A residents’ group in the South Downs is reporting that UK Oil & Gas is pulling out of its exploration site at Markwells Wood.
The group, Markwells Wood Watch, said local people had been informed that work to clear the site, near Rowlands Castle, would begin on Monday this week (19 November 2018).
DrillOrDrop understands that vehicles have been accessing the site and lighting has been installed.
Planning permission for Markwells Wood expired more than two years ago and the site has been suspended since 2012.
In July 2018, UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) was ordered by the South Downs National Park Authority to remove equipment and restore the site to woodland. Under a breach of condition notice, UKOG had until 17 January 2019 to clear the site and until 17 July 2019 to complete restoration.
DrillOrDrop invited UKOG to comment. This post will be updated with any response.
In May 2017 DrillOrDrop reported that UKOG had withdrawn a previous planning application after widespread objections, including those from the Environment Agency, Portsmouth Water and the South Downs National Park.
They were concerned that the proposals could contaminate the aquifer that supplies drinking water to Portsmouth.
In March 2018 we reported that a landowner had withdrawn permission for UKOG to use a strip of land to access Markwells Wood for all but abandonment and restoration work.
Despite these developments, UKOG repeatedly said it would submit a new planning application for Markwells Wood.
Most recently, the site was included on maps of company assets in a presentation to investors, dated November 2018. Last week, a statement to shareholders described Markwells Wood as an “oil discovery pending development and/or appraisal drilling”.
A document from the government regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority, also dated last week, listed the Markwells Wood discovery along with work commitments by UKOG.
Markwells Wood Watch said in a statement this morning:
“This is obviously excellent news because UKOG’s previous plans for drilling at its Markwells Wood site always involved enormous risk.
“Its plans were almost universally opposed, not just by residents, but by the Environment Agency, Portsmouth Water and local councils, amongst many other relevant organisations and individuals.”
Markwells Wood Watch member, Julian Neal, said:
“Like other local residents, I am delighted that UKOG has finally agreed to comply with the South Downs National Park Authority’s Breach of Condition Notice and, in doing so, to abandon its Markwells Wood site for ever.
“Markwells Wood Watch looks forward to assisting the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, Portsmouth Water and, of course, the South Downs National Park Planning Authority in their crucial supervisory roles.”
Ann Stewart, a local resident and member of the group, said:
“We look forward to the replanting of the 1.5 hectares of woodland that was cleared in 2009 to make way for oil exploration, in the knowledge that this will provide a richer habitat for our local wildlife.
“This area is home to many endangered and disappearing species. Locally, housing developments and road building are robbing wildlife of space to survive, so it is good to know that Markwells Wood will redress the balance a little.”