Plans for more drilling sites in West Sussex in wake of report

JPCT 290414 S14181665x Horshamn. County Hall North, fracking protest.  -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140429-110009001
JPCT 290414 S14181665x Horshamn. County Hall North, fracking protest. -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140429-110009001

An energy firm which has submitted planning applications for exploratory drilling at Billingshurst, Wisborough Green and Fernhurst is preparing to outline proposals for two additional sites in West Sussex by the end of this year.

It comes after a report published by the British Geological Survey (BGS) which revealed there could be as much as 8.57 billion barrels of shale oil under southern England.

Celtique Energie is preparing to submit a further two applications for potential sites somewhere in the county.

A spokesperson said Celtique is not in a position to commit to any firm timescales on plans for new drilling sites, however, there is an expectation to engage with the relevant communities before the end of this year.

Geoff Davies, Celtique Energie’s CEO, said the firm is in the process of reviewing the BGS report and will made a further comment once it has considered its findings.

But while Celtique has expressed an interest in the Weald Basin, Cuadrilla - the company which was at the centre of a campaign storm in Balcombe last summer - says it has no immediate exploration plans to take advantage of the potential in southern England.

A spokesperson said: “Currently our focus is on the Bowland shale in Lancashire where we will very shortly be submitting planning applications with Lancashire County Council.

“We have no immediate exploration plans in the Weald but obviously have exploration acreage in the basin and will study the report with interest.”

The document, published on Friday May 23, looks into oil potential in areas including the Weald Basin which stretches over Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and Kent.

It revealed that while there is a substantial amount of shale oil hidden in the study area, no significant gas resource has been identified.

Experts say this is because shale is not thought to have reached geological maturity to generate gas.

A spokesperson for the BGS said: “The figure for oil represents the total amount of oil present in the rocks. It is not known what percentage of the oil present in the shale could be commercially extracted.

“In order to estimate the shale oil reserve, drilling and testing of new wells will be required to give a better idea of oil production rates. In addition, non-geological factors such as oil price, operating costs and the scale of development agreed by the local planning system will affect the amount of oil produced.”

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The news has brought with it a fresh wave of protest from those who fear that getting the oil out of the ground could involve the controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

It involves pumping chemicals and water at high pressure underground to split apart porous shale rock and release trapped oil or gas.

Balcombe resident Kathryn McWhirter said: “Government and industry are wrong when they say that fracking in the UK will be well regulated.

“The regulations are weak, and were designed for off-shore. Monitoring is inadequate. The industry is allowed largely to self-monitor. We’ve seen that in Balcombe.

“Our environment and our health are not for sale.”

Brenda Pollack, Friends of the Earth’s South East regional campaigner, said: “These latest estimates will set alarm bells ringing across the South East of England where fracking firms seem intent on punching holes in some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside in the search for profits. No wonder the Government waited until after the elections to make this announcement as Lord Howell recently warned that fracking will cost the Tories thousands of votes in their heartlands.

“Shale oil and gas are not the solution to the UK’s energy challenges. Rather than drilling for more dirty fossil fuels that will add to climate change, the Government should be backing renewable power and energy efficiency.”