A vein of oil (dubbed “Britain’s black gold”) was discovered at Horse Hill, just outside Gatwick airport last week by the London based UK Oil & Gas Investments (UKOG) company that had been drilling in the area for 30 years. The oil find has been tipped to join the North Sea oil (which could potentially have powered an independent Scotland’s economy) as one of Britain’s biggest economical gains and possibly even wipe out a third of Britain’s national debt.
The amount of oil that could be recovered from the 2500 – 3000 ft well remains unknown; the company has estimated that that between 50 and 100 billion barrels could be recovered. The North Sea oil, which powered Britain’s economic growth in the 1980’s under Margaret Thatcher, has so far only recovered 45 billion barrels in 40 years. Given that North Sea oil production has slowed since the turn of the century, these figures, although only early estimates, suggest that the Gatwick oil would be even more profitable.
However, UKOG have admitted they can only recover 5 – 15% of the oil available. Estimates by experts have guessed that there could be as much as 158 billion barrels per square mile, with the amount that could actually be extracted amounting to 10% – 30% of the UK’s oil demand by 2030. These levels of production have led people to describe the area as “Britain’s Dallas”, in relation to a large oil site in Texas, the largest oil site in America – as the Gatwick site could be for Britain.
UKOG face opposition which could prevent them from getting the project off the ground as campaigners prepare to oppose the potential drilling site, a protest action was held for three months last year by Frack Free Surrey against further investment in fossil fuels in the area. Friends of the Earth (FOE) have also said that any drilling in the area would face huge opposition. The opposition to the drilling, apart from the noise and sight pollution, is that they believe UKOG would use fracking (a process to force oil and natural gas from shale rocks) to access the reserves available. Opponents say that the process has environmental drawbacks, such as the pollution of ground water or lowering the air quality, ironically around Gatwick Airport. Due to these concerns, fracking was banned in multiple countries, including the UK. Regulations have been brought in recently that permit fracking, but in a controlled application.
Keith Taylor (Green Party MEP for South East England) commented that the oil find will be the perfect opportunity for us to have an important national debate about keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
He said, “The scientific consensus for climate change has never been greater and we have been told that the only way we can avert catastrophe is by leaving large oil reserves in the ground”. He also commented on the fracking issue, saying that “we need proper and rigorous assurance from UKOG that fracking would not take place to get any oil out of the ground”.
With the general election coming up, what the candidates would do with the oil find could be a very interesting talking point, particularly with the size of the figures shown in UKOG’s estimates. Keith Taylor’s comments provide an interesting but not unexpected insight into how the Green Party would manage and deal with the oil. He indicates that they would make sure that UKOG avoided fracking, which should win favour with residents in and around Gatwick. It’s also noteworthy that he says that leaving large oil reserves in the ground would be the only way to avert a (presumably environmental) catastrophe. This would seem to suggest that the Greens could leave the oil alone completely and try to find different ways to eliminate Britain’s national debt. This is undoubtedly a different solution to what the other parties would do; they may try to use the oil to kickstart Britain’s economy or leave it alone and try to think of more environmentally friendly ways to lever Britain out of its economic slump (obviously something the Conservatives would argue they have already achieved).
The Gatwick oil find could provide a huge economic boost to the British economy, but it is a gamble. If UKOG’s estimates turn out to be over what can actually be produced, putting too much faith in the oil could result in further economic slump, rather than a boost. The find has been labelled as “wildly optimistic” by some experts, but others have been more positive. Predicting how the oil find will turn out therefore is very difficult and we must be cautious not to put everything behind it, but the potential is definitely there for some sort of economic growth.
Image: Cropped use of photograph © flickr.com/highwaysagency.