“AS long as we have fossil fuels being extracted we face these kinds of risks.”
Those were the words of Sandra Reeve from the Dorset Climate Action Network (DCAN) after around 200 barrels of ‘reservoir fluid’ were leaked into Poole Harbour over the weekend.
Made up of 85% water and 15% oil – the leak came from the Wytch Farm Oilfield, the largest onshore oil field in the UK, run by Anglo-French firm, Perenco.
Jim Stewart, CEO of Poole Harbour Commissioners, said its emergency oil spill plan was activated on Sunday morning (March 26), with spill response companies called in, alongside Dorset Police, Dorset Council, Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council, the NHS, Environment Agency and Natural England after a major incident was declared.
Bathers are being advised to stay out of the waters in Poole Harbour and nearby beaches as a ‘precaution’.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people have been involved in a clean-up operation at the harbour.
The Poole Harbour Commissioners said on Monday (March 27): “Helicopters, drones, vessels and shore patrols are out gathering data and feeding it back to our Emergency Response Centre.
“Aerial footage gathered … suggests that there is a 60%-70% reduction in oil sightings on the water.”
They said anyone who comes into contact with th spill should wash with soap and water for 10 minutes. If they feel unwell, they should call NHS 111 or see their GP.
But the DCAN said the leak highlighted the need to move away from fossil fuels.
“This really shines a light on the impacts of fossil fuel extraction at a time when we need to move swiftly away from such a damaging industry,” said Sandra Reeve, one of the DCAN coordinators.
“We call on the regulators and planners who licence the operations at Wytch Farm to call time on it as soon as the current licences run out, or terminate them sooner if that’s possible.
“This area is vitally important for wildlife and this couldn’t have come at a worse time – at the start of the bird breeding season.”
Around 100 wells have been drilled in the area since initial permission was granted in the 1970s.
Dr Malcolm Hudson, an associate professor in environmental science at the University of Southampton, said: “While we don’t know the full extent of the leak yet, a spill in Poole harbour raises particular concerns.
“It’s a very large enclosed bay, and so pollutants may not be flushed out quickly by the tides. Also, it’s a very low-energy environment, so unlike a spill on an open coast there won’t be much wave action to help break down and disperse the oil.
“Poole harbour is especially sensitive, and internationally protected for the wildlife there.”
Speaking after the spill, leader of BCP Council, Cllr Philip Broadhead (Con, Talbot & Branksome Woods), said: “It is of course extremely disappointing to hear of this event, and while there will be a time later for anger and investigation, our focus now must be on ensuring we can mitigate and impacts of this situation.”
But Sandra said the risks remain while the fields stay open.
“As long as we have fossil fuels being extracted we face these kinds of risks,” she said.
“Additionally we have the daily risk of releasing greenhouse gases from fossil fuels into our atmosphere, setting us on course for climate catastrophe which will lead to significant species loss and human misery.
“We cannot continue simply to count the cost of oil spills like this and carry on as before. We must work to end this ruinous activity which has no part in a safe future.”