Call for ban on oil and gas drilling following string of earthquakes in Sussex

Protesters at the Horse Hill oil and gas drilling site near Gatwick Airport SUS-180713-150244001
Protesters at the Horse Hill oil and gas drilling site near Gatwick Airport SUS-180713-150244001

Support is growing for a call to halt oil and gas drilling on the Sussex-Surrey border following a string of earthquakes that have been felt as far as Horsham.

South East Green MEP Keith Taylor is backing a call from a leading group of geologists and seismologists for a moratorium on drilling in the region.

The scientists argue that risks associated with continuing drilling operations in the area - which has been hit by 12 earthquakes affecting Horsham, Crawley and Faygate as well as Surrey since April 1 - is too great.

In a letter to The Times, the scientists says: “We believe that public health and the environment are not being adequately protected given the unstable geology, which had not been identified before permits were issued for the currently active drill sites.”

The British Geological Survey is currently investigating the quakes and installing extra seismic monitors to calculate more precisely the depth, location and cause of the quakes.

A spokesman for the survey has already said: “We are unable to say categorically if these earthquakes are related to hydrocarbon exploration or production, mainly because of the uncertainties in our estimates of the earthquake epicentres and particularly depths.”

Four earthquakes measuring up to 3 on the Richter scale - now known as Local Magnitude - took place near Newdigate between Dorking and Crawley on April 1, June 27, June 29 and July 5. Three smaller earthquakes were also later felt. Residents in Horsham, Ifield West in Crawley and Kilnwood Vale at Faygate, as well as in Charlwood, Dorking and Newdigate, also reported feeling the tremors.

There was a further quake at Newdigate on July 10, and four more on July 18.

The recent quakes are the first to have hit the area in the last 50 years. The British Geological Survey spokesman said: “A natural origin for these earthquakes can’t be ruled out at this stage.”

Drilling equipment is currently on site at an oil and gas well known as Horse Hill near Gatwick Airport. But the British Geological Survey says: “We are unable to say categorically if these earthquakes are related to hydrocarbon exploration or production, mainly because of the uncertainties in our estimates of the earthquake epicentres and particularly depths.”

It added: “While it is well known that hydrocarbon exploration and production can result in man-made or ‘induced’ earthquakes, such events usually result from either long term hydrocarbon extraction, or the injection of fluids, for example hydraulic fracturing during production.

“We contacted the Oil and Gas Authority on 28 June to request the status of any operations in the area. Flow testing has been authorised at Horse Hill and the necessary equipment is on site, but flow testing has not yet been carried out.”

MEP Keith Taylor, a member of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, has been calling for a moratorium on drilling activities for several weeks. In response to the latest scientists’ intervention, he said: “The seismic activity in an area where unconventional fossil fuel drilling and testing is active is clearly extremely concerning. It is also unprecedented in the Weald in the last half a century. At the same time, links between unconventional onshore oil and gas drilling and earthquakes were established almost a decade ago in Lancashire.”

The MEP says, however, he is not drawing any conclusions before the results of an investigation.