Yesterday ( Wednesday) the members of the Surrey County Council Planning and Regulatory Committee met to consider the application for the retention and extension of wells at Horse Hill, near Gatwick in West Sussex – to drill for oil and gas from 6 wells for 25 years.
I have never received so many emails on one concern, and these with the agenda papers made for a lot of reading.
During the meeting, there was much to listen to as there were 5 opposition public speakers and 3 speaking for the application. The concerns cover the “swarm” of earthquakes and damage to the environment in this time of Surrey County Council’s declared Climate Emergency.
The applicants emphasised that it is crucial to have a secure national source of energy and the community would benefit from jobs and a share of the wealth, and those who oppose are “scaremongering”.
This is the essence of my comments.
- If it is accepted that these earthquakes are “naturally occurring” and are not caused by drilling, then clearly the company is drilling in an earthquake zone. The committee should impose the condition of a large bond so that any damage now and in the future will be compensated.
This was not supported.
- We are considering an application that is for 25 years of operation. Should there be a break for re-evaluation after 5 years? Officers noted that there is a regulatory requirement to do this after 15 years, and this could not be amended.
There was a discussion about asking the company voluntarily to monitor seismic events in the long term…….
The vote was 7 to 2 in favour of the application. One of the public speakers noted,
“This decision could look uncomfortable in years to come”.
A lot of weight was given to the study of the “Surrey swarm” quakes by Imperial College, London, the University of Bristol, and the British Geological Survey (BGS), which is reported not to show a direct link between oil extraction and earthquakes in the region. Refer to the ICL press release – ‘Surrey swarm’ earthquakes not caused by nearby oil extraction, says study by Caroline Brogan – 27 August 2019 https://www.imperial.ac.uk/…/surrey-swarm-earthquakes-caus…/
However, the author of this paper, Dr.Stephen Hicks, noted this caveat in his paper:
Our knowledge of activities at Brockham and Horse Hill-1 relies on reported operational data provided by the operators. This source of data remains a controversial issue when determining induced versus natural causes of earthquakes. This particularly applies to industrial activities that lack any precedence for causing earthquakes, and for areas with a low rate of background seismicity. As operations continue in the long term, we recommend seismic monitoring close to hydrocarbon development and production sites, and high-resolution reporting of operational activities (e.g., well shut-in periods, production volumes, and rates) that is visible to the public. Over time, long-term monitoring could help reduce uncertainties in correlations and causal factors. Moreover, operators and regulators could consider operating small seismic monitoring networks near conventional oilfield operations to better understand any nearby emergent seismic sequences earlier and to reduce uncertainties.
It is interesting to note that the BGS identifies 27 earthquake events in the last 50 days, from 27th July to 6th September, 27 events have been recorded, 7 in NEWDIGATE, SURREY, 2 in MILLOM, CUMBRIA and the rest were just individual events