Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East, responded in shock to Surrey County Council's decision to grant retrospective planning permission to oil firm Angus Energy for a sidetrack drilled at its Brockham oil site, despite the work originally being carried out without the firm seeking the permissions it was advised it needed.
During the Surrey County Council on Wednesday, the chairman of planning committee meeting labelled Angus "the least reliable hydrocarbon operation the council has dealt with."
Responding to the decision, the senior Green politician said:
"Granting retrospective permission for work carried out in open contempt of the council sets a dangerous precedent. But it also reveals, yet again, that the so-called 'gold standard' regulations governing the oil and gas industry are a joke."
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Taylor submitted an objection to the retrospective application. The main points of the objection were reiterated to the planning committee on Wednesday by local campaigner Stephen McDonald, on Mr Taylor's behalf:
"I objected to this application back in April but things have changed considerably since then as we have now had a series of ten earthquakes in the area. I have written to Surrey County Council, the Oil and Gas Authority and the Health and Safety Executive calling for a moratorium on oil-related activities and new permissions until there has been a thorough investigation. As I suggested back in April the British Geological Survey has now put in train an investigation by setting up new seismic monitoring. There is also an urgent need for a check to see if the earthquakes have damaged the infrastructure at Brockham and Horse Hill. Until this has been done it would be a dereliction of public safety and environmental protection to go ahead with allowing more drilling and acid stimulation. I hope councillors will ask what steps have been taken to check the wells and sidetracks are safe and if there is any definite view by informed experts about a causal link between past activities at Brockham and geological instability.
I have already stated my concerns about Angus Energy. This company drilled without permission last year and denied it needed permission despite advice to the contrary. It did this persistently and misinformed shareholders about it. The work was not carried out in ignorance or in error. Now Angus is asking for retrospective permission. Companies like Angus which deliberately flout the rules should not then be rewarded with planning consent.
The application itself is not economically beneficial to the area nor to national energy security. It creates two jobs possibly – this is unclear. Councillors might want to ask about the actual economic and job creation benefits for Surrey as Angus claims there is “significant economic benefit”. Its projections about commercial production of oil (if they can be believed) would involve acid stimulation to retrieve it, and a huge increase in environmental and community impacts. Are councillors clear about the impacts of these proposals?
The proposal brings a great increase in HGVs onto narrow country lanes. It introduces a shrouded flare stack into a rural environment with concerns already being raised locally about air pollution. If it does produce oil on the level it claims it will be a literal drop in the ocean of the UK’s energy requirements which would be much better met by supporting renewable energy. Even if it did strike big oil, Angus could not then claim there would be no significant environmental impacts as all the oil has to be brought out by lorry.
Finally, it is unclear why Angus Energy needs such a long consent for well appraisal. This raises questions about the real intentions for the Brockham site. The environmental impacts of the whole project need to be rigorously examined – if commercial production is intended during the permitted period those impacts should be presented and assessed now."
There are many unanswered questions here: about the earthquake connected risk; reliability of the operator; environmental impacts and the real economic potential of the site and Angus’ intentions. Until these are answered this application should be refused."