Regulator objects to second oil plan over failure to assess risk to water

Puddletown production impression

Impression of production phase of South Western Energy’s Puddletown site in Dorset. Source: South Western Energy Limited planning application

The Environment Agency has objected to plans to drill for oil in Dorset because there was no assessment of the risk to water.

The regulator said the application by South Western Energy Limited at Puddletown had “insufficient information” about the risks to drinking water and to a nearby chalk stream.

It said there was no objection in principle to the application, but added:

“We will maintain our objection until we receive a satisfactory risk assessment that demonstrates that the risks to controlled waters posed by this development can be safely managed”.

South Western is seeking consent for 25 years of oil production at the site.

This is the second time in recent months that the Environment Agency (EA) has objected to a planning application for an oil site because of risks to water.

In November 2019, the EA opposed Angus Energy’s plans for an extended well test at Balcombe in West Sussex because the application did not include an updated and detailed hydrogeological risk assessment.

That objection was dropped last week (19 February 2020) when a risk assessment was submitted. The parish council and a community group complained that the risk assessment was “inadequate, incomplete and misleading”.

On the Puddletown application, the EA said high quality water for drinking was obtained from an aquifer at the proposed site. In a response to Dorset Council, it said:

“without a risk assessment showing the contrary, the risks to controlled water from this development can be considered unacceptable.”

The EA also said a chalk stream, the Devil’s Brook, was close to the site. It would be sensitive to pollution of ground or surface water, the EA said.

EA guidelines expect a detailed hydrogeological risk assessment to be produced for onshore oil and gas activities.

The regulator’s response also advised Dorset Council that the National Planning Policy Framework – the blueprint for planning decisions – stated that developments should not be allowed that cause or risk unacceptable levels of water pollution.

The EA said:

“Your authority need to consider how this development meets the NPPF.”

Drilling and production of oil at Puddletown will need an environmental permit, as well as planning permission.

At the time of the EA’s response, South Western had not applied for a permit and no application has since been publicised.

The EA recommended the permit and planning applications were “twin tracked” to ensure there was no conflict between the two processes.

“Inconsistent with sustainable future”

The application was criticised during public questions at February’s meeting of Dorset Council.

Kira Robinson told councillors:

“This proposal is obviously inconsistent with the council’s efforts to move towards a more sustainable future for Dorset. It also contradicts the wishes of the Puddletown Parish council, who have rejected the plan stating it ‘will have an adverse effect on the natural environment, biodiversity and rich wildlife’.”

Ms Robinson urged the council to “demonstrate leadership and influence” and reject new fossil fuel extraction in Dorset.

Link to Puddletown planning application

Environment Agency objection to Puddletown planning application


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