Public pressure helps save South Downs from oil drilling

Campaigners in West Sussex and Hampshire are celebrating as a company has withdrawn its plan to drill 4 oil wells under the South Downs National Park.

Friends of the Earth worked with local residents to set up a vocal and well-organised campaign against the drilling plans.

The scheme, proposed by United Kingdom Oil and Gas (UKOG), is extremely unpopular. Over 2,000 objections were sent in.

Of particular concern was the acidisation process that UKOG planned to use to extract the oil.

This involves pumping acids and other chemicals into new horizontal wells to stimulate oil to flow from deep underground rocks. The fear was that this could have huge risks for drinking water in surrounding areas.

Risk of oil drilling too high

Emily Mott, from local residents’ group Markwells Wood Watch said:

This is a very vulnerable region so any kind of contamination or spill that happens here would affect the water supply quickly. The expert report we commissioned showed that this is not a suitable site for drilling – the risks are too high

Markwells Wood Campaigners

Friends of the Earth helped local group, Markwells Wood Watch, set up an easy way for people to object online and encouraged them to send letters to all councillors in the area highlighting key concerns.

These included potential water, air and noise pollution and negative impacts on the natural beauty of the South Downs.

As the hearing by the South Downs National Park’s planning committee drew close, UKOG’s plans looked likely to be rejected.

No place for drilling in South Downs

And a week before the decision meeting, to the surprise of local campaigners, UKOG decided to withdraw its application.

Brenda Pollack, Friends of the Earth Regional Campaigner said:

There is no place for drilling in or under the beautiful South Downs National Park. The risks to drinking water, increase in trucks on rural roads and potential air and noise pollution were all of concern to Friends of the Earth and many others. It would have had impacts far beyond the village

The Environment Agency and Portsmouth Water – the local Water Company – objected to the drilling on the grounds that it posed unacceptable levels of risk to the water supply of thousands of people.

West Sussex and Hampshire councils had also challenged the application based on the traffic impacts in a rural area.

Fight to prevent drilling is not over

In a statement, UKOG said:

The application is now planned for resubmission later in 2017 after the completion of the planned data acquisition and upon the conclusions of ongoing technical conversations with the Environment Agency

The company tried to blame the Environment Agency by suggesting they had put in an eleventh hour request for information and the Park Authority for not giving them extra time for more research.

The reality is they had been given months to respond to requests for detailed information on addressing key risks and the new reports they had submitted had been found wanting.

If UKOG do submit a new application they will face equally strong opposition from the local community.

End fossil fuel extraction

Friends of the Earth is campaigning for an end to new fossil fuel extraction projects.

The world already has more fossil fuels than we can afford to burn if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Tell Barclays to stop funding fracking

References:

Details of the application and all objections are available on the South Downs National Park Authority website.

Definition of acidising: Schlumberger Oilfield Glossary.

First published on 5 May 2017

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