PETWORTH’S MP Nick Herbert has raised concerns over the location of proposed exploratory drilling for oil or shale gas between Kirdford and Wisborough Green in his constituency.
Celtique Energie have applied to West Sussex County Council for a licence to drill a borehole for hydrocarbons on farmland south of Boxal Bridge.
But in a formal response to the application, Mr Herbert has suggested that it would be preferable for the company to drill in a remote location with direct access from a main road, where lorries would not be required to pass through a village.
Mr Herbert notes that as an MP he has no power to interfere with the planning application, which is a matter for the Council. He accepts that exploratory drilling for oil and gas is necessary, and that shale gas may be an important new source of energy.
He also emphasises that, since Celtique’s application is for exploratory drilling, and a further application and other approvals would be needed to extract shale gas if it were found, his comments “do not attempt to address the merits of shale gas extraction.”
But Mr Herbert says: “I share the concern of local people that the tranquil and beautiful countryside of West Sussex should not be unnecessarily damaged. I want to ensure that the legitimate concerns of my constituents are heard and considered carefully.”
The MP says that he has received hundreds of letters, e-mails and telephone calls from local people who are anxious about the application.
He sets out four key concerns about the location of the exploratory drilling raised by his constituents: increased lorry movements, the impact of drilling on an adjacent nature reserve, the effect on nearby livestock and bloodstock, and protection of the water supply.
Mr Herbert says that “the most significant local concern is about the impact of lorries and additional traffic in a rural area.” He notes that, while the proposed location of the drilling is between two villages, “lorries will have to pass directly through the tranquil village of Wisborough Green to reach the site.”
He asks the Planning Committee to consider “the impact of lorries and additional traffic in rural areas” as “the route brings traffic, including significant HGV traffic, through narrow unmarked lanes.”
Mr Herbert draws attention to the concerns of Sussex Wildlife Trust that drilling could affect ancient woodland that is home to the endangered Barbastelle Bat, as well as other local wildlife.
He also relays the disquiet of a nearby dairy farm owner who fears that “noise and lighting from the rig will unsettle their cows and lead to a reduction in milk production” as well as similar concerns of the owners of a nearby livery yard, who have pointed out that “in Australia well pads cannot be sunk within a 2 kilometre radius of dairy or livestock.”
Finally, Mr Herbert says that local people are anxious about potential contamination of the water supply, in particular that “Boxal Brook, which is within 100 yards of the site, feeds into the River Kird, which in turn feeds into the River Arun ... any fault with the exploratory processes resulting in water contamination could potentially affect a far greater area.” He notes that “there is considerable stress on water supplies in West Sussex and it is important that concerns about the effect of the drilling process on the water table are addressed.”
In conclusion, the MP writes: “I accept that exploration for onshore oil and shale gas is necessary, and that shale gas in particular may be an important new source of energy, but my concern is to ensure that the environment, countryside and the quality of life of my constituents in Kirdford, Wisborough Green and the surrounding areas are not damaged by the processes.”
Mr Herbert also notes that “there are existing oil wells operating in West Sussex which cause little local concern, but these are located away from villages, with lorry access from main roads.”
The MP says that “it would be preferable for the company to drill in a remote location with direct access from a main road, where lorries would not be required to pass through a tranquil village.”
“I trust that the Planning Committee will take these views fully into account and consider carefully whether this is an appropriate location for exploratory drilling.”
Since Celtique first proposed exploratory drilling in his constituency, Mr Herbert has met local residents, councillors and the company to discuss the issues.
In July, Mr Herbert argued in a House of Commons debate on fracking that “the national interest does not consist only in economic advantage, however powerful that argument might be. It also consists in ensuring that we can protect national assets, including the countryside and our landscape.”