Support for exploratory drilling from as far away as Northern Ireland

The Broadford Bridge drilling site SUS-170615-101928001
The Broadford Bridge drilling site SUS-170615-101928001

A swell of support for exploratory drilling south of Billingshurst has been received from Newcastle, Wales, Glasgow, and even Northern Ireland.

UK Oil & Gas Investments (UKOG) is looking for oil deposits at a site off Adversane Lane in Broadford Bridge.

Green MEP Keith Taylor meets protestors outside Broadford Bridge drilling site.

Green MEP Keith Taylor meets protestors outside Broadford Bridge drilling site.

Protesters have been campaigning against the company’s activities for months over environmental concerns and fears of water contamination.

Temporary permission for exploratory drilling was granted by West Sussex County Council in 2013, but UKOG has now submitted a further application for a 12-month extension.

Testing is due to be completed in October or November, but the original permission runs out in mid-September.

The new application has already received more than 130 objections, but also 92 submissions in support.

Green MEP Keith Taylor at Broadford Bridge drilling site

Green MEP Keith Taylor at Broadford Bridge drilling site

However of those 92, only five appear to be from residents in the surrounding area, with supporters writing in from Abercynon in Wales, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Somerset, Glasgow, Bristol, Sheffield, Essex, Ipswich, Rochdale, Merseyside, and even one from Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland.A

A number of submissions are identical and read: “I support the application for a one year extension to the Broadford Bridge oil exploration site in Adversane Lane to complete the flow test programme.

“It is very important to the UK balance of payments, the UK economy. UK fuel security, and will contribute to the local economy

“This application will prove the Weald Basin oil reserve potentially worth many billions.”

On the county council’s planning portal, one Billingshurst resident wrote: “Until such time as renewable energy is available for everything that oil currently is used we should support onshore oil exploration.

“I know that fracking is not taking place at BB1 and the scaremongering from protestors is dreadful.

“As there are currently around 84 oil/gas wells in East and West Sussex, I find it difficult to make any objection to this application.

“Better to produce our own oil/gas than to import it with the huge carbon footprint involved.”

While many of the objections are from around Broadford Bridge, Billingshurst, Pulborough, and West Chiltington, others are from the rest of Sussex, or from as far afield as Kilmarnock, Preston, Devon, North Yorkshire, and Suffolk.

They raised issues with industrialisation of the countryside and the possibility of chemicals affecting the water supply and ecology.

Many also called for greater support of renewable energy sources instead, and felt a fresh application should be submitted as the plans were too different to the original one approved by the county council.

One objector wrote: “This just cannot be allowed to happen. The environmental risks are too great, and it would be a disaster for the Weald.”

In a previous letter to residents, Stephen Sanderson, executive chairman and chief executive of UKOG, said: “We are not fracking. We do not want to or need to.”

Addressing concerns about acidisation, he explained that they were solely using dilute hydrochloric acid ‘only when an oil well is first tested or prepared for production’.

He added: “Note that the acid is put into rocks thousands of feet below any fresh water bearing horizons and directly and solely into the oil and salt water-bearing oil reservoir.

“Critically, acidisation is done in an oil well comprising three cemented steel casings (concentric pipes).

“There is therefore no possibility of a leak to the surface or to shallow rocks.”

Keith Taylor, a Green MEP for the South East, visited Broadford Bridge on Thursday July 20 to meet campaigners to highlight concerns about Sussex Police’s handling of peaceful protests, particularly its approach to ‘slow-walking protests’.

Afterwards, Mr Taylor said: “The people I’ve met here today are residents and campaigners concerned about the future of their communities and the future of our planet.

“I have seen them be nothing but warm, friendly, and, crucially, peaceful - during today’s protest and every other while I’ve been down on the site.”

He added: “Earlier this month, I called on the National Police Chiefs Council to urgently review the guidance issued to police officers attending fracking protests amidst an increase in reports of the use of excessive force against apparently peaceful protesters by police and private security forces.

“I’m now renewing my call for the Sussex PCC to undertake a similar review. I’m also calling on Sussex Police to communicate more clearly and more consistently with residents and campaigners on the ground.”

In response chief inspector Howard Hodges said: “Safety is the paramount consideration when we are policing this type of protest.

“We have engaged with the protesters at the site to make clear the areas where slow walking as a protest is tolerated, where it is safe to do so.

“Any slow walking protest that falls outside of the designated areas will not be tolerated and officers will deal with it swiftly.

“I consider this approach to be proportionate to keep the pubic safe, facilitate peaceful protest and ensure that the wider community can conduct their lawful business.”

To comment visit www.westsussex.gov.uk/planning using code WSCC/029/17/WC.