SCIENTISTS have long suspected there were substantial oil reserves beneath the pretty pastures of the Weald.

But the discovery said to have been made by UK Oil and Gas Investments (UKOG) at a site near Gatwick Airport is truly staggering.

This firm estimates that there could be 100 billion barrels of oil in this area, more than double the amount that has so far been extracted from the North Sea since the 1970s. It believes that by the year 2030, the Weald could produce up to a third of Britain’s energy needs.

Well I don’t. I know that the oil companies are among the most formidable firms in the world mainly because of humanity’s addiction to the motor car.

But UKOG is by no means the biggest and it faces opposition so powerful I cannot see anyone beating it.

The combination of rich NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) householders allied to the environmental movement is frightening in its force.

This was shown in 2013 at the Battle of Balcombe, a hitherto obscure Sussex village a few miles north of Haywards Heath.

When Cuadrilla, another energy company, suggested tests for extracting energy nearby, all hell was let loose, especially when fracking was mentioned.

Fracking involves using powerful jets of spray to help get to the reserves but this can cause pollution, a case of pouring troubled waters on oil.

Faced with opposition ranging from the saintly Brighton Pavilion Green parliamentary candidate Caroline Lucas to wealthy city businessmen on their Sussex estates, the Cuadrilla folk fled.

There is no suggestion that fracking would be used to produce oil from the new discovery but that will not lessen the fury of protesters.

There are several ironies here. One is, as I have mentioned before, there are already minor oilfields in West Sussex which have been quietly producing small quantities of oil for several decades without anyone being disturbed. The biggest British oilfield in Dorset is not a nuisance.

Another is that nearly all other previous attempts to find oil in Sussex have resulted in failure as the quantities discovered were less than expected.

A third is that many of the most vociferous opponents of drilling in the Weald have as their main means of transport cars – which run on oil.

Many older members of the environmental lobby against oil drilling were fully in favour of keeping coal mines open during the long strike 30 years ago – yet coal is a huge source of pollution and contributes towards global warming. I have yet to hear them justify this.

The Weald may look tranquil now but in the past it has been a major source of industry. Iron was produced on many sites as the legacy of hammer ponds proves today.

There were flourishing brickworks at several sites and many chalk pits were established where the Weald meets the Downs to meet the needs of the building industries as can be seen at the huge hole near Upper Beeding. Tranquil Robertsbridge in the heart of East Sussex became a highly unlikely centre for the mining of gypsum.

Natural gas found in Heathfield Station was enough to provide a pioneering lighting system in the late 19th century.

Similar discoveries of oil in various parts of America have revived the industry there and have given a real boost to the economy. There is little chance of that happening here.

Landowners do not stand to benefit from finding black gold beneath their gardens and become instant millionaires American style. They are more likely to join the ranks of the opposition.

It is unlikely that any council would dare grant permission for even the smallest oilfield in the most unattractive site.

And even if they did, events at Balcombe show it would be almost impossible to proceed thanks to civil disobedience.

The last time I wrote about oil in Sussex, I reckoned common sense would result in a few small sites starting. But now I think even this is unlikely.

Protestors have the companies over a barrel.

Oil companies will be denied the sweet smell of success in Sussex. Instead the NIMBYs and green zealots will prevail but the victory will be tainted by the stench of hypocrisy.

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