Following the discovery of oil at Horse Hill in Surrey, we examine the realities of extracting oil on the British mainland.

On 9th and 10th April 2015, the media was awash with reports of oil being struck at Horse Hill, not far from Gatwick. Representatives of UK Oil and Gas Investment (UKOG), had just given interviews claiming to have found 100 billion barrels of oil (more than double those extracted from the North Sea) in the Weald beneath the south of England. Indications were given that the oil was present in naturally fissured rock formations from which the oil could be sucked without using the controversial hydraulic rock fracturing (fracking) technique.

Since 10th April, there have been clarifications. As of 15th April 2015 UKOG representatives were indicating a find of between 50 and 100 billion barrels in place in the ground, of which between 5% and 15% (a range of 2 billion to 15 billion barrels) were believed to be recoverable. This was, however, subject to caveats: that the volumes estimated should not be considered as either contingent or prospective resources or reserves; and that more work is needed to prove the commerciality of the find. Elsewhere, attention has been drawn to British Geological Survey’s more conservative estimates of oil in place.

Several questions, the answers to which are familiar to oil and gas specialists and many in the legal community, are begged:

  • If a viable oil supply were found on the British mainland, could it realistically be extracted?
  • How would rights to any oil be allocated
  • What would be the legal challenges to an onshore oil extraction programme?
  • Are there any laws that would stand in the way of setting up an onshore oil field

These questions are essentially those which have exercised industry, government, environmental campaigners and local authority decision makers over recent years.

You can read the responses to these questions, which were first published on Lexis®PSL Environment on 20 April 2015.