Regulation

Officials back Isle of Wight oil drilling at Arreton – “economic benefits outweigh environmental harm”

Proposals to explore for oil on farmland on the Isle of Wight have been supported by council planners despite potential environmental harm.

Site of UKOG’s proposed Arreton oil site, 23 March 2020. Photo: Don’t Drill The Wight

A report, published today, recommends approval of a planning application by UK Oil & Gas (UKOG).

The scheme, proposed for three years near the village of Arreton, is due to be decided by Isle of Wight Council next week.

Six parish councils and the local MP have opposed the plans. The local campaign group has said there have been more than 3,400 public objections.

Council planners acknowledged that the proposals would result in an “industrial-style development” in an area that was “predominantly undeveloped”.

Their report said the “mix of industrial equipment, fenced compound and access road” would, from some directions, “cause significant landscape and visual impacts that would result in material harm”.

But they said these impacts would be temporary and would be outweighed by what they described as the “substantial” economic benefits” of the proposals.

The report said locally there would be “relatively minor economic benefits”. But exploration and testing for hydrocarbons would, it said, contribute to providing for national energy needs.

UKOG’s application is not for production and, if oil were found, a separate planning application would be needed. Opponents of the scheme have said estimates of recoverable oil from the site represented 10 days of UK oil consumption.

The local MP, Bob Seely, said the proposal was inappropriate and conflicted with the Isle of Wight’s economic aims. He said oil development would threaten tourism, worth £520m a year, as well the island’s conservation status and identity as a national leader in sustainability.

The planners concluded there was a “a national need for fossil fuels” and the proposal would not “conflict with the climate change agenda”

They said the Isle of Wight’s declaration of a climate emergency and its new Climate and Environmental Strategy did not ban proposals for fossil fuel extraction.

The proposal

UKOG’s proposed Arreton well on the Isle of Wight. Source: UKOG display panel

UKOG wants to drill one vertical and one sidetrack well at Arreton. They would explore for oil in the Portland limestone and other deeper formations. The application does not include high volume hydraulic fracturing.

The 1.4ha site, which has never been developed, is on St Georges Down, close to the edge of the Isle of Wight area of outstanding natural beauty. It is 300m from the A3056 road from Newport to Sandown and next to a public bridleway.

The proposal includes a new access road and junction with the A3056 and a level site platform, parts of which would be 5m below existing ground levels.

When operating, UKOG has estimated that the site would generate up to 15 two-way lorry movements a day. It would be surrounded by 3m high security fencing. Equipment would include seven 3m high containers, storage and fuel tanks, generators, a 12m ground flare and a propane gas tank. The drilling rig would be up to 38m high.

Objections

The planners’ report said there had been 1,064 objections from members of the public. But the campaign group, Don’t Drill The Wight, said there had been more than 3,400 objections.

The council said the public concerns included:

  • Contrary to local and national climate change strategies and local planning policies
  • Damage to the special qualities of the area and local wildlife
  • Inappropriate greenfield site
  • Industrialisation of the Arreton area
  • Noise, light, air and water pollution
  • Danger to pedestrians and horse riders where the access track crosses a right-of-way
  • Potential impact on water supplies
  • Impact on local roads and traffic
  • Recoverable oil is the equivalent to 10 days of UK oil consumption
  • Limited benefits to the local economy
  • Fracking may be needed later

There were also objections from parish councils at Arreton, Whitwell, Rookley, Fisbourne, Newchurch and Godshill.

Arreton Parish Council’s concerns included loss of hedgerows, impact of lighting, water contamination and its disposal, and the impact on the village and school. The council said the application appeared to be counter to council aims for carbon neutrality and minimising waste.

Whitwell parish council said the scheme contradicted the Isle of Wight Council’s approach to the area of outstanding natural beauty and the island biosphere designation. Approval of the application would preclude National Park status, it said.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust objected because of risks of pollution to the River Yar and a nearby site of special scientific interest.

Location of the Arreton site. Source: UKOG planning application

Support

The first version of the application prompted objections from local highways officials and concerns from Isle of Wight council staff responsible for trees, wildlife and rights of way. Since changes were made to the scheme, there have been no objections from Isle of Wight Council officials.

There were also no objections from the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, Southern Water and the partnership managing the area of outstanding natural beauty. Natural England and Historic England made no comments.

The planners’ report said there were 70 comments in support of the scheme. The reasons included:

  • Continued need for hydrocarbons and energy self-sufficiency
  • Bridge the gap towards more renewable energy sources
  • Lower environmental impact than imports
  • Provision of local employment
  • Temporary with minimal visual impact

Conclusions on impacts

The planners’ report said the development would not cause a “material change to the special quality of the AONB [area of outstanding natural beauty]”.

It would have “harmful landscape impacts” – putting it in breach of local policies – but these impacts would be temporary only, the report said.

The top of the rig would show up above the summit of St Georges Down. But the planners said there would be minimal landscape or visual impacts to the north, north east and north west.

From other viewpoints, particularly nearby, the planners said site equipment would be “relatively imposing and obvious additions to the landscape”, incongruous”, “industrial in nature” and “at odds with the surrounding rural landscape”.

They disagreed with UKOG’s assessment that views of the site from the A3056 road would be “fleeting” and “minor adverse”. The planners’ concluded that the impact of the site from this point and from two nearby footpaths would result in significant harm for a temporary period.

The report said there would be “little scope for mitigating the harm”. The design was considered “appropriate”, despite a policy requirement for “high quality design for all development”.

On tourism, the report said the proposal would have limited and temporary impacts on the surrounding countryside and it would not “compromise the tourism industry for the Island”.

Other conclusions

The planner’s report also concluded:

Archaeology: The site would not compromise archaeological remains at the site

Acid deposition: At St Georges Down, these levels would below those considered insignificant

Access road: These plans“meet highway guidance”

Air pollution: This would be “localised to the wellsite” and “would have no impact on human exposure” at the nearest homes.

Arreton conservation area: No adverse impact

Asbestos: Sample of asbestos found on the proposed site and a pre-construction asbestos survey is needed

Cumulative impacts: No cumulative impacts on ecology or waste management

Ecology: Removal of hedgerow along the A3056 could harm nesting or hibernating dormice. This work would be done under a Protection of Species Mitigation Licence and overseen by an ecologist to avoid disturbing dormice. No impact on badgers, bats. Mitigation would include hedge planting, grassland and wildflower seeding, native tree planting, creation of log piles and installation of five nesting bird boxes and five bat boxes.

Flaring: Volumes of gas to be burnt would be limited to 10 tonnes per day under an environmental permit

Flood risk and groundwater: The proposals comply with local and national policies on flooding. “Adequate protection to groundwater pollution has been provided by the applicant”, the planners said. They added that the Minerals Planning Authority could rely on other regulatory regimens to operate effectively.

Heritage: No cumulative impacts

Lighting: Unlikely to cause a statutory nuisance and the distance from the site to nearby properties would “provide significant mitigation”

Listed buildings: Minimal or no impact

Noise from site: Levels would be above current background but the effects could be “satisfactorily limited” by conditions

Noise from vehicles:  The impact would be “negligible” if vehicles visited the site in daytime only

Restoration scheme: This is considered “acceptable” and would restore the site to current agricultural use and provide landscape and ecological enhancements.

Rights of way: “The safety of pedestrians is unlikely to be affected” where the access and bridleway cross. But “very careful consideration would need to be given to the safety of horse riders and to an extent, that of cyclists”.

Roads: The proposal would “not have a negative impact on the operation of the local or wider highway network in terms of capacity”. An increase in potential accidents on the A3056 is not anticipated.

Site selection process: This was suitable and complied with local planning policies

UNESCO Biosphere designation: The scheme was “not considered to have an unacceptable impact on trees or protected species and would result in socio-economic benefits”. It would not “compromise the designation, which is focused on allowing sustainable development to take place”.

Wildlife sites: “It is considered that the proposed development would not result in significant impacts on European sites, either alone or in combination with other plans and projects.”

Conditions

The planners recommended approval with 43 conditions on issues such as traffic management, construction of the access road and junction, lorry movements, noise, lighting, restoration and rights of way.

Reaction

The local campaign group, Don’t Drill The Wight, said:

“We are disappointed that the planning officer has supported the application, given the level of community objection.

“The decision has come at a crucial point, since confirmation by the IPCC and the recently published report from London University, which state that 60% of existing known resources should remain unharvested, and no new oil & gas wells should be drilled, if we are to have any chance of halting our rapid acceleration towards a 1.5 degree increase in global temperature.

“We understand that our mineral planning authority will have a very difficult decision to make, given  pressures from the government for continued support of the fossil fuel industry.

“There is some consolation in the fact there are considerable conditions in place, but sadly we feel that this is not enough and that there are some omissions in key statements and information presented in this report.”

Decision meeting

The application is due to be decided at a meeting on Tuesday 19 October 2021 at 4pm in the council chamber, County Hall, Newport, Isle of Wight. The meeting will be videoed and broadcast live.

A link to the meeting video will be added to the committee’s webpage 24 hours before the meeting

DrillOrDrop will report on the meeting and the decision.

17 replies »

  1. Planning officers are following outdated planning legislation that is totally at odds with all that we now know about the climate & ecological crises. It’s down to elected councillors to apply common sense and bring about change.

  2. The unfolding climate and ecological crisis is barely mentioned, and when it is it is dismissed as “the climate agenda”.

    Outrageous.

    • Amazing, Dorkinian, isn’t it, that after so much informed input these planners are still able to downgrade the global overheating which imperils us all. Such language as “the climate agenda” effectively brushes off the crisis as the concern of a few cranks to which political correctness demands lip service be paid. I feel that to represent this attitude as mere stupidity – they just don’t get it – is to play into the hands of those who do ‘get it’ but whose sole concern is venal. ‘Outrageous’ is too mild.
      Perhaps the NIMBY epithet levelled at all those who objected to continuing fossil fuel exploration and development, regardless of their real motives, is best answered by NAME – not at my expense – which is perhaps the only coherent and understandable explanation for continuing support for such exploration and development given the current situation, misguided though it may be..

      • Hmm. Maybe they do get it and know what planning is about.

        If planning was really about what some dislike there would be very few plans passed-for anything.

        Maybe such planners understand that HS2 is a better way (environmentally) to deal with transport rather than more motorways, or more internal flights. But, there are those who campaign against HS2 and then also pontificate about global overheating!

        Good job there are professionals to sort out all that contradiction. Not their job to pander to those who are more interested in the protest than the reality and the benefits.

        Perhaps the new houses shouldn’t have been built at Arreton as they will have an impact on global heating, and those requiring social houses should have been content with a yurt? (Took an Appeal, and costs awarded!)

  3. And, all three of the above bashing their plastic and utilizing artificial light ie. energy in the dark.

    That is what people do and by so doing maybe they are ignoring the climate and ecological crisis? Or, maybe they just think they are able to do it but those on the IOW who are reliant upon imported energy-including oil for their power station-should not be able to do the same. I suspect the new social housing in Arreton will accommodate quite a few who also wish to bash their plastic and have their lights on between 10-11pm.

    I do find the “concern” about tourism particularly odd. If you want large numbers of folk to flock to the island, then perhaps consider how they get there and the energy required to service them when they have? Texas seems to have squared that circle!

  4. Perhaps the planning officers aren’t aware of the near £20million UKOG recently wrote off at Horley. The alleged benefits are illusory once one understands how little of the claimed benefit actually remains locally, typically a few members of staff staying in a local hotel and buying food locally. The only people benefitting are the directors of the companies, with many shareholders seeing their initial investment now worth less than 10% of its original value. The best way to wean ourselves off imported oil is to reduce our need for it, for any alleged benefit from importing fossil fuels is just that, alleged, with no evidence to substantiate it.

    • Certainly geothermal in Southampton, Tony, and there has been for a very long time. Interesting little project but it reminds me of the wind mill grinding the flour for the specialist baker, whilst the majority have to look to the industrial scale flour mills and bakeries.

      Not to worry. Wait a few more years and once what people are allowed to eat has been addressed then what they are allowed to do with respect to population growth will be the target, and then interesting little projects will come into their own.

      Perhaps when UKOG have finished at Arreton then the well(s) could be repurposed for geothermal?

  5. Except for your plastic keyboard, Malcolm! Oh, and the fuel for GP to swan around the oceans calling for others to reduce their need for it.

    What “initial investments”?? That is just nonsense and totally depends on when investors invested. It also depends on if they did invest at peak prices whether they have they diluted that cost subsequently-which many appear to have done. And there are those who invested in the last few days and are counting a very quick profit.

    Perhaps tell those who travel across to Fawley Refinery and earn high salaries, that benefit from fossil fuel is illusory. Absolutely no more illusory than those who work at Vestas on the IOW.

    Whilst we are weaning-a gradual process, Malcolm-then perhaps make sure during the process the opportunity is used to wean away from imports with their associated transport emissions. Otherwise, might as well close Vestas and import cheap turbines from China as local benefits are illusory and transport emissions can just be ignored.

  6. The headline statement that profit /taxes trump environmental integrity and community wishes seems to be Tory stance nowadays!

    Whether it’s fracking, building large unwanted homes with unnecessary price adjustments for the well off, intelligent motorways that simply aren’t that smart, private yachts for the prime minister and royal family to show off their (alleged) wealth and power or worst of all HS2, massively over budget and totally flawed from the beginning, the UK Government is totally out of step with reality.

    • Peter K Roberts

      What a exaggeration!

      There are many measures individuals and the government can take to reduce UK energy consumption and emissions.

      The indigenous production of oil and gas will still be needed despite for the economy and to reduce imports and imported emissions everyone playing there part instead of playing a Nimby game. Why are they not prepared to action instead of talking about what everyone else should be doing.

      Actions speak louder than words just like the protestors glueing themselves to roads disrupting the UK economy for home insulation but not working to set a example by insulating there own homes to reduce the emissions they say they are so concerned about?

    • Except the headline didn’t come from the Tories!!
      [Edited by moderator]
      Meanwhile, I notice that the Tories have opened up a 10 point lead over Labour, so the reality does seem rather different to many. Ever thus.
      Also, meanwhile, at Arreton new social houses are being built-although planning was initially rejected and then allowed on appeal with costs. So, as always balance should be applied-[Edited by moderator]
      And, a third meanwhile! I note UK is the only one out of the G20 to have produced a domestic target aligned with 1.5 degrees C and has been judged as “almost sufficient” in regards to meeting it by the Climate Transparency Report. Maybe when HS2 takes traffic off those smart motorways, and reduces internal flights as is happening in France reference the TGV, and when the UK produces more locally rather than it imports, the “almost” could be removed. Do I care that would reduce things to protest about? Not at all.

    • I agree, Peter, but doubt the Tories will admit it. Yes, NAME, (not at my expense), is the name of the game, that bit not covered by ‘greed’ in any case.

  7. Seems there are quite a lot of houses wanted on the IOW. I know of a number of sites where houses are being built and others where they will be shortly. All the sites I am aware of include social housing. Perhaps people are attracted to the area because they can expect a longer life span than living in some other areas of the country?

    Surprise, surprise, but fossil fuel will be used for their construction, and fossil fuel will be used for their heating and lighting. Hopefully, they will be well insulated-thanks to fossil fuel. And then those who live in them can trundle off to work thanks to fossil fuel, whether they work on the island or on the mainland. If they fall ill, they can rely upon the NHS to transport them to hospital thanks to fossil fuel, and if they need to visit an ICU then they will benefit from the equipment that has been produced with the aid of fossil fuel-some locally at Fawley.

    Goodness, it would seem that anyone who thinks should be concerned that they have a local source of fossil fuel to help maintain them. Isn’t that why allotments are so popular?

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