Update on drilling at Broadford Bridge

 I have been contacted by several constituents regarding proposed drilling activity by UK Oil and Gas PLC (UKOG) at Broadford Bridge, near Billingshurst. 

I appreciate the concerns that local residents may have over this site, and I have raised these issues with the Environment Agency, West Sussex County Council and with the company itself, UKOG, when I visited the site on Friday 25 May. 

I understand that UKOG already has a permit from the Environment Agency for exploratory drilling, given in 2014.  The company has applied for a variation in the permit to allow well tests.  It is this variation which is still under consideration.  The company is therefore able to begin drilling, but will not be able to well test unless it has further permission. 

Details of the application to the Environment Agency for the variation in permit can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rh14-9ed-kimmeridge-oil-gas-limited-environmental-permit-application-advertisement-eprab3806cgv003/rh14-9ed-kimmeridge-oil-gas-limited-environmental-permit-application-advertisement

Information from UKOG can be found here: http://www.ukogplc.com/page.php?pID=115

I had already asked the Environment Agency for an assurance that they would address concerns raised about the permit and its variation.  The Agency has told me: 

"Kimmeridge Oil & Gas Limited, which is owned by UK Oil and Gas Limited, has an environmental permit to drill a well at Broadford Bridge near Billingshurst.  The permit has conditions which will ensure that communities and the environment are protected.  The Environment Agency has conducted an inspection at Broadford Bridge before drilling and will so again during drilling to ensure the conditions of the permit are met. 

"The operator has also applied to us to vary and extend their existing Environmental Permit, primarily to allow it to conduct a well test.  It has also applied for a Standard Rules Permit to for the management of any crude oil encountered during the proposed well test.  We are currently assessing these applications. 

"None of these permits allow high-pressure, high-volume fracturing (or ‘fracking’).” 

Regrettably the Environment Agency is only responding minimally during the election period because of rules requiring its neutrality.  If I am re-elected I will immediately press for fuller answers to the questions raised, including those relating to the impact of the drilling on groundwater sources and on wildlife.  While I have no reason to believe that the Agency’s regulatory approvals are lacking, I and local people wish to be reassured about this.  I note that the Agency objected to UKOG’s application to drill at another site in West Sussex, Markwell’s Wood, last year on the grounds that the company’s groundwater risk assessment was not detailed enough.  This suggests that the Agency is being robust when considering permits. 

It is important to realise that this is not an application to frack, and that there are already existing conventional oil wells in West Sussex, including in this constituency, which operate almost unnoticed and do not cause public concern.  The footprint of such wells at the surface is very small and they are often screened from view, as is the case with the site at Broadford Bridge. 

However, I believe there are two broad sets of concerns about new drilling: first, about the effect on the environment below the ground, where effective regulation is necessary to ensure that drilling will not harm the environment, and second, about traffic caused not just by setting up the drilling rig but more importantly over the long term if oil is produced and taken off the site in tankers.  Currently, outside the South Downs National Park, West Sussex County Council would have to assess such traffic effects in deciding whether or not to give further permission for oil production, and this would be subject to public consultation.  In the event that non-fracking drilling will be treated as permitted development, as the Conservative Party Manifesto proposes, I will want to ensure that traffic movements can still be limited and that local communities are still consulted. 

General information from West Sussex County Council about oil and gas exploration can be found here: https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/planning/oil-and-gas-exploration-and-fracking/.  Details about the permission for exploratory drilling at Broadford Bridge can be found here: http://buildings.westsussex.gov.uk/ePlanningOPS/tabPage1.jsp?aplId=1421.  Given the concerns raised about a change in drilling practice, I have also asked the County Council to confirm that its permission stands.  You will see that the County Council imposed various conditions on the drilling. 

In my Election Address I say: 

“Conserving our precious environment.  Whether it is through new oil wells, or large scale solar arrays, energy production must be located with sensitivity to our precious landscape and local communities.  The beautiful countryside of West Sussex must not be carelessly industrialised”. 

I opposed an application to drill near Wisborough Green because it would have meant excessive lorry movements through the village, and I helped to secure Government measures to prevent fracking in National Parks.  While the drilling site at Broadford Bridge is better located from the point of view of traffic movements, as it is just off the A29 and vehicles will not have to go through a village, we need to establish the overall number of tanker movements which could be involved if oil production is allowed.  I have asked UKOG to clarify this. 

I assure you that I will continue to be vigilant on behalf of local communities on this issue.  Only in March I was seeking reassurances from Ministers in a Commons committee over the new regulations preventing fracking in National Parks.  My latest constituency report reiterates my commitment to this issue, and can be found here: http://www.nickherbert.com/data/files/constituency_reports/1495471322_constituency-report-2017-online-1.pdf

I have received a letter from Stephen Sanderson, the Chairman of UK Oil and Gas PLC, in response to concerns that I raised with him during a visit to the site at Broadford Bridge on Friday 26 May, and you can read this letter here.