Say no to Wytch Farm oil drilling

Perenco oil spill Photo courtesy of Naturehawk

Campaigners call for Poole Harbour oil leak company Perenco to lose its operating permits and licence. Support the rally to end fossil fuel extraction in the county.

On 26 March 2023, we woke to the news that 200 barrels of oily liquid had leaked into Poole Harbour, causing extensive pollution and endangering the health of wildlife, people and pets. Conservation groups called it an environmental disaster and quickly organised a public rally to show their concern.

Protestors at Poole Quay the day after the rally, after ‘public rally to show their concern.’ courtesy of the author

The spill was caused by a leaking pipe at Ower Bay – a pipeline from the Wytch Farm oil production site owned and operated by Perenco. Until 2011 the site, which is Western Europe’s largest producing oil facility, was owned by BP, but it was sold in the aftermath of their Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010, when BP looked to shed their ageing and less profitable assets.

While a major incident was declared, Poole Harbour Commissioners (PHC) and Perenco played down the impact of the leak, describing it as “not so bad as first thought”, but local conservation and environmental groups expressed horror, deep concern and sadness, recognising the full impact on the local area.  It was a close-to-home example that demonstrates the environmental devastation that comes with oil and gas drilling.

Friends of the Earth East Dorset has been concerned for a very long time. Spokesperson Dr Martin Price succinctly sums it up, saying:

“We have been arguing since 1984 that Wytch Farm oil should not be tapped, as the area is too important for nature. Instead, we should have invested in renewables – solar, wind, wave and tidal. We should be investing in a clean future, not a dirty, outmoded fossil fuel technology from the past.”

On Monday 1 May 2023 – May Day Bank Holiday ‒ Extinction Rebellion (XR) groups from Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP), and across Dorset will stage a peaceful, family-friendly rally to protest at Wytch Farm. The event will start at 9.45am near Corfe Castle, at Norden Park and Ride (BH20 5DW) alongside Swanage Railway.

A procession along the lane towards Wytch Farm has been agreed with Dorset Police, and protestors will maintain a presence at the production site gate for two hours.

Event co-organiser Adam Osman from XR BCP says,

“Join us to make a stand against site owners Perenco, and their risky oil business.  Perenco is a dinosaur of the fossil fuel industry, with a poor track record on safety and a history of greenwashing. They polluted Poole Harbour, and we believe this production site is now past its expiry date. It’s time for oil production to end here, and for fossil fuel production to wind down everywhere”.

Rally co-organiser Adam Osram at the Poole Quay protest, courtesy of XR Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole

The event comes soon after XR’s ‘The Big One’, a peaceful rally in London. It saw over 60,000 people and more than 200 organisations come together to demand the government take action on the climate and ecological crises, which includes rejecting all new oil and gas projects. The event at Wytch Farm will be very much along those lines, and the organisers encourage everyone to come.

Rebecca Saville from XR Purbeck says,

“Bring your family and friends, bring your colourful banners and your instruments, bring a picnic and a blanket. Bring your voices and your love for Dorset’s beautiful environment and nature, and your rage at how it is being mistreated. Bring your call for the Environment Agency and authorities to end Wytch Farm’s licence to drill and spill.”

Corfe Castle Parish Council calls on Perenco to take further measures to ensure no oil leak occurs again. The Wytch Farm oil field works are wholly situated within the parish, whose boundaries extend from Poole Harbour to the English Channel.

The council’s formal statement, published on 26 April 2023 says,

“The Parish Council expresses its deep concern about the significant oil spill in Ower Bay on 26 March, which caused pollution in Poole Harbour and the coastline. The Parish Council (PC) believes that the terms of the operating licence require fail-safe maintenance procedures in this world-class and highly sensitive environment. The PC asked how did the maintenance failure occur? What system changes are being put in place to prevent any reoccurrence?”

Dorchester-based campaigner Julie-Ann Booker, who is in regular contact with councils across Dorset, said,

“We spoke to Dorset Council about Perenco’s licence at Wytch Farm immediately after the spill and they were sympathetic to our call for it to be revoked. So, we need to push hard, we need more voices to make it clear we want ‘Perenco Out!’ and as quickly as possible to avoid further environmental disaster.”

Cllr Ray Bryan, Lead Councillor for the Environment at Dorset Council, told the campaign group on 26 April that

“Dorset Council is managing the clean-up, and Perenco should foot the bill for it. The council is awaiting a report as to the root cause of the incident, to understand if the leak occurred due to corroded pipes, and the extent to which there has been a lack of control or care from Perenco in managing their risks. The report is expected to take approximately 5-6 weeks.”

We will be looking out for that report. In the meantime, I urge people to get involved. Sign the petition and join the protest on 1 May at 09.45 to protect our beautiful wildlife, beaches and countryside.

I am an experienced safety consultant in the oil and gas industry, and I publicly quit my contract with Shell last year over their environmental harms. In my experience the likelihood of further leaks, spills and other safety incidents increases as facilities age, and I firmly believe the 44-year-old Wytch Farm site should now prepare to shut down permanently.

I’ve witnessed many ageing facilities become more risky, as the temptation for operators and owners to neglect maintenance, cut corners and cut back on resources increases, as profits wane. Perenco, who have a lot of operations around the UK, made a £113m loss in 2019, and £107m loss again in 2020. They’ve reduced their operating costs by 10 per cent, and in ‘real speak’ that means they made cuts. These cuts come at a cost, and Dorset has paid the price. 

Perenco cannot be trusted to operate safely, and the Environment Agency and other regulatory authorities must take action to ensure there can be absolutely no repeat of this spill or other harmful incidents.

No more licence to drill or spill, courtesy of XR Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole