A British energy company is bidding to drill for oil and gas south of Billingshurst as it prepares to submit a planning application later this month.
Celtique Energie hopes it will strike a natural gas field on the site at Broadford Bridge off Adversane Lane.
Speaking exclusively to the County Times, its chief operating officer said the bid represented a three to four million pound investment in the local economy and could create hundreds of skilled jobs.
Stuart Catterall, 49, who has lived with his family in Horsham for 12 years, said 6,000 letters were already landing on the doormats of those living near the site, which is owned by a local farmer.
The company boss stressed Celtique was keen to be as transparent and informative as possible throughout the whole process, with exhibitions at Billingshurst Community and Conference Centre on June 22 and 23 informing the public of the initial plans.
In light of the recent uproar over the controversial technique of fracking, the engineer explained Celtique was prospecting for conventional oil and gas deposits in this instance.
This method uses the pressure of the trapped deposits in porous rock to bring it to the surface, compared to pumping high pressure chemicals to split or fracture shale rock to release oil or gas.
New geological data has the firm confident of striking a large gas deposit, and Celtique has several other prospective sites in the area, even though it currently has no firm plans for future locations.
“I hope people will see the positive aspects, especially the employment with a few hundred skilled employees,” said Mr Catterall, adding: “For several wells it could be several times that.”
He recognised some may have concerns about the oil industry becoming established in the rural area. “It’s a natural reaction,” he said, “and it’s not a surprise. Everyone wants to preserve the natural beauty of West Sussex, especially me because I live here.”
Celtique already holds exploratory licences for parts of the Weald Basin, covering a substantial stretch of north West Sussex.
However, the firm must submit a planning application to West Sussex County Council as the local minerals planning authority for the two -hectare site off Adversane Lane.
Putting in the initial structure - a drilling tower around 36 metres high and associated temporary structures - will then take six weeks. Mr Catterall admitted this process would involve truck movements on local roads.
A maximum of 35 two-way traffic movements would be necessary to facilitate the initial construction phase which, according to Celtique, represents a 1.9 per cent increase on existing traffic movements. Similar lorry journeys would be necessary over a further six to eight week period while the company explores for oil or gas.
While road upgrades might be needed, he said that the site had been specifically chosen as it was away from built-up areas and with solid road links.
Should commercially viable deposits be found, Celtique would then have to submit a field development plan to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and gain planning permission for a permanent production facility.
However, Mr Catterall did point out that energy exploration was not new in West Sussex, highlighting an operational oil well at nearby Storrington.
In response to concerns of pollution, noise and impact on nature, he pledged to minimise the environmental impact to both flora and fauna and predicted that the reversing alarms of lorried would be the noisiest sound on the site.
If granted planning permission, and exploration is successful, Broadford Bridge could mark Celtique’s first operating well.
Meanwhile any deposits are property of the British Crown, as legislation sets out the amount of royalty paid to the Government.
Celtique has been trading since 2004, and is backed by Avista Capital Partners, an American private equity firm, and a European company called Calmar.
The exhibition will be in the main hall of Billinghurst’s Community and Conference Centre in Roman Way on Friday June 22 between 3.30 and 8pm, and Saturday June 23 12.30 to 5pm.
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