Campaigners have described plans to drill for oil on the seabed off Bournemouth as a “reckless gamble” and urged the government to block it.
The Business Secretary, Greg Clark, is considering proposals by Corallian Energy Ltd for an appraisal well, 6km from Studland and 8km from Bournemouth. The company wants to drill to a depth of 1,640m using a rig that would be 121m above sea level.
In a letter this week, TV presenters Chris Packham, Kate Humble and Miranda Krestovnikoff joined politicians, businesses, environmental groups and residents in urging Mr Clark to protect the coastline. Letter to Greg Clark (pdf)
“The consequences of a major oil spill at this location pose an existential threat to the local economy and natural environment”.
According to the letter, the Bournemouth and Poole area attracts 10 million visitors a year, who spend over £3/4 billion and support 12,000 jobs.
The drilling site, known as the Colter Prospect, is in Britain’s most important section of seabed for seahorses.
It is also in the Solent and Dorset Coast potential Special Protection Area. This is being considered for designation because of its internationally-important populations of common tern, Sandwich term and little tern.
Dorset has the UK’s largest producing onshore oil field at Wytch Farm and many of the wells run horizontally from the shore under the seabed. But Corallian said in its application there were no suitable onshore sites from which to drill. It said the rig would be used for up to 45 days, outside the main tourist season. After drilling, the well would be abandoned, the company said.
“Unnecessary and reckless gamble”
In their letter, the campaigners said ideally the Dorset coast would not support any risk from the oil and gas industry. But they said:
“offshore drilling this close to the coast, would be to take an unnecessary and reckless gamble.”
The letter said the decision to rule out drilling off the Florida coast last month acknowledged that the risks of offshore drilling in sensitive areas outweighed the benefits. It added:
“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.”
The letter urged Mr Clark to 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 onshore drilling.”
Among the signatories of the letter are Dr Jane Goodall, Bournemouth Natural Science Society, Darwin Ecology, Birds of Poole Harbour, the Seahorse Trust, East Dorset Friends of The Earth and Bournemouth & Poole Greenpeace.
The letter writer, Stuart Lane, of Bournemouth, Poole Bay, Isle of Wight & Purbeck Stakeholders, said a blow-out, assessed by Corallian as low risk, would have “inescapably high” consequences.
“Permitting this application would set a precedent for future applications. Multiple drillings would multiply up the level of risk”.
- Earlier this year, UK Oil and Gas Investments plc pulled out of its offshore licence near the Isle of Wight. It told investors one of the reasons was the “high environmental sensitivity” of the area (more details).