An oil company has defended its plans to drill new wells in the South Downs National Park near a source of drinking water, despite the objection of the Environment Agency.
UK Oil & Gas Investments plc said today it was “fully committed” to the potential of Markwells Wood, near Rowlands Castle, where the company has applied for planning permission to produce oil for 20 years.
It said a consultants’ report on the risk to the chalk aquifer proved “beyond any reasonable doubt” that drilling methods were “safe, secure and of no concern to the environment”.
Yesterday, the South Downs National Park Authority, which will decide the application, published the Environment Agency’s objection.
The Environment Agency (EA) said the application had not provided sufficient information to demonstrate that the risks to groundwater and the public water supply were acceptable.
The site is in the water catchment area of the Bedhampton and Havant Springs, 8km away, which provide water to about 200,000 people in the Portsmouth area.
The EA said it was concerned that any contamination from the site could travel rapidly through a possible network of underground fissures and conduits to the springs. It said:
“The development could pose an unacceptable risk to groundwater resources from which supplies of potable [drinking] water are obtained. Further evidence based assessment of the hydrogeology at the Markwell’s Wood site is needed to show the potential risks are fully identified and understood.
“In the absence of adequate information, we adopt the ‘precautionary principle’ to manage and protect groundwater and the public water supply. We recommend that planning permission should be refused.”
The company’s application was also criticised by a consultant employed by the community group, Markwells Wood Watch, which is opposing the application. He said the risk assessment contained “significant shortcomings”, “factual errors”, “misinterpretations of basic sources of information” and omissions”. (DrillOrDrop report)
This morning a spokesperson for UK Oil and Gas said:
“We have noted the Environment Agency’s request for new site-specific technical data relating to our proposed activity at Markwells Wood.
“We plan to acquire a ground penetrating radar survey across the site to address the EA’s remaining concerns as soon as practicable.
“We are fully committed to the potential of Markwells Wood as part of our portfolio in the Weald Basin. In our view, Envireau’s independent report, which was published in March of this year, proves beyond any reasonable doubt that our drilling methods are safe, secure and of no concern to the environment.
“The site already exists with a cased off well and it is protected by an underlying impermeable membrane and we are using non-toxic and biodegradable drilling fluids.
“This year we will be concentrating our efforts and resources as two of our other drilling sites, but we look forward to progressing Markwells Wood in due course.”
Asked by DrillOrDrop whether the company would ask the South Downs National Park Authority to defer a decision on the application, the spokesperson said
“The application is not on hold. Everything stays the same.”
The park authority is expected to consider the application on 11 May 2017.