Gatwick oil must stay in the ground, say green groups

An oil well containing up to 100 billion barrels of oil has been discovered under West Sussex, but environmental groups have warned that the oil should stay in the ground in favour of the UK's clean energy transition.

Burning the estimated haul would produce around 37.5GtCO2 – equivalent to one year of current global emissions, although experts suggest only around 15% of the oil can actually be recovered.

A recent UCL study warned that the majority of the world’s fossil fuels must not be burned if we are to stay within the 2°C global warming target.

The Renewable Energy Association’s head of external affairs James Court told edie: “Whilst this new domestic source is exciting for many, we are already an energy rich country with fantastic wind, tidal, biofuel, geothermal and solar resources. 

“Our focus needs to instead be on finding a way of moving away from fossil fuels.

“A key area for the UK is the move for more sustainable transport, but we are now lagging behind. Whilst the UK is broadly on track to meet our 2020 renewable heat and power targets, we are stuck when it comes to transport.


Friends of the Earth went further, suggesting that public and activist opposition would prevent the oil from ever being retrieved.  “The prospect of dirty oil extraction in southern England will greatly alarm local communities and put fracking firmly on the region’s election agenda,” said Friends of the Earth South-East campaigner Brenda Pollack.

“Any firm proposing to drill for oil in the region knows it will face huge opposition – as happened at Balcombe, Fernhurst and Wisborough Green. Drilling proposals in Sussex have already been turned down.

However, the exploratory company that made the discovery, UK Oil & Gas Investments (UKOG), contends that the oil sits in naturally fractured rocks so fracking may well be unnecessary and more conventional drilling methods can be used.

Investors certainly expect the discovery to be commercially viable, as UKOG’s share price shot up almost 300% in early trading.

The Government’s support for the oil industry is also well documented, with a £1.3bn support package for North Sea oil announced in the 2015 Budget. “We back oil and gas”, proclaimed George Osborne as he cut petroleum revenue tax from 50 to 35%, while the supplementary charge for oil and gas was cut from 30% to 20%.

Renewables support

By contrast, no large-scale solar farms are expected to built in the UK during this financial year, after the Government summarily ended subsidies at the end of March

“This extraordinary technology has been the success story of the coalition Government but it is too often subject to extreme, illogical and unfair treatment,” said Leonie Green, a spokewoman for the Solar Trade Association (STA).

Brad Allen

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