Energy firm granted time extension for Broadford Bridge drilling site

Members of the Broadford Bridge Action Group outside County Hall
Members of the Broadford Bridge Action Group outside County Hall

Energy firm UKOG hopes to submit a new planning application for another exploratory well at Broadford Bridge near Billingshurst.

West Sussex County Council’s planning committee granted permission on Tuesday (September 11) for the company to remain on the site until March 2020 to evaluate the data from borehole testing, which was completed in March.

The meeting was told that, if the testing revealed fossil fuels, namely hydrocarbons, UKOG would want to ‘retain the site while a further planning application is prepared’.

In a statement on its website, UKOG said the extension gave the company ‘the necessary time to complete its plans to re-enter’ the well. It would also allow the firm to flow test a new ‘sidetrack’, which is a wellbore drilled away from the original hole.

An application is expected to be submitted in the autumn.

Planning permission for the site was originally given in 2013, before being extended. It allowed for four phases of work – construction, drilling, testing and restoration/retention of the site.

With the first three phases complete, UKOG has asked for more time for the fourth, with restoration of the site scheduled for the planting season October 2019 to March 2020.

Speaking at the meeting, project manager Nigel Moore, said: “The development has not changed – it remains temporary and reversible. No new works are planned and no material impact is predicted.

“It’s simply that more time is needed to review existing information and information to come.”

Matt Cartwright, chief operating officer with UKOG, said: “We want to be good neighbours. We want to share the benefits of this development with local people.”

He added: “The Broadford Bridge exploration well did find oil in a lot of different zones, multiple zones. We found oil and gas in most of them.

“We got oil and gas to surface and what we need to do is find out how to get more of it to surface, so it’s a commercial flow rate.

“That’s the problem. It’s not that it’s not there, it’s how we produce it in sufficient quantities.”

Mr Cartwright said UKOG was ‘excited for the future’, adding that the extension given to the application ‘drives growth for the industry and the economy’.

His excitement was not shared by members of the Broadford Bridge Action Group, who gathered outside County Hall, clad in boiler suits and masks.

A spokesman for the group said: “This is a huge and unwarranted increase in time to clean up the site which leaves the local community and environment under an unnecessary shadow for 18 more months.

“The company and WSCC planners have promised three times to move off site if nothing was found.

“There’s consensus that Broadford Bridge is not commercially viable so why do they need this extra time?”

Addressing the meeting, environmental scientist Dr Jill Sutcliffe, of Natural England, said the site was ‘not viable’ and that she was concerned about the ‘potential impact of unseen harms on the area’.

When the committee approved the planning extension, the campaigners left the meeting hurling cries of ‘shame’ at members.

Permission was also given for security fencing, gates and cabins to be left on the site for another 18 months.

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Sutcliffe said she was ‘not surprised’ by the council’s decision to extend the application for 18 months.

She added: “I think there is a misunderstanding of what the need is.

“Repeatedly, the national planning policy framework is supporting oil and gas development, and they overlook the fact that the UK has a climate change act, which commits the country to reducing our use of fossil fuels.”