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‘I’m disappointed that as a society we’re considering letting the oil drill go ahead’

The Site at Markwells Wood in South Downs National Park

Published in the Portsmouth News on the 27th of July 2017


As UK Oil and Gas prepares to re-submit its application to drill for oil in the South Downs National Park, Emsworth author and features writer Simon Newman asks whether ‘grubbing around for the last dregs of our fossil legacy’ is really worth it.

But as you can imagine, not everyone is a happy bunny – especially those who live in this beautiful part of the world.

Campaign group Markwells Wood Watch was set up to oppose such endeavours and its highly vocal members met earlier this month in the normally tranquil village of Rowlands Castle.

They are obviously well-informed, well-organised and you get the distinct impression they are capable of mobilising support from the all right quarters.

Their nemesis is a company called UK Oil and Gas (Ukog), that is on the verge of submitting their second planning application (their first being withdrawn at the eleventh hour earlier this year) to drill for oil on their exploratory site at Forestside, in the heart of the South Downs National Park.

At the meeting, where about 100 people gathered, notes were compared, spleens were vented and resistance campaigns were plotted.

That last bit probably isn’t strictly true since the organisers knew very well there would be Ukog moles present (yes, another woodland creature analogy) and so my guess is the real machinations went on behind-the-scenes.

Much was debated but one particular concern seemed to resonate more than others. To get at the black gold, Ukog needs to drill through a geological layer that supplies drinking water (courtesy of Portsmouth Water) to an 850 sq km area extending roughly from Fareham to Bognor Regis.

Despite the oil company’s contention that their operation will be entirely safe and environmentally sensitive, Markwells Wood Watch say Ukog will be using unspecified chemicals (including acids) in their process.

They fear this could create a major health risk to people living in the region by dint of compromising the water supply.

On top of all this, the watch group has grave concerns about the risk to indigenous fauna, flora and wildlife.

They also cite the spillage risk, the noise and pollution caused by the surface drilling rig as well as the convoys of supply trucks and oil tankers moving along unsuitable, narrow Hampshire and Sussex lanes.

Just what we all look forward to on a tranquil outing through the glory of the South Downs National Park then.

Is it all bad news though? Supporters of the venture claim it will bring much-needed investment into the area and will provide employment opportunities for locals too.

They point out it’s an important way of contributing to the energy security of Britain by reducing our nation’s reliance on imported oil and gas.

Personally, I’m just disappointed that as a society we are even considering going down this well-worn path.

There is so much going on around the world in the development of cleaner, sustainable sources of energy that this last-ditch attempt to scrape the barrel seems a real missed trick.

Elon Musk, the visionary entrepreneur and electric car messiah, announced two weeks ago a potential deal with the government of Western Australia, to build an extraordinary ‘super-battery’ farm that can store wind and solar produced electricity, feeding it into the grid on an as-needed basis.

Added to which Volvo has also just announced its commitment to phasing out combustion-only vehicles within the next two years.

Energy capture from tidal barrages is also gaining momentum around the globe, including here in the UK.

These are the game-changers. These are the really exciting developments we can be proud to tell the next generation we were a part of supporting.

Grubbing around for the last dregs of our fossil legacy seems frankly all rather sad by comparison, don’t you think?

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