Poole Harbour: Major incident declared after 200-barrel oil and fluid leak

Poole Harbour which has endured oil spill Poole Harbour entrance

“Avoid using the water … avoid using the beaches.” That was the message from Jim Stewart, CEO of Poole Harbour Commissioners (PHC), late on Sunday evening (26 March 2023) as the magnitude of an oil leak in Poole Harbour was being assessed.

“A major incident was declared after about 200 barrels of reservoir fluid, including oil, leaked into the water. PHC says the leak occurred at a pipeline operated by gas company Perenco, under Owers Bay on Sunday. The leak came from Wytch Farm, an oil field and processing facility which produces around 14,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, according to the BBC.

It’s just unacceptable; there are no other words for this,” Philip Broadhead, Conservative leader of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, told BBC Radio Four. “The operator Perenco has already said there will be an investigation. But this is a very delicate ecosystem. We’ve got lots of natural wildlife. We’re one of Europe’s major tourist resorts. So this [has happened] in precisely the place you don’t want anything like this to happen… It does look cautiously positive — it was a small amount that was very diluted and was caught quickly. But serious questions need to be answered.”

Perenco site with pipes into Poole Harbour which caused oil spill
Image courtesy of PHC

“Any spill is an extremely serious matter, and a full investigation will be launched to ascertain what happened in Poole Harbour,” says Franck Dy, Perenco UK’s Wytch Farm general manager.

“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.”

According to Perenco, a small amount of reservoir fluid — made up of 85 per cent water and 15 per cent oil — escaped from the pipeline, and the situation is under control and a clean-up is underway.

“As soon as any material gets to shore, that has bigger ecological effects. We ideally want it out to sea and dispersing as quickly as possible,” says Broadhead.

“One hopes we have avoided any real disaster here, but early indications are that the slick is dispersing.”

PHC says it activated its oil spill plan, and the pipeline was shut down, with booms placed on either side of the leak. It reported that Perenco had told the organisation that there was “no risk” of further leakage and that the surface slick was “already dispersing”.

In a statement, PHC said: “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.”

Companies specialising in oil spill response have also been mobilised, according to PHC. A further assessment of the clean-up operation will be made today (27 March).

In October 2022, International Paint Limited was found guilty of polluting the Yealm Estuary in Devon. Read MIN’s exclusive account of the shocking twists and turns of the pathway to court, which revealed the continuing and pressing need to hold global multinationals to account.

Poole Harbour, Europe’s largest natural harbour, is a site of nature conservation, a wetland teeming with wading birds and has many international protections in place. Poole Tourism says it is a Ramsar site which recognises wetlands of international importance particularly for wildfoul. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest which recognises the country’s most spectacular and beautiful habitats and a Special Protection Area.

In September 2021, a plane carrying a wing-walker crash-landed in the water during a display as part of Bournemouth Air Festival. That followed a kite surfer being rescued from a tree by emergency services in Poole (March 2021) after he was blown up and out of the water.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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