Bid to tap into sea of oil beneath Downs which could raise millions

UP TO eight wells producing up to one million barrels of oil each could be created across the Sussex countryside if a firm is successful in uncovering a vast sea of oil stretching more than 20 miles.

UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) has begun drilling at Broadford Bridge and hopes to find evidence it is part of a huge continuous deposit stretching from its record-breaking site at Horse Hill.

Company executive chairman Stephen Sanderson said if projections are proved correct, the oil reserves worth up to £40 million for each well would have “national significance” and would be a “game changer” for the company.

The firm said the wells could net local district and parish councils up to £12 million over their lifetime.

Protesters concerned about the environmental impact of the drilling have gathered at the site near Billingshurst since drilling began at the end of last month with several arrested by police.

Mr Sanderson has dismissed their campaign as “scaremongering” and likened the oil to be pulled up from the Sussex earth to “locally grown vegetables”.

He also called for regulatory and planning processes to be simplified to reduce the uncertainty over the timing of planning decisions which was currently the biggest obstacle to the firm’s plans.

The firm made headlines in March 2016 after reporting the highest levels of onshore oil flow at Horse Hill, known as the Gatwick Gusher.

Work there is currently suspended but there are plans for testing to resume later this year to establish whether there are commercial rates of oil flow and volume present.

Workers at Broadford Bridge have already reached around 2,500 feet down and hope to dig a further 1,000 feet.

Initial results on the potential for oil production are expected later this month. A large cross section of several hundred feet of the rock will be brought up next week to fully explore the site’s potential.

It is hoped oil production could begin at Broadford Bridge and Horse Hill towards the end of next year and the first quarter of 2019, subject to planning consent.

Mr Sanderson said: “If we were successful, we would think about drilling another six sites like this within 100 square kilometres. That’s just 20 acres, less than 0.1 per cent of the whole surface area, which is very small, a lot less than the total area of car parks in the area.

“If we show this is a continuous oil deposit, we can cherry-pick where we put these sites. Site selection is absolute paramount.

“We would look to other sites like this, quite isolated so you can’t seen them. You could put sites on brownfield areas, by a main road, motorway or a rail siding so you can minimise impact.”

The site was first identified by Celtique Energie which received planning consent for a temporary borehole in February 2013.

The firm was looking to dig much deeper than the current project, around 9,000 feet, in a bid to find a similar oil field to Wytch Farm in Poole Harbour, the second biggest on shore in Europe.

In August, UKOG bought the Weald Basin Licence from Celtique for £3.5 million.

UKOG is investing more than £5.3 million into the site, which had already been established by Celtique and then left idle for three years, including £1 million in site costs, £3.5 million in drilling, £800,000 in preparing the well for oil flow and £1.4 million in testing.

Mr Sanderson said: “The prime object of this well is to show we have oil in here and it is a continuous field. The cherry on the cake is if we can get it out. If we know the oil is there and it’s mobile, we can get it out.

“This is like research and development in pharmaceuticals. You put a lot of money up front and there is no guarantee you are going to get anything.”

The UKOG chairman said indigenous oil projects create “a lot of jobs” and HMRC revenue whereas imported oil created no jobs and no tax revenue.

There are about 30 staff working on site currently though the vast majority are specialist workers brought in from outside the county.

The company said there were benefits for local hotels, pubs, cafes and contractors in the supply chain including trucking firms and welders.

The real benefit for the community will be felt if the well becomes productive.

Community benefit legislation means every well of at least 200 metres of deviation guarantees £20,000 to the community as well as business rates and local community royalty, which would equate to six per cent of the potential £40 million gross revenue from the site.

UKOG said it hoped the money would go direct to Horsham District Council and the three affected parish councils.

Mr Sanderson said the Weald Basin had been explored previously with 100 legacy wells all drilled in the 1980s.

He said: “It has been drilled by very smart people but they weren’t looking for this. The concepts involved in this type of oil deposits weren’t around in the 1980s, they have only been around since 2005. This is very much a 21st century oil and gas deposit based on very new geological understanding.

“There are lot of people in the industry still to get their heads around it. We are quite pioneering and at the start of very interesting journey.

“We don’t need to use fracking because the rock has already been heavily fractured by Mother Earth, far more effectively than man could ever do.”

Q&A: UKOG BOSS STEPHEN SANDERSON

How much would the oil discovery you are hoping for be a game changer?

Stephen Sanderson, UKOG executive chairman: Clearly for UK Oil and Gas it will be a game changer. It would put us up with middle size of oil and gas companies in terms of the recoverable oil reserves that we would have.

If we show that this oil deposit does extend pretty much 30 odd km to Horse Hill and that it exists over a much larger area, if we use a small number of sites we can make inroads into our daily oil demands of 1.4 million barrels.

Thirty per cent is imported at the moment but by 2030 it will nearly be 70 per cent so it’s clearly very beneficial to have indigenously produced oil and gas.

What would you say to the opponents of the scheme and the concerns over the environmental impact of the scheme?

I can reassure people there is no impact at all on drinking water regardless of whether or not there is a drinking water source round here or not. There is no major water aquifer under this site but we use this essentially water mixed with potato starch to drill the well. It’s exactly the same as what companies use to drill wells for the public water supply so it is safe enough for public water, it is going to be very safe for these oil wells.

Have protesters disrupted work here at the site?

We fully support people’s right for public protest, that’s a basic right we all have. But some of these people go a little too far, they try and stop us going about a lawful business. That’s fine but it’s an irritant.

I think the most important thing, it actually causes quite a lot of disturbance to the locality, the police have to close the road which is very irritating for resident who have to go through a long cut through so they are not helping themselves by alienating some of the residents.

Some opponents to the drilling have been threatened with legal action over things they have published. Is this gagging opposition?

No, I think we’re very open and honest. We have put almost everything we do on our website. We are all subject to the rule of law. People can say what they like as long as they don’t transgress the bounds of law and if they do they should probably realise there will be consequences. It’s not to stop people expressing their opinion, it is to ensure what they say is backed up by hard information.

The Conservative manifesto proposes easing planning process for oil drilling. Should this be a priority for UK government?

The whole regulatory process takes quite a long time here. It’s getting better and we can work with that. But we would like to see it far more streamlined. The Government have to decide whether or not this is of national significance then they have to step up and enable us to do it safely and environmentally soundly but knowing when we can actually do things. The biggest problem is the uncertainty of timing with planning permission and regulatory permission.

Neil Vowles Author : Original story link  www.theargus.co.uk/news

South East Today, Evening News, 14:06:2017

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