Wytch Farm oil production extended in Dorset

Nodding donkey at Kimmeridge oilfield Future development at Wytch Farm, Kimmeridge and Wareham oilfields includes drilling new wells

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Oil production is to be extended for a further 21 years at western Europe's biggest onshore oilfield, in Dorset.

Dorset County Council granted permission for Perenco UK Ltd to extend the operational life of Wytch Farm, in Poole Harbour, from 2016.

Wytch Farm currently produces 20,000 barrels per day. The remaining reserves are estimated to be 43m barrels.

Approval is subject to a number of conditions, including the prevention of fracking for shale gas.

The council's planning committee approved a total of 39 applications, including extensions at Wareham and Kimmeridge oilfields which are also operated by Perenco UK Limited.

Other conditions include the restoration of surrounding heathland.

'National significance'

The future development at the oilfields includes drilling new wells and maintaining existing ones.

Concerns raised over the extension of production at the sites included noise, air quality and vibrations.

History of Wytch Farm, Wareham and Kimmeridge oilfields:

  • Wytch Farm was discovered in the Wessex Basin in 1973 and sits in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • It was operated by BP from 1984 and at its peak, in 1996/7, it produced 110,000 barrels per day
  • Kimmeridge oilfield was discovered in 1959 and was developed into a production facility by BP in 1960
  • In 1964, Wareham oilfield was discovered and commercial production started there in 1991
  • BP sold its stakes in all three oilfields to Perenco UK Ltd in May 2011
  • As of June 2012, a total of 102 wells had been drilled from 13 well sites at the oilfields

Source: Dorset County Council

According to the council's planning report the continued use of the oilfields until 2037 is of "national significance" because they represent about 1.5% of the remaining proven onshore and offshore UK oil reserves.

About 650 people are currently employed at the sites and it is believed extending production will secure between 440 and 760 jobs until October 2037, by which time all sites are expected to be decommissioned.

The estimated contribution to the UK economy of the three sites is £300m per year.

Although the fracking of shale gas has never been carried out at the sites, there were no restrictions under the existing planning permissions.

However, the report said an environmental statement stated there were no known shale gas or coal bed methane deposits in Perenco's licence blocks, and no plans for it to seek any.

Perenco UK Ltd has pledged £1.7m towards off-site work to compensate for "adverse impacts" of the development, including the retention and management of surrounding trees used to screen the sites.

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