Plans to produce oil for 20 years near a historic country house in Dorset are still being considered, despite limited progress over the past 18 months.
South Western Energy Limited (SWEL) submitted a planning application in November 2019 for a drilling site on farmland about 1km from Athelhampton House and garden.
No decision on the proposal was made in either 2020 or 2021.
But last week, six new documents were posted on the application website.
They include reports, previously requested by planning officers, on the impact on heritage, ecology, hydrology, climate and restoration.
Opponents had argued that the proposal conflicted with Dorset’s declaration of a climate emergency.
The new 17-page climate change report concluded:
“The entire development, if successful, will mitigate the degree and impact of climate change by offsetting the carbon footprint of oil imports to the UK.”
In February 2020, the Environment Agency (EA) objected to the application because it did not include an assessment of the risk to drinking water and a nearby chalk stream, the Devil’s Brook. The EA said:
“without a risk assessment showing the contrary, the risks to controlled water from this development can be considered unacceptable.”
A new two-page report on a water features survey, submitted by SWEL, concluded:
“The proposed pilot production well will be cased throughout its depth so no drilling fluids will leave the well and no groundwater will be abstracted.”
The site is 1.25km from the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 5km from the nationally-important Dorset Heaths special area of conservation (SAC). Opponents argued oil production and drilling would threaten barn owls, dormice, bats and great crested newts.
Natural England and Dorset Wildlife Trust had criticised what they said were flawed ecological assessments that accompanied the original application.
Puddletown Parish Council said the proposal would have “an adverse effect on the natural environment, biodiversity and rich wildlife”.
SWEL had previously described the proposal as “a farm diversification scheme” that would generate employment and energy. Its new ecological update concluded:
“It is not thought that the works on Site will have any adverse ecological effect on the SAC or other protected areas.”
There are six scheduled ancient monuments and 58 listed buildings within 2km of the proposed site.
It is 145m from Water Barn, a 19th century water-driven corn mill. The update on heritage concluded the development would have no impact on Water Barn.
“The proposed development will have some visual impact on the general, widespread setting in which Water Barn is located, however, this can be mitigated where Dorset Council feel it is necessary or beneficial to do so.”
The document said the proposed site had a “high degree of reversibility” and if the well was uneconomical the site would be returned to its previous or better condition.
On restoration, SWEL said the site was likely to be returned to arable farming after oil had been extracted. The company said it could encourage the landowner to use the restored land to grow biomass crops or to provide opportunities to benefit biodiversity.
Fossil Fuel Free Dorset said today:
“Dorset Council has declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency. So, it comes as quite a surprise that a proposal from South Western Energy Ltd to drill a new oil well less than a kilometre to the north of historic Athelhampton House is still being considered. The original application was submitted pre-pandemic and there has been little activity over the past 18 months.”
On the conclusion in the climate change report, the group said:
“Words fail us.”
Dorset Council has asked for comments on the new documents by 9 February 2022.