An environmental permit for oil drilling?

If you’re angry about the Cambo Oil Field, don’t let these plans to drill for oil on the Isle of Wight fall under the radar.

After a brief pause, the UK is back considering new applications for oil discovery in the North Sea. It’s chosen not to follow the example set by Denmark and France in banning new exploration licenses – and is currently in hot water over the pending approval of a giant oil field near Shetland.

Cambo Oil Field will not need to meet new ‘climate checkpoint’ rules as it’s an extension of a previously-licensed field. The harvesting of its estimated 800 million barrels of oil will, however, have an obvious climate impact. 

Activist organisations like Friends of the Earth and Paid to Pollute are rightly lobbying against the jaw-dropping proposal. The IEA recently advised that – to avoid a 1.5°C temperature rise – there should be no new fossil fuel development. We already have more than enough oil in existing reserves; parceling new sites off as part of a ‘just and gradual energy transition’ doesn’t cut it. 

But the nation is still fielding other applications beyond the higher-profile North Sea. These shouldn’t be allowed to slip through the net. UK Oil and Gas’ proposal for new wells on the Isle of Wight promises nothing like the amount of oil at Cambo. The principle behind it, however, is the same. 

I’ve written in detail about UKOG’s faults as a company – think greenwashing, inflated salaries, and £1M losses in six months – before. You can read that here. Overall the firm is playing a risky game, and the environment is just a pawn on its chessboard. 

As well as going against climate targets, drilling at UKOG’s Arreton site would lead to a loss of green space, extra traffic and pollution, damage to water supply, and threats to native wildlife. The Isle of Wight is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Its residents, who notably voted in two new Green Party councillors in the 2021 local elections, have made their thoughts known. 

UKOG’s planning permission application – which closed for public comment in February – attracted a record 3,400 written objections. Don’t Drill The Wight and IOW Protection, who led the way with this response, are this July rallying the troops once again. 

The oil and gas company has asked for a permit from the Environment Agency which, if given, would make the road to oil exploration much smoother. If the EA decides the site and UKOG’s activities will cause notable environmental damage and pollution, and threaten human health, it will refuse the permit. 

Members of the public are encouraged to share their perspectives up until the 9th July deadline. 

Independent Isle of Wight councillor John Medland comments,

“Since 2015 our Tory government… has so twisted the planning process to ensure the Arreton application will probably go through, if not by IWC [Isle of Wight Council], by the national planning office in Bristol or the Secretary of State on appeals."

"With the toothless Environment Agency recently approving a scheme to pump radioactive waste water into the ‘protected’ Sussex chalk downs, it seems it is up to us now.” 

Whether you live in Isle of Wight or not, you have a handful of days left to make your views on searching for new oil in a climate emergency known. 

Submit a comment to the Environment Agency here. Follow the advice on the Don’t Drill The Wight website to make it as relevant and impactful as possible.