AN exploratory gas well will be drilled near Swanage 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 late next year.

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.

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.