There is a plan to explore for oil on Leith Hill in Surrey Hills. Surrey Hills potentially sits on the 5th largest oil field in the UK with around 5 million barrels so it is worth money to Europa Oil and Gas and the government. On the other hand Surrey Hills is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty used by walkers, horseriders and fellow mountain bikers like myself and would normally be protected but in this case was not. Originally the proposal to drill was rejected by Surrey County council yet despite being in an area of equivalent status to a national park this was overturned by the government.
In real terms though although 5 million barrels sounds a lot any find is likely to be little more than 0.01% of the UK requirement over the next 25 years. That is assuming any oil is found there at all. NB this is just exploratory. The fact the government will waive the protection normally afforded an AONB, for this tiny amount doesn't bode well for protecting our natural treasures going forward.
Europa Oil and Gas will attempt to drill for oil under the Leith Hill area, using a horizontal drill rig passing under the nearby Coldharbour Village. This involves the cutting down and clearing of approximately 1 hectare of natural forest woodland and building a tall drilling rig that will be visible for many miles around.
The impact will be primarily on the Bury Wood site on the road up to Leith Hill - the oil companies will want to shut the road at some point when they try to install the drill. But in the long term if the drill is successful and oil is discovered in large quantities who knows what extended rights may be given and where wells will be sunk. If oil is discovered in significant quantities it is not outside the realms of possibility that it is only a matter of time before this infrastructure grows to put Leith Hill trails and maybe even the wider Surrey Hills MTB trails in jeopardy. Hence although this could still go in a number of ways and the impact be may anywhere between being negligible to the trails to considerable, it is important the MTB community makes their presence as an interested and concerned group known.
Exploratory drilling could start as soon as next year! NB This is conventional oil drilling and not fracking. Get aware and get involved.
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Join the groups
- Two protest groups are currently making an attempt to stop this, one a legal orientated protest group known as Leith Hill Action Group (LHAG) and a non-violent land occupation group known and found on Facebook as the Leith Hill Protection Camp which as the name suggests have set up a protest camp at Leith Hill. For clarity, these two groups operate completely independently of each other. The former (LHAG) is more concerned about the location chosen for the exploratory oil drilling and related infrastructure in an AONB and the damage it will do to habitats and some of the local roads/environment more than specifically against oil production in this area. The latter the Leith Hill Protection Camp see the Surrey Hills campaign as part of a growing global effort to combat the Climate Crisis.
Join the Leith Hill Celebration Walk (and bike meet) on 3rd Dec here.
- We recommend riders convene with bikes at Leith Hill tower at midday (if you are not specifically joining the walk that is) to show support. NB this is not an LHAG event.
- Please share your ideas. I feel as an MTB community we need to be more active on this issue and should be doing more to show support. Ideas?