Following their successful march to Perenco’s Wytch Farm facility in Dorset, environmental campaigners Extinction Rebellion are returning to Poole Quay this Sunday, June 11 from 12:30. On this, their third family friendly protest, they will gather to demand that Perenco’s operating permits and license be revoked as the risk that Perenco’s extraction poses to the harbour is too high. Their message – Perenco cannot be trusted!
This follows the recent leak of at least 200 barrels of ‘toxic water and oil’ into the Harbour in March.
Extinction Rebellion Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (XR BCP) say that if you weigh the value of Poole Harbour in terms of its beauty, its value to local residents, its biodiversity and conservation importance, and its tourist income value, against the increasing threat that Perenco’s aging oil extraction operation poses to the above value, it’s obvious that the drilling should be stopped now.
Poole Harbour is one of the most protected areas in the UK. It is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) encompassing an area of International Importance for Wildlife Conservation and Special Protection Area. It is a Ramsar site, which is a wetland designated to be of international importance within the Ramsar Convention under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Wetlands. It encompasses three National Nature Reserves, including the internationally important Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve. It also includes several local and non-statutory nature reserves run by organisations such as the National Trust and the RSPB.
Additionally, in 2019 Natural England confirmed the extension of the Poole Harbour SSSI. The move saw a further 1,800 hectares of land and sea brought within the site to help protect the entire harbour – an increase of 40 per cent. It is the first SSSI specifically to include subtidal areas (particularly prone to oil-based pollution), which will protect the feeding areas of internationally important tern populations.
As the then Environment Secretary Michael Gove said, as:
“Part of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex landscape, this protection of a large part of Poole Harbour will continue to ensure that generations to come can enjoy the Dorset coast. Through this action, Natural England is making a vital contribution to our nation’s cultural and environmental heritage.” The government goes on to say that “beautiful Poole Harbour is a magnet for both people and wildlife”.
On the other side of the equation, XR BCP point out that the Perenco Group is a French/Anglo business registered in London, and ultimately controlled by a firm in the Bahamas tax haven. The company specialises in working mature (that is, old) and marginal oil and gas projects (2).
Caz Dennett, an experienced Safety Consultant in the oil and gas industry, says the likelihood of further leaks and spills increase as facilities age.
“I’ve witnessed many aging facilities become more risky, as the temptation for operators and owners to neglect maintenance, cut corners and cutback on resources increases as profits wane.” She adds that “Perenco, who have many operations around the UK, made a £113 million loss in 2019, and £107 million loss again in 2020. To offset this, they’ve reduced their operating costs by 10 per cent. In real speak this means they have made cuts. These cuts come at a cost, and Dorset has paid the price!”
Local campaigners and an investigative journalist made a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to monitor Perenco’s operations. They reveal that Perenco have caused at least ten other pollution events at the Wytch Farm oilfield. In 2018, investigative journalist Russell Scott found that Perenco had caused five pollution events at the site between 2013 and 2017, including four leaks between 2013-2017.
iNews revealed that between 2011 and 2020, at least ten pollution events occurred. These include incidents where the operator exceeded safe levels of harmful gas emissions like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. On one occasion, Perenco went three times over the permitted limit of carbon monoxide. In another case they caused a leak of 40 barrels worth of hydrochloric acid. Local Green Party Councillor and anti-fossil fuel campaigner Chris Rigby tweeted that
“these previous spills showed that the current major incident was a disaster waiting to happen”.
Ralph Doe a retired book shop owner states that
“this is a dirty business which goes on every day all over the world, mainly hidden from public view.” He adds that “Perenco operates in 16 countries and has caused environmental destruction and harm to communities in many of these places.”
In the town of Muanda on the Atlantic coast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), hundreds of oil spills have devastated the rivers and pastures of 700km of protected mangrove swamp. Perenco is allegedly responsible for 167 pollution incidents and huge methane emissions from flaring, with an estimated carbon footprint equivalent to 21 million Congolese people. There are numerous reports of crude oil leaks into the ground and streams. (6)
A local source from Extinction Rebellion in the DRC (XR DRC), who needs to remain anonymous, has stated that
“Perenco is seeking to extend its activities into other vulnerable protected areas including the Virunga National Park. If Perenco succeeds it could destroy the Park completely and harm the lives of five million people who live close to this vast protected area and who live by farming and fishing.”
XR DRC have two demands: the first is that
“President Felix immediately withdraw his confidence in the Perenco company and cancel recent calls for tender for 27 oil and three gas concessions, and also to terminate without delay the contract between Perenco and the DRC.”
The second request is that “Perenco compensate for damage and losses to all families in and around Moanda and to cease all activities in the DRC”.
In Gabon, a coalition of NGOs and locals took Perenco to court in 2021 following multiple oil spills and pollution incidents in the Étimboué region. This contamination has had wide-ranging effects on the local population, including health problems, water pollution and poisoned crops and fish. This has destroyed the livelihoods of many indigenous people; while they have been compensated, they say it is not enough. This has been filmed and is clearly demonstrated here:
In Columbia, Perenco has been given fines amounting to $169,000 from 27 cases. The fines were handed out because of damage to residents and vegetation and animals, especially in the Casanare region.
There are unconfirmed reports that Perenco’s operations in Trinidad have been plagued by accidents and injuries to local workers, including a fire on the Teak Alpha platform in January 2020 that left two workers in hospital. There have also been reports of mistreatment of offshore workers by Perenco. There has been very little media coverage, even among local outlets.
Helen Nicol, a Healthcare Professional from XR BCP, says the damage that could be wrought to Poole Harbour would be catastrophic, in this most sensitive, fragile, biodiverse and supposedly protected area. Is any of the environmental protection lavished on Poole Harbour meaningful, when the risk of further and worse leaks increases as Perenco’s Wytch Farm equipment and facilities continues to age and deteriorate?
Local Environmental Groups plan to protest at Poole Quay on Sunday June 11, 12:30.
Local environmental activists and campaigners argue that with such a poor safety record we cannot take the risk of allowing Perenco to continue drilling in Poole Harbour. They demand that Perenco’s operation should have its licence revoked and be prepared to shutdown permanently now.
In the meantime, the campaigners urge people to get involved, join the protest, and sign the petition.