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. Paul – you are using even more irrelevant examples – oil well extraction bears very little relation to contemporary shale fracking techniques , nor do those other historic methods you point to. There’s a handy diagram showing comparisons of several different methods on this video here (see diagram at 6:21):

      • Thanks Philip, i think this US interview also indicates the utter contempt with which landowners are treated, don’t be fooled by assurances, its only a matter of time before this happens here.

    • Philip – thats my point – the discussion on this post is about Swanage gas drilling. Which as far as I know is conventional – NOT shale, no high volume fracking etc. The link I posted is for conventional wells in the Swanage area which have been producing for many years, some of these wells have been stimulated. What I am contesting is what has earthquakes in Oklahoma got to do with the Swanage application for a conventional gas well and why not look at Wytch Farm as a local example? Actually the methodology of fracking a conventional low permeability sandstone reservoir (which I have done in Libya) is not a lot different to fracking an “unconventional” shale well. The equipment, stimulation fluid and proppant are similar. The surface pressure is similar. With shale the volumes may be bigger and the stimulations may be more frequent. Most people on this BB know my background in the industry, I have managed what was at the time, the largest offshore acid fracture stimulation, in the Persian Gulf. So I know a bit about it. This does not mean that I think shale gas will or should go ahead in the UK. But I like to think that if it doesn’t it will be for valid reasons. And I fully support any conventional hydrocarbon exploration / production onshore / offshore UK such as Swanage – as long as the Planning Permission is granted (so that visual impact / noise and traffic / biodiversity impacts are addressed).

      The Telegraph article is not correct in one area in that water flooding is not fracking. Water is injected into the same permeability / porosity in the reservoir that the oil is contained in. But this is a continuous process with surface pumps and is below the fracture pressure of the rock. The water helps maintain reservoir pressure to above the bubble point of the oil so that gas does not come out of liquid in the reservoir – if this happens the oil production drops dramatically and gas will be preferentially produced. The water flood also moves the oil to the producing wells to enable secondary oil recovery.

  2. Both the videos are in the US and are meaningless with regards to Swanage? The planning application states the following:

    Temporary planning permission for the construction of a wellsite, with associated portable cabins for the storage of equipment and for staff accommodation, the drilling of an exploratory borehole, undertaking of production tests and retaining the site and wellhead valve assembly gear for evaluation of a conventional hydrocarbon reservoir.

    Or are you all objecting to any drilling of any kind now? If so I suggest you all take a very close look at your lives and see how you could live without hydrocarbon products.

    • I find it interesting that most of the Purbeck hills and promentary are undermined with ancient mine workings, few of which are recorded, also being primarily limestone, there are many unexplored fissures, caves and natural aquifers many of them caused by water seeping into the limestone and dissolving it. Any form of vertical and or horizontal drilling will enevitably compromise these fissures caves hollows and aquifer routes, There is simply no way of being absolutely certain that one or more of these aspects will not be compromised. Seismic studies are not as comprehensively accurate as we are given to believe. most of the old mine workings have collapsed as evidenced by the many hollows and folds in the surface, any investigation will destabilise an all ready unstable situation with the possible result of collapse and opening up of many more fault lines. These collapses will almost certainly crush and distort any drilling casings and concrete seals. My feeling is that the drills will not be used for extraction beyond a token amount, and will be used for gas and waste water and chemical storage. Limestone is quite porous and all that will migrate into more caves, more fissures, and then to the surface. Of course all that will be covered up, we have yet to see the results of accidents carefully hidden in other sites and delays in admitting until months or years later. That serves to allow the action to proceed without observation until it is discovered by evidence of pollution, earthquake and leakage, and then it will of course be denied in the ‘prove it was us’ denial tactic.
      Nothing less than Ecological Insanity, but perhaps operational imperatives and maximising profit will outweigh and ignore such considerations? Make up your own mind.

    • No one is suggesting we try to live without fossil fuels, it will take us decades before we can start to produce these elements molecule by molecule into a use able resource. Oil in particular has so many uses, a bit like the pig, everything gets used. All that i ask is that we restrict production of these materials so that we do not needlessly deplete them or cause unnecessary pollution by doing so. That will mean a major investigation into methods and processes of fossil fuel extraction and meanwhile a massive investment into renewable sources, and that does not just mean wind turbines, there are many leaps forward on the production of small efficient processes that will overturn the whole reliance on single massive inefficient methods such a nuclear and coal and gas power stations. Do that now and maybe we can reduce the effects of climate change that are all ready proving to be causing local devastation.
      This unfortunately means taking the production of the major methods of extraction and production out of the hands of private companies and into public hands, preferably run by a cross section of users, not run by a government department that can be compromised by corruption and lobbying. No government or corporate influence whatsoever, just common sense and efficient management of useable resources.
      Only then can we return this poor depleted planet back to some semblance of common sense and a view towards a viable future for everyone, not just the rich and powerful.

  3. Yeah sorry Paul, As most other posts on the site are about fracking undertakings I’d assumed the same here. My mistake. There was only meant to be one of mine btw… the first link was a slip up but this site doesn’t allow you to edit your post once submitted.

    Nevertheless I do think there’s a general point that human witness statements should have a bearing and there were some common issues discussed – about how communities and individuals views are simply not upheld as important or taken into account by the industry involved. It shouldn’t be just about science and it (fracking and its potential impacts) is certainly not an exact science – a lot of people are being mislead by statements about the safety standards adhered to and the monitoring involved. ‘Don’t knows’ are getting translated as ‘there is no evidence to prove that .. ‘ etc.

    But please check out the Australian case study put on the Notts county post. I believe it is very relevant there.

    • I agree that the current system in the UK does not take into account local opinion. We have discussed this on previous posts. The national planning regulations and local district plans (which have to mesh into the NPPF) are in direct conflict with localism. Planning civil servants (Planning Officers) may recommend planning applications (not just oil & gas) for approval because the applications are correct in planning terms. Councillors (elected but not experts) may then take on board local opinion and refuse the application. But they run the risk of losing any appeal. This is the problem with our system and it needs to be addressed. But then if localism took precedent nothing would ever be built? I don’t know what the answer is.

      Onshore wind farms appear to be the exception to the above rule because there was a Ministerial direction (current Government) to LPAs / PINs to take into account local opinion when assessing onshore wind farm applications at the planning or appeal stage. This coupled with the elimination / reduction of subsidies has resulted in very few new wind farms in England. Not sure if it is different in Scotland.

      I commented on the Australian CSG video in relation to shale gas from a technical standpoint.

  4. Here is an Independent analysis of the power blackout crisis in the whole state of South Australia this week. The current technology and power grid is not designed to handle the rush to renewables because of the synchronization of 50 hertz. Gas or thermal (including coal and nuclear I guess) is most efficient for this
    synchronization as a backup system.
    I agree with the author final comment. Renewables is the necessary future but to deny the current technical issues and limitations of renewables is to deny its science and its future.'s-reputation:-uhlmann/7888290

  5. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the ebb and tide of the statistics captains here, i came across these links which indicate that SSI’s are at risk. The reason i think this is significant is that birds in particular have a very sensitive pulmonary system. Canaries were used as indicators of gas in mines for centuries, they would fall off their perch in the presence of gas that humans were not yet aware of. Threats to wildlife are indicators of threats to humans, 250 million years of bird evolution beats our maximum of 2.5 million years at best. i would say keep an eye on the wildlife in nature, particularly birds, before its us that start falling off our perch. And before you say it, yes birds do fall foul of conventional wind turbines, which is why we must invest in the self regulating efficient silent wind towers and sea twirls out to sea, which present no danger to birds, animals or humans. Put 30 billion pounds of tax payers money into wind towers and the natural renewable alternatives, not in fracking or nuclear power stations.

    • Phil, I agree with your concerns.
      However, I am not aware of any study which has looked at wind turbines and bird strike. I have had a turbine for 20 years and not had a single hit, actually the local owl likes to use it as a perch when it has stopped!

      If we look at the big picture, how many birds have been killed through oil spills, has anyone ever bothered to collate the wildlife killed through oil based pesticides and fertilizers? And what of this when it seeps into the water courses?

      We humans believe, sadly, that we are the most supreme creature on the planet and can destroy habitats for our own greed. As the bulk of the population do not understand nature as they have been housed in a ‘human zoo’ for too long, we have to minimize the risk for generating power to their enclosures. Wind and solar, wave and save much preferred over addictive and destructive oil and gas……

      • Hi Sherwulfe, i dont think there have been any official studies, perhaps RSPB figures, there were a few cases reported when wind Farms first started to become more prevalent, mostly a swan and a raptor spring to mind, although no-one actually saw the deaths, only the bodies found around the location of the blade towers. the opinion seems to be that once the towers are there, then the birds either avoid them, or as you say, use them for perches. the only reason i mentioned it was the inevitable comments about bird deaths from wind blades. As you say far, far more have been killed and drowned and poisoned in oil and fracking waste water ponds. I remember the Irag war where….someone….set light to the oil wells in Kuwait, the birds saw the oil that had settled in hollows and because they reflected sunlight like water, landed to drink or to swim and got either poisoned by the oil or entrapped in it. I would estimate over the world that perhaps tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands or more birds have perished this way, and continue to do so in mans ignorance of the fragile ecological paradise we once lived in. Fracking is just one more example of greed and insanity destroying natural habitats across the earth, the present willful destruction of of all habitation began centuries ago and we dont seem to have learned any lessons, at least not those who continue to despoil the environment for profit. The more news worthy destruction of human habitation is just the more obvious example of an approaching tipping point to the condition where no natural habitats will remain at all. And then perhaps we will look around at our devastation and wonder why we let it happen?

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