AN exploratory gas well will be drilled in Purbeck after planning permission was secured from Dorset County Council.

The 24-hour drilling work, extending out under the sea to search for natural gas in offshore Triassic Sherwood sandstone, is expected to begin later thisyear.

If gas is found a six-month evaluation period will follow, after which a new application would be required to extract at the site, at California Quarry in Panorama Road.

The InfraStrata application was opposed by many local residents due to concerns over noise, truck movements, atmospheric pollution and global warming.

Angela Pooley, of East Dorset Friends of the Earth, said: “We are strongly opposed to this development, which is only 500m away from Durlston Country Park.

“People have been complaining about the Navitus Bay wind farm affecting the Jurassic Coast, but this is virtually on top of it.

“We should be working towards using more renewables, as Dorset County Council committed itself to do in its renewable energy strategy.”

InfraStrata operates drilling licences and gas storage projects in Dorset and Northern Ireland, and is based in Richmond.

The firm has permission to drill for up to three years, but the work – which cannot be carried out during the summer – is only expected to last for ten weeks.

Chief executive Andrew Hindle said: “The approval for the well in Dorset is an important step in building a multi-well programme across our portfolio for the coming year.

“If we find hydrocarbons we would need to go through a separate planning process to extract.

“It could be in the same location, it is already an industrial site and is well screened and the same considerations apply.

“We are looking at conventional prospects, this is just like the nearby Kimmeridge field which has been in production for more than 50 years.”

Earlier this year county councillors granted permission to extend oil production at Purbeck’s Wytch Farm for a further 21 years.

Some campaigners against the drilling have expressed concerns that the well could be used for fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas locked in deep shale formations has proven controversial after reports that it has poisoned groundwater and caused minor earthquakes.

InfraStrata has maintained they have no intention of fracking in Dorset.

Mr Hindle said: “We carry out conventional exploration and don’t have the expertise for fracking.

“While there is potential for fracking to take place anywhere there is oil and gas it makes sense to explore for conventional sources first.

“It is in areas, like Lancashire, where the conventional sources have been exhausted that shale makes sense.”

Ms Pooley said some of those opposed to the drilling may have misunderstood the application.

“We are very strongly opposed to fracking and it is something people should be aware of, but there is no point in scaremongering,” she said. “There are six licences for drilling in Dorset and none of them allow fracking.”

“We know of no plans for any fracking in the county after doing a lot of research, although we couldn’t rule it out in future.”

  • In June Mark Abbott, managing director of Hampshire firm Egdon Resources, said he believed the geology of Dorset would not be appropriate for any large scale fracking development.

He said his firm, which holds licences in West Dorset, has no plans to frack in the county.