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South Downs National Park rejects oil drilling plan

Words: Laura Edgar
South Downs National Park

A plan to engage in test drilling for oil and gas beneath the South Downs National Park has been turned down by the park's planning authority.

The proposal by Celtique Energie Weald Limited to install a well and the associated infrastructure for a "conventional" drilling operation at Nine Acre Copse in Fernhurst was unanimously rejected by the planning committee for South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA). The application covered a temporary period of three years.

According to the SDNPA website, the plan is not to engage in the controversial "horizontal" drilling method and no mention is made of shale gas and oil or fracking in direct relation to the application. However, a recent British Geological Survey study estimated that there may be billions of barrels of shale oil beneath the Weald Basin, including the South Downs National Park, which could potentially be extracted via the controversial fracking method. The SDNPA website also goes on to give a lengthy explanation of fracking.

Margaret Paren, chair of the park’s authority, said: “Members of the SDNPA Planning Committee refused planning permission for exploratory drilling and appraisal for oil/gas in the National Park because the applicant has failed to demonstrate exceptional circumstances exist and that it would be in the public interest for such exploration to take place within the protected landscape of the South Downs. Planning permission was also refused because of the adverse impact on the tranquillity and amenity of the National Park.

“The decision was unanimous and very firm. The message has gone out that robust evidence is vital to jump the very high hurdles set out in national planning policy.”

Celtique Energie chief executive Geoff Davies explained in a statement on the company’s website that although the decision has left the company disappointed, they are not surprised by it. “The decision fails to take into consideration the importance of this project to the nation and the comprehensive steps Celtique would be taking to ensure that all exploration work would be done sensitively during the very temporary period we would be working in the National Park.”

The statement also explained that from detailed studies undertaken by the company, this site was the best available location for exploratory drilling to find out how much oil or gas is present in that area of the Weald Basin, which Celtique Energie believe could be nationally significant.

Mr Davies concluded: “Our application was totally compliant, comprehensive and of high-quality. We believe it has been refused on subjective and unjustified grounds. We believe this proposal would be supported by the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State in the event of an appeal. We are considering our further options and will make a decision in due course.”

Related stories:

“Billions of barrels” of shale oil in Weald Basin, says BGS

Guidance outlines protection for national parks from fracking

Fatal extraction? The challenge of fracking