The oil industry will be back in Balcombe soon – almost certainly later in September

Published by FFBRA Balcombe on

It’s no longer Cuadrilla, but another company, Angus Energy, to whom Cuadrilla has sold 25% of the local Petroleum & Exploration Development Licence. The Environment Agency recently confirmed the transfer of their recently-granted environmental permit for Lower Stumble from Cuadrilla (Balcombe) Ltd to Angus Energy – the company that will be flow testing at Lower Stumble.

Angus Energy tweeted this message to their shareholders on 23rd August: “We hope our followers are enjoying the last weeks of summer. Team at Angus working hard. 21 May guidance is unchanged”.

‘21 May guidance’ was that Angus intended to flow test Balcombe before the end of September. In order to complete the seven-day test by the end of September, Angus will need to start flow testing by the 24th September, and will need to be working at Lower Stumble before that to prepare the site.

After Angus have completed the flow test, they will probably apply immediately for a production licence. Angus must also drill an additional well in this area by 30th June 2021. This second well could be anywhere in the PEDL licence where a landowner will grant them permission. So FFBRA’s main job now is to prepare for a strong objection to that production licence. Angus Energy are coming to flow test despite all our efforts – but we can nevertheless celebrate the fact that we have delayed this for five years.

A reminder of the story so far

Cuadrilla (Balcombe) Ltd obtained temporary planning permission in 2010 to ‘drill an exploratory borehole for oil and gas’. The parish council did not consider the application in the conventional manner, and did not object to the application, so it never went through a consultation process, and Balcombe residents had no opportunity to object – or to find experts to advise them. Permission was granted by West Sussex County Council (WSCC) in 2010, yet for nearly two years most villagers knew nothing about it. The original application contained permission to frack which was confirmed by the WSCC response to the Environment Agency in 2013 ‘WSCC notes that under planning permission WSCC/027/10/BA Cuadrilla can use hydraulic fracturing at this site’. Cuadrilla had planning permission but not the necessary permits from the EA to frack the well.

In April 2011, Cuadrilla fracked a well in Lancashire and caused an earthquake. As a result the government put a moratorium on fracking.

In June 2011, Cuadrilla wrote to the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) pleading that they must be allowed to frack at Balcombe because their ‘exploration plan (and reason for acquiring a 75% in the PEDL) had always been to drill (a) well(s) (vertically and or horizontally) targeting the Kimmeridge Shale and to hydraulically fracture stimulate several intervals within this unconventional reservoir in order to establish commercial production rates and to establish and develop a significant recoverable resource. Without the ability to undertake hydraulic fracture operations Bolney would not be able to attempt to achieve commercial production’. (Cuadrilla Balcombe Limited was called Bolney before the company changed name).

We all know what happened in the summer of 2013.

FFBRA was formed in September 2013 to lodge legal complaints concerning breaches of planning in respect of the noise the Balcombe residents were enduring from the drilling. This remit was then expanded to the single aim of ‘preventing the exploration and production of oil/gas in the parish of Balcombe’.
Cuadrilla’s original planning permission expired in September 2013 before the final flow test could be undertaken – but after the well had been drilled, both vertically and horizontally for half a kilometre under the road and out under the fields.

Cuadrilla had to submit a new planning application to finish off their exploratory phase. This was the first time the village had the chance to object. FFBRA worked collectively to produce an objection. This was an amazing document – over 70 people worked on it. It was a fight against time to understand, examine and respond to Cuadrilla’s lengthy planning application. We always knew we were on the back foot because Cuadrilla had previously had permission. We knew it was going to be hard to persuade WSCC not to approve an application for something they had previously granted. The WSCC planning committee voted 12 to 1 to approve the application.

The only option for FFBRA was to apply to the High Court for a judicial review of the process by which WSCC had come to its decision. This time we had experts helping us. Solicitors from Leigh Day and a barrister from Matrix Chambers supported us and gave us their time for free. Ecotricity underwrote our costs in the event of our losing, which we did. However, this process slowed everything down for Cuadrilla, and although they retained their planning permission to flow test, that permission lapsed in May 2017 before they had found time to return.

This meant that yet again Cuadrilla had to apply for planning permission, and once more FFBRA collectively worked to produce an objection. Again we did this without experts to assist us, and again WSCC granted permission.

FFBRA has also objected to three Environment Agency permitting applications in connection with Lower Stumble.

It has been a long fight to keep the oil industry out of Balcombe, and it’s not over yet.

Since FFBRA was formed in 2013 it has now objected to two planning applications, three EA permit applications and brought one judicial review in the High Court, and still no oil has been produced. In that time Balcombe has raised awareness about fracking and its ugly sister acidification. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have changed from supporting to opposing fracking. Wales, Scotland and Ireland have put a moratorium on fracking. Public opinion has increasingly turned against these methods of oil exploration in unconventional geology.

However, the Infrastructure Act in 2015 changed the law. Now oil companies can drill under people’s homes without their permission. The Infrastructure Act also changed the definition of fracking. It redefined fracking by the volume of fluid used, not by the simple truth that the rock is fractured by pressurised fluid (however much). This means that 88% of the oil wells that have been fracked in the USA would not be defined as ‘fracked’ using the UK government’s new definition!

The reason for revisiting the history is so we can be clear about what FFBRA has done – and what we need to do next. It has been an amazing effort and there have been some real heroic feats, so much learning, so much time and energy.

To fight a production application, we will need to experts to help us. We can’t afford to wait until the production application lands on our doorstep. By then it will be too late to hire the experts. If Angus get a production license, this will be terrible for the village. Therefore, all efforts now must be focussed on fighting that production licence.

What do Angus need to do before they can flow test?

WSCC conditions
The planning officer at WSCC has informed us that the conditions previously required by WSCC before have been fulfilled. The community liaison group is currently being formed.

EA permitting conditions
The Environment Agency transferred the environmental permit from Cuadrilla to Angus Energy on the 29th August. This permit requires Angus Energy to fulfil five conditions before they can start to flow test. Four of these conditions are submissions by Angus Energy of various plans and calculations to the EA. These are all paper-based exercises. Only one condition requires physical work. This is the reinstatement of the protective liners to prevent leakage of any pollutants into the surrounding environment.

These are the conditions still outstanding:

Emissions monitoring
The operator shall provide for approval a method for calculating the emissions from the flare as required by condition 3.5.8, and obtain the Environment Agency’s written approval to the method.
FFBRA comment: There will be no physical monitoring of the emissions from the flare. Mathematical calculations will be made based on expected tonnage of gases burnt, temperature of the flame and duration of the flare’s use. These calculations are based on largely on guesses of what this flare is expected to produce and such predictions may be far from reliable.

Containment
The operator shall submit a report showing secondary containment systems have been installed to the standards detailed/referenced within CIRIA C736 (2014) where all polluting liquids and solids are being stored, treated and/or handled. This shall include, but is not limited to, the storage vessels, separator, bunds, loading and unloading areas, transfer pipework/pumps, temporary storage areas and liners underlying the site.
FFBRA note: These were removed when Cuadrilla left the site in 2013. There would have been no point in leaving them as they would have deteriorated. This is the one piece of physical work Angus needs to do. The EA will visit the site to check it is done according to plan.

Leak detection
The operator shall submit a written ‘leak detection and repair plan’, and associated procedures and shall obtain the Environment Agency’s written approval to it. The plan will identify, measure and reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds and other substances to air, appropriate to their operations and in accordance with European standard EN15446 or an equivalent standard.
The plan shall be implemented in accordance with the Environment Agency’s written approval.
FFBRA note: This is another report.

Pollution incident report
The operator shall ensure a Pollution Incident Plan is included in the management system (referred to in condition 1.1.1).
FFBRA note: This is another report.

Vapour recovery
The operator shall submit a written plan for vapour recovery and shall obtain the Environment Agency’s written approval to it. The plan must detail the installation and utilisation of a vapour recovery system during the loading and unloading of [road and/or rail] vehicles. The plan must contain dates for the implementation of the identified improvement measures.
The plan shall be implemented in accordance with the Environment Agency’s written approval.
FFBRA note: This is another report.

The complete EA permit plus a document explaining how they made their decision can be found here

FFBRA is disappointed at the lack of physical monitoring of the air emissions – this is of particular concern since the village is down (prevailing) wind from the site and lies above the height of the top of the flare.

Community liaison group

The composition of this has group not been finalised. However FFBRA expects to have representation on it. The purpose of this group is not to challenge, lobby or protest about the oil operation. It is to act as a structured conduit for questions from residents to Angus – and for their responses to be conveyed back, shared and made public. If you email your questions to info@frackfreebalcombe.co.uk we will send these to Angus and publicise their answers.

What next?

Angus are confident that Lower Stumble will be commercially viable and that even more oil will flow than from the so-called ‘Gatwick Gusher’ at Horse Hill, nine miles away. If they are successful, we expect them to submit a planning application for a production license.

What can FFBRA members do?

We need to spread the word in the village. Many residents believe the oil business has packed up and gone away. Cuadrilla may have packed up, but Angus Energy is back. We need to oppose the production licence application, when it comes, and we shall not have long to prepare. We need to start now.

The first step is to increase our membership. Please talk to any neighbours who are not FFBRA members, or who have arrived in Balcombe since 2013, and persuade them to join. It’s easy (and free). Any Balcombe resident over 16 can join.

We shall be getting quotes from experts in hydrology, geology, planning, and any other relevant field who can help us stop Angus Energy’s application to turn Lower Stumble into an active oil production site.

We shall need funds to pay them. We shall launch an appeal shortly. In the meantime if you are able to donate, no matter how small a contribution, please consider donating via our Paypal account.