Celtique Energie’s plans to drill the Wisborough Green prospect onshore southern England may be about to run into trouble after the local council was advised to turn down its application for a vertical well.
The West Sussex County Council planning committee is due to meet on Tuesday to consider the application, but its director of strategic planning has already recommended that the application be rejected.
The director said that the explorer had not given enough consideration to how many heavy goods vehicles would be needed to serve the development near the West Sussex village of Wisborough Green and found its proposed route through a conservation area to be unsatisfactory.
At the same time the planning report noted that aside from the HGVs and increased noise there were no other adverse affects to public health or the environment arising from the application.
It also acknowledged the national planning policy framework’s guidelines on the need for indigenous oil & gas resources state that such mineral prospecting applications should ordinarily be approved.
UK privately-owned explorer Celtique Energie plans to look for conventional oil pay in the Kimmeridge limestone and Great Oolite formations, but said it would also drill into the Kimmeridge and Liassic shales to gain log and core data.
If sufficient potential were to be uncovered in the shale, permission could be sought in future for a horizontal well and hydraulic fracturing, Celtique Energie said.
Environmental group Greenpeace said that a group of nine residents and landowners had joined forces to oppose horizontal drilling underneath their land, which includes much of the permiter of the drill site.
Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Simon Clydesdale called on the council to “tell Celtique to pack up and go home”, accused the explorer of seeking to create a “smokescreen” around their plans to gain residents’ trust.
Local campaigner Nathan Stride said that his group’s “main concern is that the process of extracting shale gas and oil is nowhere near as safe as the industry and the government claim”.
"We are now looking to our councillors on Tuesday to stand by the decision of their planning experts. To my knowledge, this could be the first potential fracking site in the UK to receive a refusal," Stride said.
Celtique Energie withdrew its application for a planned horizontal well at Fernhurst elsewhere in the county earlier this year after another set of landowners objected to the drill.
The company is still seeking permission to drill a vertical well on the site, with a delayed decision from the council now expected at its meeting on 3 September.
The UK government published plans earlier this year that would change the law to allow horizontal drilling without the landowners’ prior consent, but it has yet to be enacted.