Corallian has commenced drilling at the Colter exploration well in Poole Bay, 6km off the Bournemouth coast. The works have begun despite concerns raised by the Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) regarding the project's potential impacts on local habitats and wildlife.
According to the DWT, the drilling is scheduled to run for a recommended 38 days and should be completed before the 28 February 2019. DWT is concerned the drilling will overrun the deadline, which aims to reduce the impact of the works on migrating species and spawning fish. However, a recent statement from Corallian has indicated the drilling works should run for approximately three weeks, potentially falling within the deadline.
The DWT has also aired concerns about the chemicals due to be discharged from the drill site into the sea. However, it acknowledges the most contaminated cuttings from the site are set to be disposed of onshore, as outlined in the project's environmental statement.
Emma Rance, BWT’s marine conservation officer commented: "Studland Bay which is only 4km away from the drill site is a known breeding ground for seahorses. Short-snouted seahorses (protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) are recorded within the licenced drilling area in Poole Bay."
Drilling at the site began on 6 February and, once complete, the well is set to be evaluated, permanently plugged and abandoned.
The decision to begin drilling follows an extension of the protections surrounding the adjacent Poole Harbour. Revealed by Defra at the end of January, the extension saw a further 1,800ha of land and sea brought within the site to help protect the harbour.
Natural England’s interim chief executive, Marian Spain, said: "I am delighted . . . that we have been able to extend the protection for this internationally important site. Poole Harbour is one of the very few SSSIs to include important subtidal habitat, home to an abundance of species including dense forests of Peacock Worms."