Proposals to drill for oil on the Isle of Wight could threaten the island’s new Biosphere status, it was alleged yesterday.
Jonathan Bacon, chair of Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), made the comments in what he described as a “strong objection” to a plan by UK Oil & Gas plc (UKOG) to drill near the village of Arreton.
“if it were to proceed, the proposed development could impact upon and possibly lead to loss of Biosphere Status. This is because it would show a failure to support the principles and aims of the Biosphere.”
“Failure to adhere to the principles and commitments which led to the award of Biosphere status will obviously [put] that status at risk.”
Last year, UNESCO designated the whole of the Isle of Wight and marine areas along the coast as a Biosphere Reserve.
Biospheres are internationally-recognised protected areas that show there is a balanced relationship between people and nature for sustainable development. There are about 700 Biospheres in more than 100 countries.
Mr Bacon said Biosphere status could be removed if monitors decided the Isle of Wight had failed to live up to the designation’s requirements.
“The impact of decisions made now will be relevant to their considerations.”
He described the UKOG application as a “test” of the island’s stated commitment to Biosphere status:
“Proposals which will adversely impact upon environmental sustainability are counter to Biosphere status.
“Onshore oil drilling … runs counter to the aims of sustainability inherent in Biosphere status.
“The application would damage aspects of the environment which contributed to the overall make-up of the Island which was deemed to be of sufficient quality to merit award of the status.”
A public consultation on the UKOG application continues until Friday 24 July 2020. At the time of writing, there had been more than 1,000 online objections.
Mr Bacon said even without the Biosphere status, the proposals did not “adhere to Isle of Wight planning policy guidance”. He said it failed to comply with:
- Policy SP5: requires proposals to protect, conserve and/or enhance the natural environment
- Policy DM13: requires proposals to protect, enhance and manage a network of green infrastructure assets
- Policy P52 in the AONB Management Plan: requires development proposals relating to energy to fully consider the impacts on the landscapes and seascapes of the Isle of Wight AONB
- Isle of Wight Strategic Plan: Seeks to promote green energy and reduce the carbon footprint
Mr Bacon said:
“It is clear that to promote alternative energies while simultaneously permitting high polluting industries, such as oil extraction, is a contradiction in terms and would seriously undermine the current commitment to Biosphere status.”
He described UKOG’s estimated greenhouse gas emissions for the project as “entirely contrary” to the Isle of Wight Council’s policies to reduce emissions. This level of emissions would be “an unacceptable source of pollution” for an area with Biosphere status, he said.
He also raised concerns about the impact on island roads and a re-wildling programme in the area of the proposed site.
A spokesperson for the opposition group, Don’t Drill the Wight, said today:
“Jonathan Bacon’s submission regarding the importance of the Biosphere has come at a significant time.
“Some of our local parish and town councillors are also now discussing how they plan to respond in the coming days.
“Our UNESCO Biosphere status, traffic, AONBs and impacts on our re-wilding programmes, have been some of the many concerns repeatedly highlighted in objection statements, currently sitting at 1044 and climbing.
“Given the restrictions of Covid 19 during this consultation period, the public response to and support of our work to promote the Don’t Drill The Wight campaign has been tremendous and almost beyond our expectation.
“Islanders have realised that the promises of mitigation to the multiple potential risks and impacts that this application has highlighted, are completely inadequate and they are adamant that fossil fuel extraction will not go unopposed.”
The application can be viewed online on the Isle of Wight Council planning portal. Search for application 20/00513/FUL.