Balcombe

PEDL 244
Operator: Angus Energy (previously Cuadrilla)

Awaiting planning decision: In October 2019, Angus Energy applied for planning permission to ‘test’ the oil well that had been drilled on the southern edge of Balcombe village in the summer of 2013. Managing director Lord Lucan said that Angus hoped to be granted permission by West Sussex County Council in early January, at which point they would get to work in Balcombe “hammer and tongs”. He said the beauty of the three-year testing period would be that it would pay for itself by the oil produced, and that it would show whether it would be worth their while drilling two further wells at the Balcombe site.

He said they will not be fracking. But the local community points out that their end game must clearly be to frack the deep layer of shale, and that their current plans to acidise the thin muddy limestone layers within the shale would bring most of the risks of fracking and many of the certain negatives. The acidisation (at a certain pressure) might indeed have been called fracking had not the government changed the legal definition.

Angus have been operators at the site since 2017, having bought 25% of the PEDL licence from Cuadrilla, who to this day own 75%.

A vertical well had been drilled on this site in the mid-1980s by Conoco. It was acidised but failed to flow, and was abandoned. In 2013 Cuadrilla drilled a second well (vertically and out horizontally for a third of a mile), having told the community and the government that they needed to frack if Balcombe was to be commercially viable.

The drilling was accompanied by summer-long protests by locals and others who came to help, sleeping in a roadside camp. The protests drew national and international media and public attention. At peak, protesters numbered 2,000. Of 120 arrests, including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, only a third resulted in conviction. Campaigning, peaceful protest and moves by Friends of the Earth held up the drilling so that Cuadrilla ran out of time to test the well. (Their initial planning permission expired in September 2013.)

Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association was formed in 2013 to represent the strong majority of the village opposed to fracking and to resist the presence of the oil industry in Balcombe.

In 2018, Angus sucessfully took out an injunction against ‘persons unknown’ (ie anybody) impeding their work at Balcombe, on pain of imprisonment, fines and seizure of assets. The injunction has since been weakened by legal challenges to other similar injunctions elsewhere in the country.

Testing the well in 2018, Angus struck water and had to stop testing. They returned early in 2019 but were unable to resolve the problem. Owing to an administrative error by a previous Angus managing director, the planning permission was cancelled before it had run its course. That is why Angus are now obliged to reapply for planning permission.

The well at Lower Stumble, just south of Balcombe village, is 350 metres from the nearest houses and upwind from the village. Amongst other issues, residents are deeply concerned about emissions from the flare, which would be carried by the prevailing wind and topography towards the village. They also object strongly to heavy vehicles, including oil tankers, passing to and fro through the village in close proximity to the primary school and houses.

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