Poole Bay Offshore Oil Rig charts a course to the rocks!

A lot has changed since the approval of an on-shore oil well for Swanage in 2013.

Then, planning sailed quietly through virtually unchallenged / unnoticed leaving shell-shocked local residents wondering why they had been let down so badly by their councils and custodians of the land.  

A determined group of locals decided that we wouldn’t roll over…….so started our three year campaign. Crowdfunding paid for independent environmental surveys, and we pulled on our collective experience and resources. Countless days were spent educating ourselves in oil industry techno-jargon, the dark art of planning processes and relevant laws regarding freedom of information and protection for endangered species. 

Gradually our efforts started coming together, charities engaged with us as did more local people. Local business sponsored our efforts and campaigners came from around the country to help secure the site. Political party leaders came to visit, as did the television and radio reporters. By the end of the campaign we had a formidable group with many charities backing our efforts. 

In November 2016, Infrastrata admitted defeat and declared they would be selling their exploration assets. Of course, we were pleased with the result, many thought it couldn’t be done, not after planning permission had been given. We knew it would be naive to think this was the end though……

Since then we have also fought back another onshore proposal at the same site, this time by Corallion.  

More recently, Corallion has proposed an offshore oil exploration well close to Studland and Bournemouth Beaches. Offshore drilling escalates the stakes of a worst case scenario ‘well blow-out’ considerably. Once again we have rolled up our sleeves…… this project must go the way of the others – sunk!

Our letter detailed below is a request to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – Greg Clark. We are making a case for a protection zone that excludes offshore oil and gas exploration and production. This is pivotal to securing the sensitive local ecology and the local economy which is highly dependent on tourism. Our request has gained broad support from the business community, across political parties and a range of conservation charities. It adds weight to the responses that have been prepared by other organisations and individuals.

In such divisive and challenging times, it is heartening to know that simple folk are still capable of such effective community collaboration. Do we thank a common enemy, or have we been possessed by the spirits of the Dorset wreckers?! 

Stuart Lane

Please see letter below:

​​​​​​​​​Rt Hon Greg Clark MP

& The Environmental Management Team

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment & Decommissioning

AB1 Building

Crimon Place

Aberdeen,

AB10 1BJ

Dear Mr Clark,

Reference W/4207/2017

We would like to raise our deep concerns about an application to drill offshore just 4.4 miles from Bournemouth beach.

Our main concern is the devastating implications should there be a serious accident. The consequences of a major oil spill at this location pose an existential threat to the local economy and natural environment. As you may be aware, Bournemouth, Poole and the wider coastal area isheavily reliant on tourism and in turn the natural beauty and rich natural resources of this idyllic coastal region. The Bournemouth and Poole tourism strategy 2017-2022 report quantifies the benefits to be approximately “10 million visitors a year spending over £¾ billion and supporting over 12,000 jobs”.

The region is no stranger to oil and gas exploration. Wytch farm resides in Poole Bay and is the largest onshore oil field in Western Europe. The site pioneered extended reach drilling precisely to avoid the additional risks offshore drilling would pose to the area. Whilst in an ideal world, the area would not have to support any risk from the oil and gas industry, offshore drilling this close to the coast, would be to take an unnecessary and reckless gamble.

Corallian’s Environmental Assessment describes the risks of a worse case ‘blow-out’ scenario as low, the consequences however are inescapably high and permitting this application would set a precedent for future applications. Multiple drillings would multiply up the level of risk.

We do not need to theorise what could happen, we can see real worldexamples of very similar offshore projects that were struck by the one thing that can never be completely eradicated – human error. In 2009 an offshore rig in Montara Australia experienced a blow-out. The oil spill covered over 2000 square miles. Unlike onshore wells which can be capped very quickly, offshore, a relief well must be drilled to stem the flow. This takes many weeks by which time the volume of oil released could be tens of millions of litres. This would be comparable to the Torrey Canyon oil spill of 1967, but just over 4 miles from Bournemouth, Poole and Swanage Beaches.

We feel the protection required here should go beyond the approach that has recently been drawn up for the fracking industry and the new financial tests being applied to Third Energy. Offshore spills, as we can observe from the Deepwater Horizon spill, lead to scenarios that are irrecoverable, even when a company like BP can commit tens of billionsof pounds to attempt recovery. When fishing grounds are damaged, tourist destinations tainted, businesses and livelihoods lost and ecosystems destroyed, if BP cant rectify this kind of situation, what hope would a pop-up company like Corallian have?

UKOG has recently announced that high environmental sensitivity was a key factor in the recent decision not to drill offshore near the Isle of Wight (1). Sensitive marine systems such as those supporting the UK’s most important sea horse colony, as reported in the Telegraph (2). 

The acknowledgment that the risks outweigh the benefits when in comes to offshore drilling in sensitive areas has maintained a long-term ban on drilling in Alaska and notably, a recently introduced ban from drilling in the State of Florida. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has decided “Florida is unique and its coastal waters are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver…….. I am removing Florida from consideration for new oil and gas platforms” (3).

We would like to advocate a similar strategy to that introduced in Florida for Bournemouth and Poole Bay from Swanage and Studland to the Isle of Wight. 

Please take these points into consideration when dealing with the Corallian and similar applications and issue a statement so that residents and visitors can be sure their coastal environment will be protected. This will also help re-assure local business and future investors that Bournemouth, Poole, The Isle of Wight and Purbeck are safe to invest in and will never be under any threat from offshore drilling. 

We look forward to your support on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Stuart Lane – Bournemouth, Poole Bay, Isle of Wight & Purbeck Stakeholders 

Co signatories -The listed organisations have read and agreed to co-sign this letter.

Dr Jane Goodall DBE – Founder Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace

Chris Packham – Television and radio presenter, author and photographer

Miranda Krestovnikoff – Television and radio presenter, president of the RSPB

Kate Humble – Television presenter and narrator, ex-president of the RSPB

Ellie Harrison – Television presenter and journalist

Molly Scott Cato MEP – South West and Gibraltar

Clare Moody MEP – South West and Gibraltar

Sir Christopher Chope OBE MP – Christchurch

Cllr Simon Bull – Bournemouth Borough Council

Cllr Clare Sutton – Dorset County Council

Lush

Virgin Start Up

Bournemouth Chamber of Trade and Commerce

East Dorset Friends of The Earth

Bournemouth & Poole Greenpeace

The Seahorse Trust

Birds of Poole Harbour

Darwin Ecology

Bournemouth National Science Society

Fossil Free Dorset

Bournemouth 2026 Trust

The Purbeck Society

CC: 

Dorset wildlife Trust, Natural England, Jurassic Coast Team, AONB, Environment Agency, English Heritage, WWF- UK, Swanage Town Council, Purbeck District Council, Dorset County Council, National Trust, Dorset Local Nature Partnership, Townsend Nature Reserve, Dorset Coast Forum, Purbeck Heritage Forum, East Devon and Dorset National Park, Swanage Coast Forum, Purbeck Association of National Trust, Friends of Durlston,  Tobias Ellwood MP, Richard Drax MP, Conor Burns MP, Michael Tomlinson MP, Robert Syms MP, Councillor Robert Gould – Leader Dorset County Council, John Beesley – Leader of Bournemouth Borough Council, Janet Walton – Leader of Poole Borough Council, Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership, MechtildRössler, Director for Heritage – UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Paris, Mizuki Murai – World Heritage Monitoring Officer – IUCN World HQ, Switzerland,  Tracey Crouch MP, World Heritage site Minister, DCMS 

(1) https://drillordrop.com/2018/01/31/ukog-confirms-surrender-of-isle-of-wight-exploration-licence-six-weeks-after-it-happened/(2) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/07/britains-endangered-seahorse-colony-threat-bid-drill-oil/(3) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/09/climate/trump-florida-offshore-drilling.html