News that the oil exploration company, UKOG, has had no right of access to its well site at Markwells Wood in the South Downs since last year has been welcomed by local people and campaigners.
The residents’ group, Markwells Wood Watch, said the aquifer, which underlies the site and supplies drinking water to Portsmouth, was now safe.
Yesterday, DrillOrDrop reported that an agreement for access to the Markwells Wood site had been terminated by landowners in July 2017.
In a statement, the owners explained their decision:
“We did this because we shared Portsmouth Water’s concern that UKOG’s plans to attempt to extract oil represented an unacceptable risk to the water supply and public health of hundreds of thousands of Portsmouth residents.”
They said they had offered to grant UKOG time-limited access for maintenance and restoration but the company had not yet responded to the offer.
Earlier this month, the South Downs National Park Authority ordered UKOG to restore Markwells Wood (details). There has been no planning permission in place since September 2016.
UKOG is seeking an injunction to prohibit protests and campaigning at three sites, including Markwells Wood. Documents submitted to the High Court said agreements gave the company “effective control” of the site. They also suggested that the injunction applied to both the site and access.
“Aquifer safe from pollution”
A spokesperson for Markwells Wood Watch said:
“UKOG lost their access rights to Markwells Wood as long ago as July 2017 but have kept very quiet about it. Now the news is out, we are delighted.
“It comes on top of the news, last week, that the National Park Authority told the company that they must restore the site to woodland within the year. The woods lie above an important aquifer that supplies water to many thousands of people in the Portsmouth area.
“This aquifer is now safe from accidents and pollution. This lovely spot in the national park is remains free for all those who enjoy the tranquillity of the woods and the beautiful countryside.”
“Nail in the coffin”
Brenda Pollack, south east England campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said:
“This appears to be the nail in the coffin for UKOG at Markwells Wood and something I’m sure local residents welcome.
“It’s shocking that this site within ancient woodland and the South Downs National Park should even have a government license for oil exploration.
“We can’t afford to extract and burn more oil and gas if we have any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Let’s hope that UKOG have heard the message loud and clear that they are not wanted here.”
“One small important victory”
Keith Taylor, MEP for south east England, said:
“This doesn’t look good for UKOG at all; not only does it appear that the firm failed to communicate the South Downs National Park Authority decision to turf it out of Markwells Wood to their investors, it seems the firm has been sitting on the news that it hasn’t had any legal right of access to the site for the best part of a year. It makes quite the mockery of UKOG’s draconian and anti-democratic injunction application that seeks to keep protestors away from a site to which the company has no legal right and no reason to be on.”
“More than that, it reveals that the attack on protestors’ civil liberties is symptomatic of a firm forced to face the truth that its stated plans for drilling in the South East are either overblown or revealed to be environmentally and ecologically-destructive when exposed to independent scrutiny – as they were at Markwells Wood. UKOG has done nothing to suggest it is even close to delivering on its promises. Which is bad news for investors but looking increasingly like good news for green campaigners.”
“Ultimately, shutting down oil drilling in Markwells Wood represents one small, but important, victory in a region-wide fight against oil and gas drilling plans that will see the beautiful South East countryside pock-marked with wells. New oil and gas drilling operations are an affront to local communities and a dangerous form of climate change.”
DrillOrDrop invited UKOG to comment on the termination of the access agreement. We also asked the company whether it intended to apply the injunction to the access, as well as the site. The company has not replied but this post will be updated with any response.