Major incident as Purbeck oil leaks into Poole Harbour near Arne

The clean up operation is underway after a spillage from Wytch Farm oil well near Corfe Castle, leaked from a pipeline into Poole Harbour near to the RSPB Arne nature reserve and the National Trust owned Studland peninsula in Dorset.

A major incident was declared on Sunday 26th March 2023 after the oil company Perenco UK confirmed that reservoir fluid, which is about 15 percent oil and 85 percent water, had leaked from its pipeline under Ower Bay in Poole Harbour.

Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour

Ower Bay in Poole Harbour looking towards National Trust owned Brownsea Island – a haven for wildlife including the rare red squirrel

Advice to avoid the water and beaches within Poole Harbour

Poole Harbour Commissioners, which manages Poole Harbour, is coordinating the emergency response plan.

It has estimated that about 200 barrels of the fluid was released into the harbour and is advising against using the beaches and water for recreational purposes within Poole Harbour until further information is available.

Map of Ower Bay

Map of Ower Bay in Poole Harbour

Wytch Farm buildings at Arne

Perenco UK holds a 95 percent share in Wytch Farm near Corfe Castle which produces 14,000 barrels of oil a day. The oil is then distributed from the site, across the UK, via pipelines

“A full investigation will be launched”

Perenco UK, which has operated Europe’s largest onshore oil field at Wytch Farm since 2011, said there had been a “limited oil leak” that had now been contained.

Perenco UK’s Wytch Farm general manager Franck Dy said:

“Any spill is an extremely serious matter and a full investigation will be launched to ascertain what happened in Poole Harbour.

“It is important to stress that the situation is under control, with the discharge of fluids having been stopped and the spill is being contained.”

A spokesperson for the company confirmed that this was the first time there has been an oil spill from Wytch Farm since it took over ownership from BP in 2011.

Brownsea Island

Oil is visible in the water in Poole Harbour

One of the most wildlife rich places in the UK

Ower Bay, located to the south of Poole Harbour, lies between the environmentally sensitive RSPB Arne nature reserve and National Trust’s Studland peninsula.

The area is part of the Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve, one of the most wildlife rich places in the UK and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The oil spillage has been spread across Poole Harbour by the currents and northerly winds, with much of it collecting at the mouth of the harbour by the Studland to Sandbanks ferry crossing.

Sandbanks ferry

Due to tidal currents, much of the oil has drifted towards the mouth of the harbour where the ferry crosses between Sandbanks and Studland

“Specialist oil spill response companies are assisting with the operation”

In a statement issued at 8 pm on Sunday 26th March 2023, CEO of Poole Harbour Commissioners (PHC) Jim Stewart said:

“Earlier today a leak occurred at a pipeline operated by Perenco at Ower Bay in Poole Harbour. Perenco advised that a small amount of reservoir fluid (approximately 85 percent water and 15 percent oil) escaped from the pipeline, however some of this has already been recovered.

“The pipeline was shut down and booms were placed on either side of the leak in order to minimise any pollution and Perenco advises that there is no risk of any further leakage. Early indications are that the surface slick is already dispersing.

“PHC activated its emergency oil spill plan earlier today and specialist oil spill response companies are assisting with the operation.

“A Major Incident was declared and agencies including Dorset Police, Dorset Council, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, NHS, Environment Agency and Natural England are also involved.

“A further assessment will be made early tomorrow morning regarding a clean up operation. As a precaution, the public should avoid using the water for recreational purposes and avoid using beaches within Poole Harbour until further intelligence is available.

“It is unlikely that there will be any long term health effects from short exposures (e.g. days). Anyone who has come into contact with the spill should wash immediately with soap and water for ten minutes.

“If eyes have come into contact with the spill, they should be rinsed with water. Anyone who has been exposed to fuel oil and is feeling unwell please contact NHS 111 or seek medical attention from your GP.”

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