WORK will start this winter preparing a site in Purbeck ready for the drilling of an oil and gas exploration well.

The project, at California Quarry near Swanage, is being carried out by InfraStrata plc and will only use conventional drilling methods.

The company says it will not involve hydraulic fracturing (fracking), either now or in the future.

InfraStrata’s chief executive, Dr Andrew Hindle, said: “We have now discharged all the pre-start planning conditions required by Dorset County Council and are preparing to start on the site this winter.

“Before this, we plan to run a short seismic programme to further image the geology under the wellpath and finalise the design of the well.”

The planning consent restricts site construction and drilling activity to between September and March.

“Before we start on site this winter, we are going to hold another public information event to ensure that everyone living locally and further afield is fully informed of our plans,’ Dr Hindle added.

“We want people to know that we are only using conventional drilling methods to target Jurassic and Triassic sandstones and limestones to reach reservoirs which have been in production elsewhere in Dorset using these same methods for many decades.”

The three-acre site for the exploratory well lies within California Quarry, southwest of Swanag. It is on a previously quarried area of a working quarry which he company says has been chosen carefully to minimise the impact on neighbours.

The project includes the construction of an enclosed well site compound within the three-acre site comprising a flat stone surface, soil screening, containment bunds and a security fence. Using conventional directional drilling, the well will reach a depth of approximately 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) below the sea to the south of the site.

There are three phases to the drilling process.

1. Construction of the wellsite - expected to take up to eight weeks

2. The assembly and installation of drilling equipment and facilities and drilling of the exploratory well - expected to take up to eight weeks and likely to be undertaken in late winter or early next winter.

3. Should oil or gas be encountered, the drilling rig would be demobilised and InfraStrata would undertake a long-term test with the well to establish whether it could produce oil or gas commercially using conventional methods.

Any subsequent development of the site would require planning permission. If no commercial oil or gas are encountered, then the well will be plugged and abandoned and the wellsite restored to its original state.

Speaking about the potential benefits of the project, Dr Hindle said: “If oil or gas were encountered and later successfully developed in Purbeck - following the relevant approvals - it would have a positive longer term impact on local and national industry, with local job creation and other economic benefits.

“In the short term, although drilling operations require specialised personnel, some support services contracts will be sourced locally. Nearby hotels, guesthouses and shops will benefit from the drilling rig and associated services personnel.”