The company behind gas exploration near the Surrey village of Dunsfold has complained to the local MP, Jeremy Hunt, about his comments that it would cause “enormous damage and disruption”.
UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) said it took “serious issue with assertions” made by Mr Hunt following ministerial approval of the Dunsfold scheme last week.
In a letter to the communities’ secretary, Mr Hunt said the grant of planning permission had caused “enormous anger and disappointment” locally.
Mr Hunt said;
“ignoring the strength of local opinion goes against the government’s commitment to the devolution of powers and strengthening local communities as well as our net zero commitments.”
He said he could not see how Dunsfold had “any role to play in our future energy supply needs.” It would take years to confirm whether it was commercially viable, he said. By then, the UK would be “well on our way to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels”, Mr Hunt said.
The plans for an exploration site with vertical and side-track wells and access road would “create enormous disruption and environmental damage for little if any economic benefit”, the MP said.
He told constituents he would consider whether the decision could be challenged in the High Court.
The Dunsfold decision followed an online public inquiry in 2021.
UKOG appealed after two hearings by Surrey County Council at which councillors voted narrowly to refuse the scheme, against the advice of planning officers. Waverley District Council and six parish councils and amenity groups had objected to the application, along with 84% of public submissions.
UKOG’s chief executive, Stephen Sanderson, one of Mr Hunt’s constituents, replied that it was “wholly false and untrue” for the MP to assert that the development would create environmental damage.
Mr Sanderson added:
“Your assertion that our activities will be hugely disruptive also seems highly exaggerated.”
The site required one well and a sidetrack to confirm whether it was commercially viable, Mr Sanderson said. The drilling rig would be on site for a total of 75 days, he said.
UKOG had also agreed to a “a plethora” of impact mitigation measures, he added.
Mr Sanderson said the proposal at Dunsfold made “perfect strategic, economic and environmental sense for Surrey and UK”.
He said the MP’s comments “disregarded the British Energy Security Strategy, Hydrogen Strategy, National Grid Future Energy Scenarios and CCC forecasts”.
UKOG has previously said that if the Dunsfold scheme were successful and commercial volumes were extracted, some gas would be turned into blue hydrogen (where carbon emissions were captured and stored).
About three-quarters of world hydrogen production is grey hydrogen, without capturing the carbon.
The use of carbon capture and storage to produce blue hydrogen is not yet widely commercial, industry experts concede. Some academics and commentators have said blue hydrogen production would lock the world into fossil fuel extraction. Last month the think tank, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said blue hydrogen schemes risked becoming stranded assets.
But Mr Sanderson said in his letter that UKOG had earmarked 43-70 billion cubic feet of gas as a source of blue hydrogen. This was capable of delivering an 85% reduction in carbon emissions if carbon capture and storage were used, he said.
He said the Dunsfold project would “help not hinder” progress to net zero carbon emissions.
He said gas would play a ”significant role in the energy transition”. Domestically-produced gas from Dunsfold would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 1 million tonnes, compared with the equivalent volume of imported gas, he said.
Responding to Mr Hunt’s comment that Dunsfold would have little economic value, Mr Sanderson said estimated annual gas volumes produced would be the equivalent to annual gas consumption of 110,000 homes.
The project would “be of significant material benefit to both the exchequer and the Surrey economy over its expected 20-year life”.
DrillOrDrop invited Jeremy Hunt to comment on Mr Sanderson’s letter.