THEY may have missed their original target but the team drilling for oil off Bournemouth have still struck black gold – an estimated 15 million barrels of it.

Corallian Energy’s exploration well on the Colter Field in Poole Bay made the surprise discovery to the south of the site the firm originally intended to hit.

Despite missing the mark, the ‘jack-up’ rig, which arrived in the area earlier this month, continued to drill and has now struck oil and gas.

It is now thought Colter South could yield 15 million barrels of oil, but, said the company: “Further work will be required to refine this assessment with the new well data.”

Another oil firm, Reabold Resources, which has a 32 per cent interest in Corallian Energy, said in a statement: “Reabold believes that the location and nature of the asset will result in highly attractive economics, with a low development cost, fast payback and a very low oil price breakeven.”

Now the partners in the venture are intending to drill an angled well targeting the northern side of the field, and have submitted an application to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to that end.

The move has met with anger from campaigners seeking to prevent or minimise the drilling, and charities the Dorset Wildlife Trust and the Seahorse Trust have previously expressed concern. Hannah Sharland, from Save Our Shores Bournemouth, said: “Not only have Corallian been permitted to breach a ‘key mitigation factor’ from their environment statement regarding the limit to drilling within the winter period, but now they are applying for additional drilling and another chemical permit to release more chemicals into the bay.

"This reckless plan will put many endangered and protected species of wildlife, such as the two types of seahorse found in the area and many important species of fish, at further unnecessary risk. It will also interfere with commercial fishing in the area.

"The discovery of a new well and applications for more drilling is in direct contradiction to our commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.

"We will continue to campaign to stop oil expansion in the bay."

Corallian, which does not plan to extract the oil itself, says the reservoir could be accessed via the existing facilities at Wytch Farm in Poole.

Drilling in Poole Bay was originally to be completed by today. However, the arrival of the oil rig ENSCO 72 was delayed by almost a week due to bad weather.

Corallian won an extension to its licence earlier this month, which allowed it to stay in the bay until the end of March. At the time, Bournemouth council leaders said they were “extremely disappointed” local authorities were not consulted on the bid.

Wildlife experts recently voiced their concern after an ‘unusual’ number of marine mammals were found washed up.