Swanage gas drilling plans on hold


California Quarry.  Picture: Stop the Swanage Gas Rig Campaign

Dorset County Council and InfraStrata have confirmed that no work will be carried out this year at a proposed gas exploration site near the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site in Dorset.

The site, at California Quarry on the edge of Swanage, was occupied by opponents of drilling at the weekend. Campaigners against the development are also challenging the way that planning permission for the scheme was granted in 2013.

A spokesperson for Dorset County Council told DrillOrDrop this afternoon:

“We were notified yesterday by InfraStrata that no work is going to be carried out at the site this year.”

According to opponents of the proposal, InfraStrata was scheduled to install fencing before the end of September, followed by earthworks a couple of weeks later.

But a spokesperson for the company described this as “old information”. He said:

“The fencing will no longer be taking place. There will be no fencing, any earthworks or anything planned this winter. There will be no activity taking place”.

Stuart Lane, a campaigner against the site and local Green Party co-ordinator, said this afternoon:

“Messages from InfraStrata about their intentions to carry out work on site have flip-flopped considerably. We have had no written response from Dorset County Council since our request for urgent information sent Friday 23rd September.”

The project now appears to be in limbo for a number of reasons.

Planning permission

A condition of the planning permission required work to start by 3 December 2016 or the consent would expire.

The council’s spokesperson said today: “If the company wanted to continue [at California Quarry] they would need to reapply for planning permission”.

Campaigner Stuart Lane said

“We look forward to any formal statement by Dorset County Council that the site will be left unspoilt and that the planning permission to drill will be left to lapse on the 3rd December 2016.”

InfraStrata had proposed to drill an exploratory borehole from the site to a depth of 2,000m out to sea. The planning permission also allowed for production tests. The nearest home is 270m away and a camping field is 100m from the site boundary.


Picture: Stop the Swanage Gas Rig Campaign

Site occupation

Opponents have designated the site as their home under Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 and have said there will be a presence at the camp 24-hours a day.

Mr Lane said:

“It is quite a small site. More people are expected. But I would expect it to grow modestly. We want to ensure that the ecology of the site is not threatened.”



Source: Stop the Swanage Gas Rig Campaign

Mr Lane described the site as “particularly sensitive ecologically”. He said: “It could not be more protected”.

As well as being 500m from the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, it is in the Dorset Coast Area of Natural Beauty and 110m from the South Dorset Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest and the St Albans Head to Durlston Head Special Area of Conservation. The drilling site itself is part of a Site of Nature Conservation Interest.

When the original application was discussed, Dorset’s senior landscape officer had “serious concerns” that the 50m rig would have adverse impacts on the landscape. But he found it hard to defend an objection because the application was temporary.


Picture: Stop the Swanage Gas Rig Campaign

An ecological assessment carried out in 2013 for InfraStrata concluded that the site had “negligible potential” to support protected species, such as bats, great crested newts and reptiles.

But this year, an independent ecological assessment for Stop the Swanage Gas Rig Campaign came to very different conclusions. It said:

“The proposed development is likely to have an impact on several protected species including bats, reptiles and Great Crested Newts and the habitats on site and in the wider area.”

The report by Darwin Ecology recommended there should be new surveys for plants, protected species, breeding birds and insects.

Dorset County Council confirmed that new surveys would be carried out. Its spokesperson said:

“Our ecologist is working with Natural England, and further assessments will be carried out with regards to wildlife as the three-year assessment carried out when application from Infra Strata was submitted has lapsed.”

Surveys for Great Crested Newts should be carried out in the spring. It now appears that survey work will not be carried out until after planning permission has expired.

Opponents have also raised questions about the original ecological surveys and why Dorset County Council did not require an environmental impact assessment for the 2013 planning application.


Dorset’s highways authority did not object to the planning application for drilling in 2013 even though the recommended route to California Quarry took heavy goods vehicles along Panorama Road, which has steep sections and tight bends.

A road safety risk assessment commissioned by Swanage Town Council in 2014 concluded that the layout of part of Panorama Road was not suitable for two-way simultaneous HGV traffic.

The author, David A Graham Associates Ltd, recommended that HGVs with automatic gearboxes should not be allowed to make deliveries to the site and that haulage operations should be restricted to the summer months.

Part of the access road is owned by Swanage Town Council and for this reason, the town council did not take part in the consultation on the 2013 planning application.


The company announced on Monday that it was pulling out of oil and gas exploration. This is the latest development in a change of direction for InfraStrata, which is now concentrating on gas storage in Northern Ireland.

In November last year, it transferring its entire UK interests in three offshore licences to its partner Corallian Energy Limited, including the one that covers California Quarry.

However, the company confirmed today that it remained the licence administrator until the Oil and Gas Authority could find a replacement.

InfraStrata made headlines in June this year when it abandoned an oil exploration site at Woodburn Forest, Carrickfergus after finding no oil. In January 2016, CompanyWatch gave InfraStrata a score of 1 out of a maximum 100 for financial health (the lowest possible possible score is zero). Details

World Heritage Site

California Quarry is 500m from the Jurassic Coast cliff face, which is designated as a World Heritage Site. When InfraStrata applied for planning permission, there was no objection from the local World Heritage Site office.

Since then, the Navitus Bay offshore wind farm, proposed for 12 miles off the Dorset Coast, was refused permission. This was partly because of its effect on the setting of the World Heritage Site.

In 2013, the World Heritage Committee adopted a decision on mining and drilling. It urged signatory countries not to permit extractive industries within World Heritage Sites and not to permit extractive companies outside the boundaries to cause damage.


California Quarry planning application

Fossil Free Dorset

InfraStrata’s latest statement on business plans

Updated 29/9/2016 to correct spelling of Navitus Bay

33 replies »

  1. Didnt i read that InfraStrata were pulling out of the oil business anyway? Im sure we will see a trend now of companies who realise that there is no future for O&G in the UK .

  2. The Swanage Protection Camp will remain in situ until we receive formal confirmation that no work will be carried out at the field we now occupy.
    Thank you Ruth for your comprehensive article covering all the key issues & for all your tireless work over the past few years, it is much appreciated.

  3. As i was born and brought up near Swanage, the Purbeck Hills have a special place in my heart, many happy hours tramping the coastal paths in my youth, it remains one of the last unspoilt places in this poor benighted country. I dont trust InfraStrata one tiny bit, i will make the long journey down there and give them my support.

    • I hope you are walking Phil C? Not using hydrocarbons in any form or any product thereof? And i trust the camp are not cooking on gas?

        • And be careful – you could be faced with costs of £55,000 and rising….. But perhaps all the protectors will share the eviction costs this time?

          • And here ladies and gentlemen we come to the Frackus Litigus Horribilus, a rather unpleasant species with some particularly unpleasant habits. Don’t get too close or, ohh sorry Ms Rothery, you had better get that bite seen to, its quite venomous, our legal team will check you too, the venom has some unpleasant litigation aspects! Don’t get too close, it has a nasty habit of squirting toxic chemicals from its anus. In the wild it tends to defecate in other species nests and move on and migrate to overseas tax havens, but as you see confined in a cage it defecates in its own nest. We apologise for the smell, the clean up team are underfunded and usually late. This is perhaps the least liked of this particular species, in fact some ecologists have indicated they would be willing to assist in its extinction. I think we had better move on before there are any more accidents.

  4. Odd that the biggest onshore oil field in Europe is just a few miles away isnt it. Wyrch Farm has 100 wells and is practically invisible.

    • Never heard of Wyrch Farm Ken.

      Do you mean Wytch Farm, where fracking for shale gas is expressly forbidden in the planning permission granted, by any chance?

      I do hope you aren’t planning on using that example in your Harrogate debate next week.

      • And before you jump up and down Ken – I know this thread is not about shale fracking, but you do bring up Wytch Farm with monotonous regularity when you are talking about fracking into shale. Just a heads up for next week old thing 😉

  5. It is a beautiful area. They should not be allowed to drill within these heritage listed site. Outside is ok with horizontal sideway beneath. IMHO.
    It doesn’t make sense to drill in these areas.

  6. What they should do is drill it offshore, vertical well with a jack up. No big deal, quick, not too expensive, better data in a vertical well than extended reach. This assumes the “2,000m out to sea” is the step out not the well measured depth.

  7. Sorry Philip – this video has little relevance to the proposed Swanage well. The Oklahoma earthquakes are mainly related to disposal wells and possibly some hydraulic fracturing of shale wells. How many earthquakes has BP’s (now Perenco) Wytch Farm caused (I don’t know the answer but I have not heard of any or been able to find anything on line)? This was the largest onshore oilfield in Europe. Oil related operations have been taking place in the area since the 17th century. From Wiki:

    The Isle of Purbeck’s oil shale, or “Kimmeridge Coal” which has been won from the cliffs to the east of Kimmeridge since the early 17th century, is no longer used commercially. Similar deposits were found at Wytch Farm in the 1890s, but were commercially exploited until only circa 1900, and only at a low level.[2] The Kimmeridge Oil and Carbon Company reported that in 1890 it had dug 5,000 feet (1,500 m) of underground tunnels at Kimmeridge on four levels into the local cliffs. There was a local jetty to export the oil shale, and smaller operations occurred at nearby Bencliff Grit east of Osmington Mills.

    Isle of Purbeck’s oil industry began in 1936 with the first unsuccessful and then experimental wells drilled at Broad Bench near Kimmeridge by D’Arcy Exploration. The area had long been mined for oil shale and tar, but was only prospected for crude oil in the 1950s. It was not until 1959 that a borehole at Kimmeridge showed that oil was seeping out, and 1960 saw British Petroleum’s Kimmeridge Oil Field discovered.

    The field was discovered by the nationalised British Gas Corporation in December 1973 and began producing oil in 1979. As part of the privatisation of British Gas in the 1980s Wytch Farm was sold to BP which took over as operator in 1984. In May 2011, BP announced that it had agreed to sell its majority interest in Wytch Farm to Perenco, which became the new operator. Premier Oil has a 30.1% stake in the field. BP announced May 17, 2011, the sale of its interests in the Wytch Farm, Wareham, Beacon and Kimmeridge fields to Perenco and the sale of the Dimlington gas terminal to Perenco in February 2011. In September 2012, Perenco UK applied to Dorset County Council (DCC) for permission to extend the life of 39 planning permissions at three of the oilfields. DCC’s Planning Committee recommended approval of the applications on 6 September 2013, thereby extending the operational life of the oilfields beyond their original end-date of 2016 to 2037.

    • Hi Paul, no need to be sorry, a little humour on all sides never does any harm, just adjusts boundaries is all.
      Yes, I am aware of the history of the naptha bearing shales at Kimmerage and out to sea, and the Wytch Farm oil exploration. I was always amused at the proposed wind farm off the coast because it was right smack dab on the biggest shale deposited off the UK coast. It doesn’t take a genius to see why. I’m not a luddite, but I do fear for the future of my children and their children. Fracking is only one threat. I know I tend to reduce things to a simple choice, good or bad, that is my engineering background, reduce complexity to the minimum, then throw it all against a wall and see what sticks. With me fracking stains the wallpaper!

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