Leith Hill

PEDL143
Operator: previously Europa Oil and Gas, now UKOG

VICTORY! The fight to save Leith Hill from drilling came to a sudden and welcome end in September 2018 when the Forestry Commission announced it was not renewing Europa Oil and Gas’s lease to the site because of the potential impact on nearby ancient woodland.

The application to drill for oil at Bury Hill Wood, on Leith Hill, a short distance from Coldharbour village, was the subject of a long legal battle. The site is inside the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Local residents had been fighting the plans since 2008, through many twists and turns, including two Public Inquiries, a High Court Appeal and a Court of Appeal Hearing.

The second Public Inquiry found in favour of Europa. Europa then had planning permission for a 1,400 metre oil well and a 35 metre drilling tower with aircraft warning lights; gas flares would be installed and hundreds of HGV movements would take place along Coldharbour Lane, an ancient (and narrow) sunken lane. In October 2017, they received planning permission for security fencing, buildings and equipment at the site. However Europa was never able to meet all the conditions of its planning permissions, such as an acceptable Traffic Management Plan.

Local community group Leith Hill Action Group campaigned against the proposals for nearly 10 years, through the planning system and in the courts. A newer group, A Voice for Leith Hill, used art, music and family events to raise awareness of the drilling plans and harnessed people power to deliver newsletters, carry out local surveys and lobby the Forestry Commission about the lease. A Protection Camp was set up on the intended drill site in late 2016. This remained in place until a two-day eviction in June 2017 using specialist bailiffs to clear tree houses and tunnels. A new camp was then set up across the road to raise awareness among road users, monitor the site and host events such as candlelit vigils, activist workshops and the ‘tour de frack’ cycle ride.

In March 2019, Europa Oil & Gas announced it was handing over the operatorship of PEDL143 to UK Oil and Gas plc (UKOG). Europa retains its 20% interest in PEDL143; UKOG holds 40%. Other partners are Egdon Resources (18.4%), Angus Energy (12.5%), Union Jack Oil (7.5%) and Altwood Petroleum (1.6%).

UKOG will need to find an alternative site to drill from if it is to access the oil under Leith Hill. Campaigners remain vigilant.

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