Celtique Energie drops drilling plans
The oil and gas explorer, Celtique Energie, has said it will not appeal against a refusal of its planning applications for two sites in West Sussex.
It had been developing plans at a site in Fernhurst inside the South Downs National Park, and at Wisborough Green in a nearby conservation area.
Campaigners have welcomed the announcement.
In a statement, Celtique Energie said changes to the Infrastructure Act and new planning guidance relating to national parks meant its work near Fernhurst was “no longer feasible.”
The company said delays to a planning inquiry into exploration near Wisborough Green meant there would be insufficient time to drill there before the end of its licence in June 2016.
The news is a further set back for much needed onshore oil and gas exploration in Britain.
During a Commons debate on the Infrastructure Bill in February, MPs voted in favour of amendments tabled by shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex, which set out tighter regulations to safeguard the environment. In a surprise move, energy minister Amber Rudd said the Government had “agreed to an outright ban on fracking in national parks, sites of special scientific interest” having previously insisted that existing planning policy provided sufficient safeguards for national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
As the Bill proceeded through the House of Lords, the Government made five key changes to the Labour amendments: the removal of a requirement for mandatory environmental impact assessments, removal of the need to monitor airborne emissions beyond methane, the removal of the text’s inclusion of ‘under’ when referring to protected areas and the removal of the need to notify individual landowners of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in their area.
As a result of these changes, drilling can now proceed horizontally underground, and under protected areas, as long as the surface entry is made outside the area.
In the case of Celtique Energie, it’s Fernhurst site is situated within the boundaries of a national park and so, despite the last-minute changes to underground access rules, it now stands no chance of advancing its plans for the site – if targeting shale gas and oil resources for extraction by hydraulic fracturing.
However, the Infrastructure Act would not preclude it from continuing to search for oil and gas in its conventional targets of the Kimmeridge Limestone and Great Oolite formations – even if these are encountered at depths of less than 1,000 metres – because of the definition of ‘associated hydraulic fracturing’.
This is an important distinction. Without it, conventional oil and gas exploration – that has been conducted safely onshore in Britain for over 70 years – would also be severely hampered.