The High Court legal challenge into oil drilling in the Waverley countryside has been confirmed for June 8.
The case will examine planning permission granted for exploratory drilling of oil reserves worth an estimated £123million near the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) at Dunsfold.
The UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) was originally refused planning permission to search for fossil fuels at Loxley Well in Dunsfold in December 2020 by Surrey County Council’s planning committee.
UKOG appealed in June 2022 after a public inquiry and was given the green light by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, led by Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove.
Almost immediately, Waverley Borough Council challenged the appeal decision in the High Court with £13,000 set aside for the legal challenge.
In March this year anti- fracking campaigners celebrated the news the case would be heard in the High Court after being granted a judicial review.
The June 8 hearing date was this week set in stone.
The case has been picked up by the Good Law Project and is being challenged on two fronts.
The first, they argue, relates to the “inconsistency in decision making by the secretary of state” who approved Dunsfold drilling the same day he refused a comparable site in Ellesmere Port over greenhouse gas emissions.
The second argument relates to the drilling site being on the edge of an AONB and national policy requires planning decisions to give great weight to “conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty” in AONBs.
Good Law Project legal manager Jennine Walker said: “Let’s be clear: exploiting our natural landscape for fossil fuels should be a thing of the past and is completely at odds with our crucial efforts to reach net-zero. This is why we are delighted to be supporting the next stage of Protect Dunsfold’s legal challenge which seeks to overturn the government’s scandalous decision to overrule the local council and give the green light to a gas exploration scheme in the Surrey Hills.”
MP Jeremy Hunt said the plans should be “formally shelved” altogether.
A crowdfunding page has also been launched for those looking to support the legal challenge. See https://tinyurl.com/2p9kdufk
Is this just the start of Surrey's 'oil rush'?
‘Trillions of pounds worth of oil – as much as the entire North Sea fields – lies beneath an area of England dubbed ‘Britain’s Dallas’,” reported the Daily Mail in 2015.
This followed claims by UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) of a vast oilfield under the Weald Basin holding a staggering 100 billion barrels of shale oil, discovered during test drilling in a well at Horse Hill, five miles from Gatwick Airport.
Surrey County Council has since granted planning permission for six production wells and 20 years of oil production at Horse Hill. But UKOG is now seeking to explore for oil elsewhere in the Weald, at Loxley near Dunsfold, in the Waverley countryside south of Godalming.
The Loxley gas field was first discovered by Conoco in 1982. In 2019, UKOG applied for permission to drill the Loxley-1 well to appraise the gas discovery. After the secretary of state overturned a refusal by Surrey County Council, planning and environmental consents were granted in June 2022, and technical and commercial planning for the project is now under way.
The Loxley-1 well is intended to be the first of two development wells, and UKOG plans to sell the gas for low-carbon blue hydrogen reforming. Once the gas is depleted, the field could be used to store hydrogen.
However, UKOG’s plans have been met with fierce opposition from environmentalists, local residents including MP Jeremy Hunt, and councillors who are concerned about the potential impact on the landscape, water resources and wildlife. Campaigners also fear the Loxley application could pave the way for further drilling in the Surrey Weald, which stretches from the eastern outskirts of London to the Hampshire border.
On the contrary, proponents of shale oil extraction in the UK argue that developing domestic fuel reserves would improve the country’s energy security and reduce reliance on imported gas, particularly in light of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.