Leith Hill

Operator: previously Europa Oil and Gas, then UKOG


A Voice for Leith Hill campaigners demonstrate with Keith Taylor, then Green MEP

In October 2020, a cohort of onshore oil firms have walked away from the controversial proposed oil drilling site at Leith Hill in Surrey.

UK Oil & Gas Plc (UKOG), Angus Energy and Egdon Resources Ltd decided to relinquish the licence after concluding that “the required long-reach/shallow target-depth wells are neither technically viable or economically feasible”.

Europa Oil & Gas, who previously held the licence, withdraw in September 2018 when the then Environment Secretary, Michael Gove MP, announced that the Forestry Commission would not renew their lease to the site because of the potential impact on nearby ancient woodland. Former operator Europa Oil & Gas never managed to drill at their site near Coldharbour, thanks to persistent campaigning over many years, and their failure to comply with all the conditions attached to their planning permission.

In March 2019, Europa announced it was handing over the operatorship of PEDL143 to UK Oil and Gas plc (UKOG). Europa retained its 20% interest, UKOG held 40% and other partners were Egdon Resources (18.4%), Angus Energy (12.5%), Union Jack Oil (7.5%) and Altwood Petroleum (1.6%). UKOG looked for sites to drill from outside the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which meant drilling at least 3km to access the oil.

A long legal battle

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.

Leith Hill heart
Local people show their love for Leith Hill

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.

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