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Oil company Angus Energy arrived in Balcombe on Monday September 10th to prepare the site for the test phase of the oil exploration. A large procession of heavy vehicles and equipment drove through the village to the site. Angus have now begun flow testing, which involves pumping acids and other chemicals into the rocks at some pressure to dissolve the rock and release oil trapped inside. A large flare has been installed to burn fugitive gases.
As you know, the well was drilled by Angus’ associates Cuadrilla in the summer of 2013. Angus recently bought a 25% share of the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) that includes Balcombe, and they have been officially confirmed as operators at the site.
Angus have said that they will immediately apply for a production licence if they are able to declare the test a success.
The drilling in 2013 at times drew hundreds of protesters and a large camp on the roadside. This time, before beginning the flow test, with the aim of deterring protest, Angus obtained an interim court injunction on a four-mile stretch of road from junction 10A of the M23, through the village as far as the site. The injunction threatens protesters with arrest if they block the road or impede entrance to the site.
Many see this as an infringement of our human right to protest.
Reaction from Balcombe residents
Last week a large group of mothers from the school processed down from the village to protest at the site. Parents on the walk were worried about emissions from the flare; heavy traffic coming past the village primary school; and the danger that in the future additional well-sites would industrialise the beautiful Sussex countryside.
Mother and teacher Helen Savage said, “We are here on behalf of our children, to remind both the industry and government that we said ‘no’ to an oil company in our village. The village has voted ‘no’ to this work on more than one occasion and there were thousands of objections to the work going ahead. It makes a mockery of democracy. The government may sign up to climate change deals but essentially it is prioritising oil and gas developments over renewables.” Sammy Mackrill, mother of three said: “I don’t want fracking or acidisation here or anywhere. It’s not necessary in the world we live in today. There are so many other options.”
According to Balcombe mother-of-three Kathryn Metcalfe: “This is similar to fracking, and fracking is clearly their end game. Acidising will subject our village to similar risks and pollution to fracking: potential water pollution, inevitable air pollution from machines and flare, toxic waste…This kind of oil prospecting into barely permeable rock requires a lot of wells, several per site and many sites across a region. This region would turn into an oil field if Angus and their like get their way.”
Jules Harding a mother of three children at the school said: “I’m really worried about the effect on the primary school, I’ve got three kids there. Will asthma/cancer rates go up? I have no confidence that there will be adequate monitoring and I’m really concerned there’s no independent monitoring.”
Louisa Delpy, mother of two, said: “Despite over 2,700 objections and nearly seven years of fighting against this testing, Angus Energy have arrived in Balcombe. Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association will be monitoring the work closely and reporting any breaches and issues to the relevant authorities. We encourage local residents to do the same.”
Sue Taylor of FFBRA commented, ‘It broke my heart to see the beginning of the industrialisation of this beautiful part of the Sussex countryside.’
A resident who has followed the company and industry very closely since 2012 said “In 2013 the EA promised us what government ministers have called gold standard regulation with effective emissions monitoring and rigid scrutiny. Now most of this has been abandoned and the standard of regulation has turned to lead. We never have, and still don’t want this industry.”
Community liaison group
One of the prerequisites of work being carried out was that a community liaison group be set up between Angus energy and the village. Angus energy left it so late in the day to inform the community that there was barely enough time to set up this liaison group. In fact the first meeting took place after most of the traffic went in.
Promises to the school have already been broken. During initial visits, the company suggested that most of the traffic would pass the school outside school hours and that which didn’t would be preceded by a phone call. This phone call system lasted only two days.
Traffic arrivals have been farcical. Despite traffic being a crucial issue at planning stage, Angus employees and managing director Paul Vonk were unaware of the traffic movement schedule laid out on the West Sussex County Council (WSCC) website. Residents monitored traffic coming through the village on just one day last week, which included some triple-axled articulated lorries and some idling outside the school while waiting to go down the bottle neck in the village towards the site. One lorry in particular went through the village six times.
It seems that Angus completely failed to signpost the site. Many lorries, therefore could not find it. At least one ended up in the small village avenues, and many overshot and went on to Cuckfield, to the south. One was seen to be stuck at the Whitemans Green roundabout for 20 minutes, and another was known to be asking directions. Traffic coming back from the south after getting lost was not allowed into the site, but drove back up through the village to turn at the A23 roundabout and come back down again. At least two lorries did this on the day when residents monitored. Some lorries were being told to go on southward again, seemingly because of space restrictions at the site.
Sulphur dioxide – a mystery
When questioned at the liaison committee meeting about the possibility of sulphur dioxide in the flare, it seems none of the Angus energy employees in the room were aware that there would be any. Clearly they had not read the 1986 drilling reports made when Conoco drilled the first well at the site. These drilling reports indicate the presence of sulphur in the well.
Despite being assured we would hear nothing, residents well within the village have been disturbed by the noise at Lower Stumble, overnight in particular. Members of the community have also noticed unpleasant smells around the installation.
Another procession of traffic is about to start
According to the WSCC schedule, Angus Energy will be working in Balcombe until after Christmas. However, Paul Vonk has told us that most of the equipment will leave the site this week and the beginning of next after the flow test – which is nearly finished, but well monitoring and pressure testing work will continue on the site.
The Flow Test Diary page is recording Angus’ Flow Test Operations and keeping our members and supporters uptodate with the latest information and news happening onsite.