Wildcatters have regularly drilled the Sussex chalk to search for fossil fuels. Most operations were looking for oil, although a few have drilled for gas. It was only recently, however, that technological advances made hydraulic fracturing – and the shale gas it releases – possible.
In 1936 a company named d’Arcy drilled four exploratory boreholes in Pevensey and two more in Lewes. D’Arcy returned in the 1950s, this time concentrating in Ashdown.
The region was drill free until 1984 when US operator Conoco arrived. The Lower Stumble site at Balcombe was drilled between 19 September 1986 and 20 March 1987, part of a Sussex campaign that started three years previously. The company drilled 11 test wells including at Rotherfield, Ringmer, Wineham & Ashington. None of the wells revealed significant oil reserves.
Since then almost every year has seen a driller’s rig erected somewhere in the East or West Sussex. Singleton has been drilled 16 times (today a small facility there produces between 600 & 800 barrels a day) while Storrington eight. Companies have ranged from one-man bands to multinational explorers. Cairn energy – made famous by this year’s Greenpeace campaign to stop the company drilling in the arctic – dropped their bits in Singleton in 1995. Esso drilled one hole in Bolney (south of Balcombe) in 1963, never to be seen again.
Today the biggest license holder in East and West Sussex is Magellan Petroleum. In November 2010 the company discovered oil at Markwells Wood in West Sussex and a production rig arrived at the site on September 6 2011. While the company is not yet drilling for shale gas, Magellan has identified considerable shale resources around Soutwater, Alford, Rogate and Bordon – see p 14 of Magellan’s recent presentation to investors.
Cuadrilla Resources, meanwhile, holds two licences in the area (via subsiduary companies Bolney Resources and Tanglewood Resources). Cuadrilla is the only company to have gained planning permission in the area. Granted in April 2010, appendix C of the planning application gives the company a provision to use hydraulic fracturing at Lower Stumble, 1 mile south of Balcombe.
Click for a map of all UK onshore licences –
Or here for a database of all UK onshore wells drilled since 1902