Oil leaks into water at Poole Harbour

Clean-up operation is under way after UK's largest onshore field released about 200 barrels of oil into sea in south-west England

Oil workers at the scene at Wellsite D at Owers Bay in Poole harbour. Getty Images
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A major incident was declared in south-west England on Sunday, after oil from the UK’s largest onshore oilfield leaked into the water.

Approximately 200 barrels of reservoir fluid was released into Poole Harbour after the leak in an underwater pipeline at Wytch Farm oilfield in Dorset on Sunday.

Gas company Perenco UK confirmed the “limited” leak came from one of its well sites, and that the pipeline was shut down, and booms used to control the spread of oil were placed on either side of it.

On Monday, Philip Broadhead, the leader of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council, said there were early indications that the environmental impact may be limited.

“When I first heard about this yesterday I was angry and disappointed. We have the second largest natural harbour in the world here, award winning beaches, a very delicate ecosystem. So the natural reaction is to be very worried,” he told Radio 4's Today show.

“It’s a small leak of reservoir fluid. So about 85 per cent water and 15 per cent oil, which was caught fortunately quite quickly. They stopped any further leaks.”

Early indications suggested the slick is already dispersing, he said.

“But once we have got some clear air on this we will have to look at this investigation and some serious questions will need to be answered,” added Mr Broadhead.

Jim Stewart, chief executive of Poole Harbour Commissioners, advised members of the public against swimming in Poole Harbour or the surrounding area “until further notice”.

Approximately 200 barrels of reservoir fluid was released into Poole Harbour. PA

“Anyone who has come into contact with the spill should wash immediately with soap and water. If eyes have come into contact with the spill, they should be rinsed with water,” he added.

Franck Dy, Perenco UK’s Wytch Farm general manager, 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.”

The firm confirmed a clean-up operation was under way.

An Environment Agency representative said: “We have received reports of a large amount of oil in Poole Harbour and we are supporting the port authority and other partners in responding to this incident.”

The Wytch Farm oilfield in the Purbecks has been operating since 1979 and is one of the largest onshore oilfields in Europe.

It is located on the southern shore of Poole Harbour, the world's second largest natural harbour.

Updated: March 27, 2023, 12:04 PM

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