An objection to its oil drilling plans by the Isle of Wight MP, Bob Seely, was “a great surprise”, UK Oil & Gas said today.
The company’s chief executive, Stephen Sanderson (pictured below), said the company had met Mr Seely last year to discuss the plans at Arreton. In a letter to the MP released to journalists, he said:
“We recall from our August 2019 meeting at Westminster that you mentioned you wouldn’t object to our project provided we satisfied key conditions: bring much-needed funds to the island, ensure the proposed site was visually unobtrusive and complied with all environmental safeguarding policies.”
Mr Sanderson said:
“Your recent objections to our plans at Arreton have come as a great surprise to us”.
Earlier this month, Mr Seely said the application was “not appropriate” for the Isle of Wight. Today, he told Isle of Wight radio:
“I have never said I would support the application. I listened to the applicant’s argument as I said I would. It is my job to represent the interests of my constituency, not those of applicants.
“Having now seen the submitted application, I consider that the interests of the Isle of Wight are best served by this application being turned down. I am not bound by any pre-application discussions.”
Mr Seely said in his objection:
“Restarting oil exploration on the Island has the potential to harm the Island’s conservational status, economic aims and identity as a sustainability leader nationally. I therefore oppose this application”.
Mr Sanderson replied that “it was hard to understand” why the application was considered “inappropriate”.
It would, he said be “temporary by nature, discretely located, plainly in line with Committee on Climate Change’s Net Zero plan, provides a lower greenhouse footprint oil source than imports, creates UK jobs and UK tax revenues”.
Mr Seely had said the proposal did not comply with local planning policies on reducing the Island’s carbon footprint or restricting traffic growth.
Mr Sanderson replied there would be “no material traffic disruption due to low number of vehicles over a short temporary period”.
The site would generate fewer vehicles than a construction site of the same size, he said.
Mr Sanderson also said domestically-produced oil and gas would help the UK meet its net zero ambitions on greenhouse gas emissions and make “a positive contribution towards our climate change targets”. Without domestically-produced oil, he said the UK would have to rely on imports:
“Imported oil and gas has a higher greenhouse footprint, does not create the same level of direct or indirect UK employment, which is clearly of paramount importance to the UK and the Isle of Wight, and, crucially, makes little contribution to the exchequer.”
Mr Seely ‘s objection also raised concerns that the site could threaten the island’s environment and £520m a year visitor economy. He said:
“Oil exploration detracts from our status as an environmental hotspot”.
He said visitors demanded “high environmental excellence” and minimisation of greenfield development. He said:
“The application is visually intrusive, on farmland, and has negative environmental associations.”
Mr Sanderson denied the oil site would disrupt tourism:
“We intend to conduct drilling operations outside the tourist season, between October and April, when, as you know, jobs on the island are in scarce supply.”
UKOG does not “wish to add additional traffic onto the critical road network during peak season”, he said.
On the site, Mr Sanderson said:
“We will not industrialise where we operate.
“We select sites that are well screened and cause little or no disruption to the community and to the ecology and environment. Each site is less than the size of two football pitches.
“Other than the mast of a drilling rig (which is only present for around 60 days maximum), our equipment is low-rise and low visual profile, being no higher than a portacabin.”
Mr Sanderson said views of the Arreton site were restricted from three directions by “undulating landscape and mature hedgerows”. He said:
“It is truly out of sight”.
He also said this part of the island already supported intensive agriculture, large scale renewable energy installations, including Wight Farm Anaerobic Digestion Energy Power Station, and non-agricultural uses such as a quarry.
Mr Sanderson denied the oil site would pollute the area. Southern Water had not objected to the application, he said, “which we feel is incredibly significant”.
He added that success at the Arreton site would bring jobs, wealth and tax revenues. He committed to sharing profits of production with the community.
- A public consultation on the UKOG plans closes tomorrow (24 July 2020).