A local council has accused an oil company of drilling a well in the green belt without permission and ignoring repeated warnings that it would need consent.
Surrey County Council said Angus Energy, who has an existing oil production site in Brockham, opened up a ‘sidetrack’—a new hole created by drilling at an angle from within an existing well—in January despite the council writing to the company twice to say it required planning approval.
The council said it was frustrated the energy company acted against its guidance.
“We were extremely disappointed to find out that Angus Energy has acted without planning permission and contrary to our advice and guidance so we are currently in discussions with them as a matter of urgency to resolve this,” they said.
Residents have called on the council and the Environment Agency to hold an inquiry and prosecute the company if they have broken the law and protesters set up the “Brockham Protection Camp” to monitor the work being done, according to the Times.
A council spokesman told The Independent there was a possibility the company could be required to remove the sidetrack, but added it was unlikely given it was already there.
“They could get punished for what they have done or they could apply for retrospective planning permission,” he said.
“They could be fined, there’s a multitude of things that could happen or they might just get a severe warning.”
The company has argued the sidetrack did not constitute a new well as it was drilled from an existing well into shale rocks underneath the Weald near Brockham. It said its operations at the site were already covered by planning permission.
Angus Energy holds that the Oil and Gas Authority, Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive had approved its plans.
“The government’s guidelines make it absolutely clear that the remit of local councils covers the surface impact of the operations including matters such as noise, visual impact and traffic movements,” it said.
“All our surface work was covered by our planning permission.
"We work with our local council on many important surface issues that rely on their expertise and requirements.”
The company added it didn’t need planning permission according to Surrey County Council’s own criteria and that the council’s accusations were unfounded.
“Despite having every opportunity at a number of meetings and in extensive correspondence, Surrey County Council has not identified any way in which the sidetrack causes any planning harm,” it said.
“Any characterisation that Angus Energy deliberately misled its investors and public or misunderstood clear advice is offensive, wrong and self-serving.”
The company stressed it had no plans to carry out fracking—the controversial process of shattering rocks to release gas—at the well, although it has attracted local protests at a number of other sites around the country.
Protesters at the site have repeatedly alleged that planning permission had been breached at the Brockham oil site, culminating in nine people being arrested in January for wilful obstruction, resisting arrest and tampering with a motor vehicle, according to The Independent.
Four had their charges dropped while the remaining five are due to appear at Guildford Magistrates’ Court on the 18th April.
The Brockham oil field was discovered by British Petroleum in 1987 and produces approximately 35 barrels of oil per day.
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