COUNTY NEWS: Application to test Sussex oil well to be decided tomorrow

The exploration well in Balcombe. Picture: Steve Robards

An application to test an oil well in Sussex is to be decided tomorrow.

A planning committee meeting is being held at County Hall in Chichester, at 10.30am, and is expected to run until 1pm.

Campaigners at the Lower Stumble site in Balcombe

Oil and gas exploration company Cuadrilla is seeking two years’ permission to flow test and monitor the exploration well, and plans to apply immediately for production if oil flows. This will require further planning permission.

West Sussex County Council has received more than 2,700 objections to the application, with only 11 in favour.

The application has been recommended for approval, subject to conditions and informatives.

Members of the Balcombe community and supporters, who are against the application, will gather outside County Hall beforehand.

It seems that whatever local communities say, and however many of us say it, we carry no weight.

Balcombe resident Kathryn McWhirter

The Lower Stumble site has been the target of a vociferous campaign by groups opposed to the use of the technique known as fracking, properly called hydraulic fracturing.

The controversial process uses large quantities of water, sand and some chemicals to fracture rock to release gas or oil.

Cuadrilla was granted planning permission for the site in May 2014 to flow test and monitor the exploration well, which was drilled in the summer of 2013, but this permission expired.

At the time Cuadrilla gave an ‘unequivocal assurance’ to Balcombe Parish Council and said it would not be using fracking.

However, thousands of people marched in protest on the site in 2013, when the oil and gas exploration company came in to drill the exploratory well.

Balcombe resident Kathryn McWhirter said: “It seems that whatever local communities say, and however many of us say it, we carry no weight.

“The planning officer appears not to have read our submissions. We have been researching all this for six years now, and I’m sure we understand the situation and the risks far better than he does.

“Right now Balcombe is in the spotlight, but we speak for communities right across the county. This oil well could be amongst the first of a very large number of wells across the South East.”

Residents object on grounds that include potential air and water pollution, site traffic passing their primary school, noise, and site lighting, which they say will disturb the five species of bats that inhabit the site and adjoining ancient woodland in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

An official poll established that the village opposes Cuadrilla’s presence, whether they are currently intending to frack or acidise or neither, said the No Fracking in Balcombe Society (No FiBS).

“We recognise that they will not frack at this stage and suspect that they will sell on to another operator before the need to frack arises. We strongly contest Cuadrilla’s assertion that this is a conventional oil well,” said a spokesman.

Along with two members of the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, a representative of Balcombe Parish Council will speak tomorrow in opposition to the application.

Helen Savage, who is due to speak tomorrow, is a teacher at Balcombe Primary School and is a mother of two young children who attend the school.

She said: “We are very concerned about the emissions from the increased number of HGVs that will pass our school if this application is permitted.

“The fence separating the school from the road is immediately above an area used as an open classroom, in front of the main school building. So the road down which HGVs pass is 2.1 metres from this outdoor classroom area, which is in daily use.”

John Scates, former director of International Affairs at the CBI, is a longstanding Balcombe resident. He will also speak at the meeting on behalf of Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA).

He said: “So many details of this application are imprecise. From the unclear design and size of the proposed new flare to the fact that the Environment Agency has not considered several of the most toxic gases produced.

“The Environment Agency’s Mining Waste Permit specifically requires monitoring and mitigation of air emissions, yet their response to this application contains no comment on the lack of proper monitoring and mitigation.

“The top of the flare is below the level of our village, and toxic emissions will be carried towards us on the prevailing wind.”

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