“Unite to Survive”; green groups come together in response to Poole harbour oil spill

Photo copyright XR-BCP

Extinction Rebellion Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (XR BCP) have held another protest – their fifth – since Perenco’s oil spill on 26 March 2023. They were joined by activists from East Dorset Friends of the Earth, Bournemouth and Poole Greenpeace, and other XR groups from across Dorset. The spill, at Ower Bay in Poole Harbour, was caused by a leak in the pipeline from the Wytch Farm oil production site owned and operated by Perenco. Protesters wanted to know:

“Why, after nine months, have those complicit in this oil spill remained silent?”

Activists assembled at 12:30 on 6 January 2024 at Poole Quay and held a peaceful, family-friendly protest and rally, with placards, banners, chalk art, a replica oil derrick and the XR BCP Rhythms Band. The action had been agreed with Dorset Police beforehand and protesters spoke to members of the public to explain why they were there.

Photo copyright XR-BCP

The parties that XR BCP claim are complicit – although not responsible – for the oil spill are Poole Harbour Commissioners, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, and Dorset Council.

According to their own website, Poole Harbour Commissioners must ensure “that contingency plans and controls are in place and regularly reviewed and tested and to endeavour to prevent spills of oil, chemicals or potentially contaminating materials”; while Dorset County Council is responsible for issuing Perenco’s licence to drill for oil in Poole Harbour.

The questions the activists posed were “Why the Silence?” and “Where are our Answers?”

Ralph Doe, a retired bookshop owner, said that he had

“contacted each of these organisations on behalf of XR BCP and asked them where they are in terms of the investigations they instituted – could they share a report of some kind? This had originally been promised much earlier in the year.

So far not one organisation has replied with any detail, just vague generalisations.”

Hannah Lindner, an Emergency Care Assistant from Southbourne, said,

“We were very lucky that the March 2023 spill was not much more serious. I’m very concerned that the risk of another and potentially larger oil leak by Perenco will increase, the longer Perenco is allowed to drill and extract oil. This is partly because of the increasing age of their infrastructure and because of their need to make their facilities, including Poole Harbour, profitable.”

In addition, there is a risk of long term damage from oil residue soaking into the mud, entering the marine and avian food chain. The impact of this on food availability for the harbour’s wildlife, will not be known until we get several years’ worth of survey data. This will tell us how badly the area has been affected, and the long term consequences.

Photo copyright XR-BCP

The latest protest is one in a series XR BCP have held about the oil spill. The first was the very next day – 27 March 2023, at Poole Quay. This was followed by a mass demonstration on 1 May, 2023 at the local offices and operating facility of Perenco’s Wytch Farm oil field works, and on Sunday 11 June  2023 activists held another information event at Poole Quay. At the beginning of September, they coordinated with XR Oxford and London to take the battle to Perenco’s headquarters in London.

Throughout these protests there has been a deafening silence from all the organisations said to be complicit in the spill – there have been no answers about what caused the oil leak, or what measures will be undertaken to prevent such incidents in future.

Ralph Doe had a final message to share:

“We are determined to keep this at the top of the local environmental agenda and we will be taking further action in the coming months.”

For more articles on the Perenco scandal, click here.