Badgers have continued living in the same area as oil and gas exploration works in remote countryside north of Forestside, near Chichester, West Sussex county councillors were told.
The county planning committee heard the site, at Markwells Wood, was well-screened, and not in conflict with the South Downs National Park – and voted unanimously in favour of extending a time-limit for the operations, which means they can continue until later this year.
Their aim will be to establish whether oil and gas extraction and production from the site would be viable.
Approval was recommended by planning officers, who said the use of the site – all within the national park, in the Chichester district – for exploration was considered to have only ‘minimal’ impacts.
“Badgers are still there,” said principal planner Jane Moseley. She told the committee the operators wanted more time for exploration because setting up the site, and the design of equipment, took longer than anticipated. Further data analysis was needed.
The oil being sought is part of the same reservoir used by already operational wells at Singleton and Horndean.
The original application for the site, submitted by exploration company Northern Petroleum (GB) Ltd, and approved in 2009, provoked objections because it was claimed they would involve the loss of about a hectare of ancient woodland, claimed to be rich in wildlife. But there were no objections from district, county or local parish councils to the application for the extension.
Councillors were told the application to extend the current testing programme was to determine whether extraction/production from the site would be viable. After this, the site would have to be decommissioned and restored by March 31 next year.
“There is a possibility that testing may indicate it is viable to go into full hydrocarbon production from the site,” said a report presented at the committee meeting. However, this would need to be the subject of a new application for planning permission.
The committee report said an exploration site and access had already been built and brought into use, with the well drilled to a depth of some 1,397 metres. Core samples and probes indicated the presence of oil and gas, so the well was closed in December 2010, pending further tests.
Equipment was installed between September and October last year, after which testing started, using a pump which operated 24 hours a day. The operations resulted in four vehicles leaving the site each week – two carrying water for disposal at a waste water plant, and two carrying oil for processing at a refinery.