A number of constituents have contacted me to express their concerns about the ongoing oil exploration taking place at Horse Hill in the extreme south of the constituency.
These concerns are broadly based on three underlying issues: i) The exact nature of the processes being used to explore for and extract oil from the site and fears that hydraulic fracking or acid stimulation may form part of these, ii) The integrity of well infrastructure in the face of a potential link between local oil exploration and seismic activity, and iii) the policing and behaviour of protesters opposing further oil exploration at the site. These issues are all complex.
I agree that it is imperative that there is as much transparency as possible to ensure that proper environmental, social, and regulatory protection is in place to prevent any unacceptable risk or nuisance to the environment or to local residents. On the other hand, it is important that protesters remain respectful of the fact that, in a democracy, businesses are entitled to go about their activities without hindrance, as long as they are abiding by the law and conform to all the their regulatory obligations.
Furthermore, the general issue of hydrocarbon extraction is an emotive subject at a time when we are, rightly, moving towards increasing use of more environmentally friendly fuels and power sources. In such circumstances, it is not uncommon for fears to be exaggerated or wider concerns to be directed at local focal points, where the objections may not necessarily reflect the reality of what is happening at that site.
There are clearly good arguments, especially in the light of Brexit, for the UK to continue to strive for energy security and self-sufficiency. Whether we like it or not, oil and gas will be required to run our transport systems and the economy for the foreseeable future, so it is essential that local supplies are explored, especially where extraction does not conflict with other priorities such as environmental protection and local transport congestion, for example.
On the issue of extraction methods, I have recently written to the Department for the Environment to seek assurances that the exploration at Horse Hill complies with Environment Agency standards, and does not involve either fracking or acid stimulation. A copy of the response I have received is attached for information. Whilst there may be some gaps in the regulation of new technologies for oil drilling, I am reassured that Horse Hill Developments Limited (HHDL) is compliant with current regulation and that operations there are being sufficiently monitored by the respective regulatory bodies.
On the issue of infrastructure integrity in the event of an earthquake, I understand that the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) will be holding a meeting in early October with the signatories of a recent the letter to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, asking for a moratorium on all hydrocarbon exploration in the area affected by recent local earthquakes. The meeting is to discuss the findings of the British Geological Survey investigation and any other investigations' conclusions. I will be monitoring the outcome of this with interest.
Finally, as far as protesters are concerned, I agree that anyone has the right to peaceful and lawful protest. However, I am aware that there have been a number of protesters at Horse Hill who have not adhered to these conditions, have intimidated local residents and have, in my view, not been treated with sufficient rigour by the police. Whilst protesters have the right to voice their concerns, they do not have the right to break the law, impede lawful business, or conduct anti-social behaviour. I would, therefore, urge the police and the courts to take a stronger stance against the few lawbreakers to ensure that their behaviour is not condoned. Lawful business must be enabled to function unimpeded and it is for the regulators to oversee it, not the mob.
|Therese Coffey Letter||847.59 KB|