Developer to submit new planning application as the Government seeks to relax existing rules.
Onshore oil and gas developer Cuadrilla yesterday withdrew two planning applications relating to its controversial exploratory site in Balcombe, West Sussex.
The developer, which has faced huge protests over fears that it may carry out hydraulic fracturing at the site, withdrew the applications with a view to making a new planning application later this month.
Cuadrilla has confirmed its intention to submit a new planning application by 27 September to allow for additional time to carry out the well testing at the site allowed under the current permission. The firm told West Sussex County Council that the activity sought under the new application will not involve drill stem testing, additional drilling, or hydraulic fracturing.
It is understood that the changing of the applications was due Cuadrilla’s legal advisors viewing the current planning consents as ambiguous.
The local council has the opportunity to revisit its previous highly controversial decision to give Cuadrilla the green light in Balcombe
Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen
A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “Cuadrilla has decided to submit a new planning application to cover the flow testing of the horizontal oil exploration well at its site at Lower Stumble, Balcombe. The new application will cover the same well testing that is in the currently permitted activity but will include revised planning boundary lines showing the extent of the horizontal well being tested. It will not include additional drilling or any hydraulic fracturing.
“Our original planning application was approved in 2010 with a boundary delineation covering the surface drilling site area.
“Our decision to make a new application for the well testing activity, rather than an extension of previously approved activity, is to resolve any potential legal ambiguity around how the planning boundary should be drawn for a subsurface horizontal well.”
Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen described Cuadrilla’s plans for Balcombe as “a dog’s dinner”.
“They only recently submitted an application to extend the drilling window, now they’ve already withdrawn it and admitted they’re reassessing the programme,” said Deen.
“It’s not yet clear if this is a shift of direction or if the company merely got its sums wrong. Either way, the local council has the opportunity to revisit its previous highly controversial decision to give Cuadrilla the green light in Balcombe.”
Cuadrilla’s intention to include horizontal wells within the planning boundary of its revised planning application is required under current planning laws.
However, the firm may not be required to do so for much longer: the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) this week revealed its intention to revise the planning requirements for onshore oil and gas.
The DCLG planning guidance document says that “the Government considers that it is unreasonable and impractical” to require applicants to “serve notice on owners and tenants of land” across the “widely drawn area” that is created by including horizontal drilling.
Instead, the DCLG document says: “The Government is minded to amend the notice requirements for applications for planning permission for underground oil and gas operations. It would retain the requirement to serve notice on individual owners and tenants of land on the above ground area where works are required, but remove this requirement for owners of land beyond this area i.e. the owners of land where solely underground operations may take place.”