old hybrids will find a happy partner somewhere. There are plenty of gullible folk around.

    I would not rely upon the major companies making correct investment decisions and then mention Texas, old boy. There is a rather large, and expensive, contradiction within that linkage.

    I note you have used the late hour to have a “chat” with me to avoid censure, Jono! Smart move.

    • Actually Martin I was in A&E at the late hour as I had a bad fall from height and was in extreme pain, I was being checked for a partially collapsed lung and broken bones . My bone cancer makes me more at risk . As I haven’t driven a car for over a year I’m not looking at having one built or buying a hybrid.
      I don’t try to avoid censure as I speak my mind as without different opinions there is no debate or indeed democracy.
      I’m glad you can gloat on your profit made from this out of date polluting industry , I’m sure you’re doing just fine . I doubt you will reply to me so just enjoy your day .

      • Hi Jono, I’m really sorry to hear that you had a bad fall, and with bone cancer it must be a real worry. May I wish you a full recovery and I hope you will find a cure for your cancer and health problems.

        There is not much else I can say is there. But I wish you all the best of health, and in everything else that besets us all, now and in the future.

        • Thank you Phil , I’m having 3 monthly hormone injections which have kept my PSA low for now, the bones are secondary and I’m looking at treatment rather than cure , it got picked up too late for curing . A few side effects like loss of muscle and hot sweats but it’s better than the alternatives , I will have to have different approach when the hormones stop working.
          I’m happy enough though and getting on with every day with my wonderful partner, getting married soon 😊

          • I hope the treatments succeed then, Jono. There is such a thing as spontaneous remission. There are tremendous strides in medicine like stem cell replacement that are being trialled too.

            I’m glad you both have your wedding to look forward to as well.

            May I wish you and your wonderful partner a full and happy and a healthy marriage together.

      • Hi Jono. Sorry to hear about your accident, and hope you recover quickly.

        Just think whilst doing so that the OBR forecasts £7.8B tax revenue from the N. Sea during this year, so maybe the NHS is also profiting, and yourself as a result, from this out of date polluting industry, that also assisted my wife’s cancer treatment. She also received “free” food boxes at the start of the pandemic (Boris Boxes she called them), so a shame that then the N.Sea was hardly contributing much tax.

        See, I did reply. Like yourself Jono, I welcome different opinions. I also do like your regular ability to plonk into posts some rather humorous oddities, like out of date industry just a few days after Aramco became the world’s most valuable company! I suppose someone still has to believe the message that started at COP26, and then followed, about “stranded assets”, even when events disprove the “science”.

        Yes, I am doing fine (relatively) and try to help those who are not. My ability to do the latter is somewhat constrained, so I rely upon those who may have deep pockets, like £7.8B worth, to do a lot more. There are only so many locally grown courgettes my friends and family can cope with!

        However, I do still drive, and need to pick up grandson shortly, so will leave you to your R&R.

        • Thank you for your kind reply Martin, I’m glad your wife has had good treatment and wish for a positive outcome.
          When I talk about the oil and gas companies I’m not that naive to believe that we can just stop using fossil fuels but the North Sea / offshore industry can provide more than enough for the UK to be self sufficient without the likes of UKOG, Angus et al causing misery for many folk who live close to sites for minimal amounts of oil which will be sold on the open market while tonnes of gas is wasted in flares just so a few can get rich.
          Many investors have been mugged by the Gusher spiel while the instigator of it all Mr Leni Gas is nowhere to be seen and is onto his next scam .

  7. Ahh, then if someone makes a profit, they gloat, while others who don’t, have been mugged, Jono.

    I would suggest it is all to do with timing. I would not claim that is totally predictable, hence the maybes. The same has been true with regard to Tesla for quite a few years, except amounts gained or lost are a lot greater. Strangely, I have yet to hear them referred to as mugs.

    The mugged bit is interesting, as mug punter is a term coined by the financial industry when individuals started to manage their own money, once legislation allowed, and the industry was losing custom. It was their way of warning they had the knowledge and the punters did not, and would lose. However, subsequent research showed very little difference between the two, except the industry charged quite high fees for achieving the little difference. So, it would appear that the punters were made out to be mugs by vested interests, but that turned out to be fake news! Interesting how that pattern repeats.

    I do disagree on the misery bit. I have not heard of misery from locals regarding Wytch Farm, and that was producing over 100k BOE/day, and still over 10k. I have certainly heard of the misery certain visitors to the area cause, not even aware of the oil extraction, who think setting fire to the area is their human right. Equally, I know locals to sites further north who were not even aware they were local to an oil production site. Then there is an ex colleague who had a site developed at the end of his garden, albeit a large garden, and he reported it was no more inconvenient than the grain harvest which did create some lights, noise, lorries etc for a period each year, but as he enjoyed the product from both he was pretty content, certainly not miserable. Are you sure you are not confusing the misery large numbers of noisy protestors cause for the many local folk?

    Thank you for your kind wishes regarding my wife. Fingers crossed that the success that has been achieved will last, Lock down produced a new grandson for her, so she has that to concentrate upon now which is a blessing, as the treatment was all consuming in terms of focus and energy and to be able to move away from that has been a boost.

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