Poole Harbour oil leak: Europe’s largest onshore oilfield ‘temporarily suspended’

The oil company Perenco UK says that it has temporarily shut down operations at Wytch Farm oil well near Corfe Castle in Dorset following the spill of oil-containing reservoir fluid into nearby Poole Harbour.

Wytch Farm near Corfe Castle is the largest onshore oilfield in Europe and a major Purbeck employer. It normally produces approximately 14,000 barrels of oil a day, with a barrel of oil worth around £60 as of Thursday 30th March 2023.

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Wytch Farm map
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Operations at Wytch Farm in the Purbeck countryside have been temporarily suspended

Leak of around 200 barrels of reservoir fluid

On Sunday 26th March 2023 an underground pipeline from Wytch Farm oil field released an estimated 200 barrels of reservoir fluid, a mixture of 85 percent water and 15 percent crude oil into Ower Bay which is part of Poole Harbour.

A major incident was declared and an emergency response to contain the hazardous leak was coordinated by Poole Harbour Commissioners.

Booms were put in place to prevent further spread of the oil into Poole Harbour – an ecologically sensitive area that shares a shoreline with RSPB Arne nature reserve and the National Trust owned Studland peninsula and Brownsea Island.

Dispersal work on the trapped oil was worked on by dozens through the day
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A boom was put up at the source of the leak to stop oil spilling out into the main harbour
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Floating barriers have been put in place to prevent the further spread of oil

Perenco UK: Approximately 60 percent of the oil has been recovered

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

“The spill remains contained with four floating barriers in place and clean up operations are progressing well with approximately 60 percent of the estimated discharged oil now having been recovered.

“Perenco is working as fast as possible to return the area affected to its original state.”

An oily film was still in evidence on a lot of the water

A sheen of oil is visible on the surface of water within Poole Harbour

Serious concerns from RSPB Arne, National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust

There are serious concerns from RSPB Arne, National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust about the short and long term effects of the spill on the wading birds and marine life in the harbour and surrounding area.

A number of birds have been reported as having oil on their feathers but so far haven’t appeared distressed. One of the worries is that the oil will continue to pollute the mud on the harbour bed for years to come.

Poole Harbour has never looked so empty as paddle boarders heeded advice and stayed away

Advice to stay out of the water at Poole Harbour has been heeded

“Cause of the leak continues to be investigated”

Perenco UK, which took over operations of Wytch Farm from the oil company BP in 2011, said that the cause of the leak is still not known.

Franck Dy added:

“The location of the leak has been identified but the cause of the leak continues to be investigated by Perenco UK in close consultation with the Environment Agency and the local authorities.

“After the investigation, we will take on board any lessons that will prevent another discharge into this sensitive area.

“The integrity of the Wytch Farm infrastructure undergoes regular inspection with a complete and thorough survey of this pipeline completed less than ten months ago.

“Operations at Wytch Farm remain temporarily suspended.”

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