Water contamination threat prompts objections to oil production plans in National Park


Markwells Wood

Portsmouth Water has objected to proposals for 20 years of oil production in the South Downs National Park because of concerns about contamination to drinking water.

The developer, UK Oil & Gas (UKOG), has said the scheme for its exploration site at Markwells Wood near Rowlands Castle was likely to have a negligible risk to water.

But Portsmouth Water, which supplies the local area from a nearby source, has said it did not accept this assessment because UKOG had not identified all the ways that the site could contaminate groundwater.

The threat to the local drinking water has also featured in many public objections to the scheme, which includes a new side track well, extended flow testing and three extra production wells..

At 5pm today, there had been just over 200 public comments to the South Downs National Park Authority. Of these, all but seven were objections. (For more details, see section headed 96% objections to public consultation in this post).

“Potential significant effects”

More than a third of the water used by Portsmouth Water to supply its customers comes from Bedhampton and Havant Springs, about 8km away from the site.

In its response to the National Park, the water company said:

“If the Havant and Bedhampton Springs public water supply source is impacted as a result of this application there would be significant effects on the population of the City of Portsmouth and surrounding area.”

It said:

“The application in its current format does not identify all potentially significant effects that the proposed works may have on groundwater or, how adverse effects will be mitigated.”

Portsmouth Water said it would object to the application until UKOG had revised the sections of the application dealing with groundwater. At which point, Portsmouth Water said it would “review its position”.

This afternoon Portsmouth Water said it was working closely with UKOG, its consultants and the Environment Agency (EA) to try to resolve concerns about the potential risk to water contamination.

DrillorDrop understands staff from UKOG, Portsmouth and the EA will discuss the application at a meeting on Wednesday 16 November 2016.

Portsmouth Water comment on Markwells Wood application

Key points

In its objection letter, Portsmouth Water criticised aspects of the application, including:

  • No site-specific monitoring data was used to prepare the groundwater report
  • The conceptual model of how water flowed through the catchment was not detailed enough
  • The model should have used more recent and relevant groundwater records
  • The risk assessment did not mention that the site was in a source Protection Zone 2 for the Havant and Bedhampton Springs public water supply source

Portsmouth water was also concerned about the risk to groundwater of spills of crude oil or contaminated process water. It said:

“This risk has a high likelihood given the narrow, winding roads and drainage ditches associated with the site; the frequency of such accidents we experience across our area of supply; and the presence of solution features potentially providing very rapid transmission pathways between the accident/pollution incident and Havant and Bedhampton Springs public water supply source.”

The company called on UKOG to:

  • Clearly describe the methodology of its extended well tests
  • Clearly describe how returned water would be managed, stored and treated on site
  • Provide an assessment of the likelihood of increased turbidity during drilling
  • Take account of the potential pathway for contaminants from the dry valley in which Markwells Wood is located to the Havant Lavant stream
  • Provide details of the liner underlying the site and the chemistry of drilling muds
  • Provide details of the volume and design of the proposed storage tanks
  • Provide design details of the three additional production wells
  • Describe how surface water would be stored and discharged in a storm

The company also asked that a well abandonment scheme should be approved before the application is decided.

Local concerns

A group opposing the application, Markwells Wood Watch, said Portsmouth Water’s comments showed that the scheme was risky.

Julia Holland, a local mother of three, said today:

“The water company has highlighted huge holes in UKOG’s application. It’s incredible that they could even think of drilling in the South Downs National Park when it could potentially contaminate so many people’s drinking water.  The impacts would go well beyond the local village.”

“I’m very worried that UKOG has not set out all the chemicals and acids they plan to use to drill and extract oil in this sensitive area.”

96% objections to public consultation

An analysis by DrillOrDrop this afternoon showed that so far 96% of comments to the South Downs National Park – 199 of 207 – have been objections.

Nearly a quarter of the comments were from people living in the villages nearest to Markwells Wood. Three quarters of comments were from residents of West and East Sussex, Hampshire and Isle of Wight.

Women made 58% of all the comments and men made 34%. For the remainder, the gender of the writer was not known. All the comments in support were from men.

As well as water contamination, concerns included:

  • Counter to the purpose of the National Park
  • Industrialisation of the countryside
  • Traffic disturbance
  • Noise
  • Contribution to climate change
  • Light pollution

Other comments

So far, parish councils representing Elsted and Treyford, Westbourne, Compton and Rogate have submitted objections to the application. Stoughton and Rowlands Castle have voted to object.

Highways England, Public Health England and local council departments looking after archaeology and rights of way have made no objections but recommended conditions or requests for more information.

Public Health England said it had no significant concerns but its conclusion was based solely on information in the application.

It commented that there was no detailed assessment on the potential for fugitive release of volatile organic compounds (VOC) from the borehole or flare and recommended this should be provided.

It also recommended the South Downs National Park Authority request more detail on the potential for dust, noise, light and smells and that the local Director of Public Health be consulted on wider health impacts.

  • The public consultation period for the Markwells Wood application closes on Monday 31  October 2016


UKOG planning application to South Downs National Park

Portsmouth Water comment on Markwells Wood application

Updated 26/10/2016 to include links. Also correction to the reference that all the objections were from men – this should read all the comments in support were from men.

Updated 27/10/2016 to include date of meeting between Portsmouth Water, UKOG and Environment Agency

This report is part of DrillOrDrop’s Rig Watch project. Rig Watch receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. More details here

8 replies »

  1. There are a few small oil fields all over Southern Britain already ( and one large one at Wytch Farm near Corfe Castle in Dorset). I don’t know of any case where their activities have impacted the local acquifers. Regarding traffic I don’t see why the oil companies lorries should effect the local area any more than would happen with any new development, for example housing.

    Regarding the request to describe “all possible effects” that is clearly a logical absurdity since how could the company possibly know everything that is possible. All they can do is a professional and responsible job within current regulations.

    By the way did you know that in the Second World War American drillers were brougt over and quickly sank a few dozen oil wells around Sherwood Forest to aid the war effort. Don’t think they poisoned anyone.

  2. The link to the document is down so unable to read it myself. However the comments in the article above read very clearly that this is a request for more information before Portsmouth Water assess the application. It is a holding objection, if it is in fact an objection. So UKOG need to do some more work on this issue. Not unusual for a planning application.

  3. Hi Paul
    Sorry the link didn’t work. I’ve downloaded the document to DrillOrDrop so the links now work. Thanks for pointing out the problem.

  4. What a refreshing response to one fracker attempt to undermine all due diligence and take advantage once again of tarnished brass reg standards. Compare with United Utilities…already one of the worst performing water companies in the UK, and Yorkshire Water, who had little to nothing to say about underground contamination in areas where there is no map at all for water veins and inter connectivity of deep ground water.
    At least anti frack protestors have managed to force the brass standard regulator to insist future planning apps for frackers should include water companies on panel for decision making, and it’s clear Portsmouth Water have more concern for the environment and drink water supplies, than Yorkshire and Lancashire who merely only thought of the profit they would make from selling to frackers. Happily some of us protesting at North Yorks can feel at least our presence and questioning had some positive impact.

  5. A round of applause to Portsmouth Water because they make sense. They acted with initiative for UKOG to clearly state their methodology regarding extended well tests. I believe they acted not for their benefit but genuine concern to the health of the people living near the National Park. Yes, I agree that UKOG should be given a chance to prove their point. UKOG should have precautionary measures with their project or else the people will rally on the side of Portsmouth Water.

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