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Criticisms of South Downs oil drilling application intensify

Site at Markwells Wood

Site at Markwells Wood

Published in the Portsmouth News on the 20th October 2016

Story by
Danny Randon


A BID to drill for oil in the South Downs National Park has come under fire.

Environmentalists have accused United Kingdom Oil & Gas Investments PLC of not disclosing enough information regarding the chemicals in the extraction process.

The investment firm has applied to the South Downs National Park Authority for 20 years of oil extraction at Markwells Wood, Forestside, near Rowlands Castle.

Campaigners say UKOG has been unclear about who would be responsible for the clean-up of the site if there was a pollution accident.

Residents who live near Markwells Wood have written to UKOG, but claim the firm is yet to reply.

Reed Paget says local residents have a right to express their concerns. He said: ‘UKOG claimed in a recent interview to be transparent, so why won’t it tell us what chemicals they want to inject under our homes, villages and drinking water supply?

‘If they are as responsible as they have also claimed, why won’t they commit to pay for the clean-up of any water pollution that may occur as a result of its operations?’

Ray Cobbett, from Havant Friends of the Earth, has written a formal letter of objection to South Downs National Park, saying that the application is ‘inconsistent’ with the purpose of National Parks under the 1995 Environment Act.

He said: ‘In our view, as the best-case yield from this site is less than one day’s national consumption of 1.4 million barrels over its 20-year life.

Some of the ‘adverse impacts’ of the proposed drilling program listed by Ray include ‘regular HGV movements on quiet, local country roads’, ‘light and noise pollution impacting the quiet enjoyment of the area’, and ‘distress to local wildlife’ by residents and visitors.

He added: ‘The applicants have failed to demonstrate the revived site’s sustainability or provide any exceptional reason why it should be re-opened.’

UKOG chief executive Stephen Sanderson said: ‘The existing oil well at Markwells Wood, which was drilled in 2010 and flowed oil for over six months during 2011 and 2012, had no impact on the chalk aquifer. This is because drilling through the chalk utilised identical techniques and substances to those used by Portsmouth Water in drilling their nearby water abstraction wells.

‘This system uses water to lubricate the drill with the occasional flush of a naturally occurring clay, bentonite, to bring larger rock chippings to the surface. This is a proven and environmentally safe process.

‘The chalk aquifer in the existing well and all future wells is completely isolated behind heavy gauge steel tubing, known as casing, which is bonded to the chalk with waterproof impermeable concrete.

‘The process of drilling ahead to the target almost a mile further underground uses a modern environmentally-friendly water-based drilling mud. The pressure exerted by the mud prevents any oil from the oil reservoir entering the well until further sets of steel casing are set and bonded to the surrounding rock. The existing well and all future wells will have three sets of such overlapping steel tubing, all surrounded by cement. There is therefore no risk of aquifer contamination by hydrocarbons during the drilling process because by the time any such hydrocarbons flow into the well, all aquifer horizons will have been cased and cemented off.’

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