“Nowhere is safe if Balcombe oil exploration goes ahead”

Residents in the West Sussex village of Balcombe are seeking to set a legal precedent against onshore oil and gas operations across southern England.

Launch of Balcombe legal challenge against test of oil well, 11 March 2023. Photo: DrillOrDrop

They hope to mount a court challenge to the recent grant of planning permission for a test at the oil well drilled in the village in 2013. They argue that their case could have implications beyond Balcombe.

The local campaign group, Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, launched an online crowdfunding appeal today to raise money for the case.

The association’s spokesperson, Sue Taylor, said:

“By donating, you are not only supporting our village but also protecting the environment and setting a precedent for the entire region.

““If the case is launched, it will hopefully make a positive contribution to the progress of climate change litigation across the UK.”

The group raised more than half the initial £5,000 target within 12 hours of the launch. It said it needed to raise another £30,000 for potential legal costs.

Test unanimously opposed

The Balcombe well test was unanimously opposed by West Sussex County Council two years ago (2 March 2021).

The site is in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural (AONB, which is nationally protected for its beauty and tranquillity.

Major developments in AONBs, like oil and gas sites, must be in the public interest and justified by exceptional circumstances.

West Sussex councillors decided the proposal, by the site operator, Angus Energy, was not in the public interest and there were no exceptional circumstances.

But last month, a planning inspector overruled the council, arguing that energy security was a good enough reason.

Sue Taylor said today the inspector’s decision defied the protected status of the area:

“The shale bed being targeted at Balcombe stretches from Kent to Hampshire, and if Angus can drill for oil in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, then nowhere is safe.”

FFBRA said testing the Balcombe well would have a “devastating impact” on the village and the environment.

It said the test would lead to air, water, noise and light pollution, disrupt natural habitats and increase traffic passing the primary school and church.

The group said the inspector’s decision also ignored the climate crisis and local democracy. More than 800 people, along with the parish and district council, had objected to the well test.

Oil and gas challenges

This is the second time FFBRA has sought to take legal action over testing the Balcombe well.

The group went to the High Court in 2014 but failed to overturn a grant of planning permission.

Sue Taylor, of FFBRA, said:

“Far more people are against it this time. A lot of new people have moved into the village. They cannot understand why anyone would support it.”

In the first step to a legal challenge, FFBRA sent a letter before claim to the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, last week (6 March 2023). The minister has 14 days to respond.

The letter said FFBRA considered the approval of planning permission at Balcombe was unlawful.

The letter was also sent to Angus Energy and West Sussex County Council as other proposed defendants..

FFBRA said if the minister’s response to its letter was not satisfactory, it would apply to the High Court for a statutory review of the decision.

It has instructed barristers David Wolfe KC and Merrow Golden to examine the legality of the decision. The group is expected to argue on six grounds.

If the Balcombe case goes ahead, it will be the third challenge to oil and gas developments in southern England that could be heard this year.

Earlier this month, Protect Dunsfold and Waverley Borough Council won the right to take their case over gas drilling in Surrey to the High Court.

Their challenge is also against the levelling up secretary. They will argue planning permission for the UKOG exploration site at Loxely was unlawful because it failed to:

  • Give enough consideration to harm to the landscape of the nearby Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Explain inconsistencies with a decision to refuse permission for gas testing at Ellesmere Port because of carbon emissions

A long-running case brought by campaigner Sarah Finch against oil production at the UKOG site at Horse Hill, also in Surrey, is due to be heard at the Supreme Court in June.

She will argue that the county council should have considered the greenhouse gas emissions that would be released from the use of the oil produced at Horse Hill.

Link to Balcombe crowdfunding page

14 replies »

  1. Quite correct, if oil extraction is normalised anywhere in the UK, we can expect other sites, like Preston New Road in Lancashire and Kirby Misterton in North Yorkshire to be at risk again. This fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground must be won, and the possibility of more oil and gas extraction banished.

    • Quite incorrect, Janet. The two sites you mention require fracking to operate. Fracking is not allowed in UK. The two sites you mention are sites where gas is the objective. The potential operator at Balcombe is extracting gas elsewhere in UK from a site that has been in operation for some time, and a small amount of oil not far from Balcombe.

      In respect of KM and that area, geothermal is to be explored. Geothermal in UK and in mainland Europe has not always been a smooth ride. It does require drilling and all that goes with it. Strange though, in those cases the issue seems to be less important!

      Oil extraction in UK is already normalised. It has been going on for decades. It is so normal I know of one ex University lecturer who used the example of the largest site as the example to show her students how industry and the countryside could co-exist in harmony. I know a number of people who drive past existing sites most days of the week, and don’t know, or worry, what they are. I worked with a guy who lived in a very attractive part of the country who had one at the end of his garden. His comment? No more of a disturbance than the local farmers with their combines operating in the dark and their grain driers operating 24/7. He accepted he used product from both.

      Not to worry though. It looks as if USA is about to normalise more oil extraction in Alaska. Then UK can import from there, produce all the transport emissions and you can use-just as you do at the moment.

  2. One would not expect from the above that oil exploration, and extraction has been successfully carried out across the South of England without significant adverse impacts upon the environment, for many years. If one noted the environment around Europe’s largest on shore oil site more damage to the environment has been done by visitors who wished to visit the area, because of the beauty, only to set fire to it!
    Construction of all sorts happens in all areas. The decision is whether the construction is proportionate. At Balcombe, much of the construction has already been authorized and done years ago.

    Wonder how it is possible that a lot of new people move into such areas without altering the environment? How do they do that, and how do they then transport themselves from and around the area? Levitation?

    If this is the standard of the argument, ignoring actual existing examples that contradict, then luck will be required in abundance.

    • Not a great deal more than Wytch Farm then. From an environmental point of view I would go for WF.

  3. NO NEW OIL ,GAS OR COA L ! So says the I.P.C.C., I E.A., C.C.C. and U.N. Moreover, the government’s climate strategy was found “woefully inadequate” and therefore “unlawful” by the High Court in July last year. What is the government response? To issue scores of new fossil fuel licenses. This government is criminal in its utter disregard for the future of our children and our planet. It’s only strategy is the short-term benefits to its supporters in lieu of the next election. It is irredeemably corrupt in its commitments to big business. God help us all.

  4. As for other sites of oil or gas , little mention is made of the copious leaks of methane . Face it everyone, a bit of pain, disruption, reduced standard of living now or an extremely uncertain future for us maybe , and for our children certainly. Is that the legacy you would wish to bequeath to your nearest and dearest?

  5. Copious? Just untrue Jo.

    Looks as if the energy support is to be continued another three months in the UK. Of course for those who are not supporters of “this government” they can donate the support to charity. Where does that support come from? Oh yes, big business! Perhaps you would like to pay it, instead? After all, the energy price increase is what has come from reduced exploration for oil and gas, particularly during the Covid pandemic. In the future you probably will have to pay it, as many big businesses are stating they can no longer continue to invest in countries that have high energy costs so will move their operations elsewhere. Alternatively, the individual tax payer will pay to offer subsidies for the big business to stay.

    What I want to bequeath to my nearest and dearest, after I have ceased helping them to pay to keep warm, is a future where “we” do not rely upon that, or God, but upon the truth.

      • If you researched a little more Jo you might note I have never denied any climate change. Why would I? Climate change is not new. Can climate change be arrested by man? Some of it, yes, much of it, no. Is “emergency” or “crisis” the main factor in everyone’s life?

        However, I have yet to see any engagement from yourself that suggests solutions that are not being attempted already, other than stopping using products you are clearly using yourself.
        I repeat, copious is just untrue. Maybe if you engaged with facts rather than unresearched excitement you would not have to resort to personal attacks. Information does reach the public Jo, if they are interested enough to look for it. Paul has just done so regarding your “copious” with available data-15 cows worth. Most of those cows worth are on one site where there is an action plan to resolve the issue and make use of what is being flared. When that happens there will be publication of it happening, but where that is you will have to research. Then, there will be opportunity for some to sneer that profit is being made.
        I know there are some who would like cows removed from our countryside. I am not one of them. I already have far more than15 removed locally when the solar farm was built on their grazing land and replaced them. Over 100k have been removed in England over the last few years and, honestly, I am more exercised about the reasons and the consequences of that. Food security is very evidently in the same category as energy security-the data is there for those to see what the problem is, then when it hits everyone the complaints are that the data was not there! I can assure you the data was there when the UK decided to authorize all the plants to produce biofuel in terms of their grain usage and average UK annual grain production. The arithmetic from that was very easy.
        Seeing today’s inflation figures released and the background I suspect food security will be “hot off the press” as a surprise, surprise story-except it isn’t. Neither is water security.
        History would tell me that if a country relies upon outside suppliers more than it needs to in any of these respects, they will suffer the consequences. The information on that is freely available to the public. There are deniers of that too, even during the “crisis” that is currently being experienced.

        • Dear Janet Russell and J. Shippam, you are being blind sided by those who have already been disproven in their attempts at disinformation on methane and gas flares, leaking wells and pollution from the fossil fuel industry. Don’t accept what they say as being ‘the only truth’. It isn’t the true story, and is in fact, far from the facts and the truth.

          However, if you would like to view the facts and the truth about the toxic pollution effects on health and fertility caused by, amongst other things, gas flaring, lit and unlit worldwide and the nonsense claims that in any way, cows are to blame?

          I suggest you read the interchanges in the previous discussion on the subject: – ‘Offshore flaring halves in four years but onshore hits record high’
          By Ruth Hayhurst on March 9, 2023 • ( 28 Comments )

          *’ – – ‘*

          Apparently, when they are unable to argue the facts and the truth. Then the strategy is to resort to repeating their already disproven claims in this, another post. Presumably hoping you won’t look at the proof that they are wrong, as proven previously in the DrillorDrop link reproduced here.

          I shall be happy to give you the facts and the truth again, but I’m sure you will find the facts and the truth you require in the comments in that link I provided.

          Don’t accept their verbal wooden nickels and crafty sleight of hand. It appears to be their only methodology to fool anyone who raises perfectly reasonable questions when they know, perfectly well, that it was discredited before.

          • All I know is that any prolongation of oil, gas and -. God forbid – coal is he opposite direction we should be going. And yet that is exactly where this government is heading. The louder and more desperate the warnings the more determined the government is to plough on in the opposite direction. Now all Environmental Audit Committee recommendations are ignored, Green Day is repurposed as Energy Security Day as the government rolls out the new Climate Strategy to replace the earlier one declared “unlawful” by the High Court last July. You couldn’t make it up. Only this criminal government can. And indictments are being prepared !

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