GREEN campaigners say the leak that prompted a two-month shutdown at BP’s Wytch Farm oilfield should be viewed as “a wake-up call for potential disaster in Dorset”.

Energy giant BP confirmed yesterday that it was forced to cease production at its plant near Wareham – the biggest onshore oilfield in Western Europe – following the leak in November.

The Wytch Farm plant normally produces an average of 18,000 barrels a day, but since the leak – less than a year after the devastating Gulf of Mexico oil disaster – no oil has been pumped at the Purbeck site, a situation costing BP millions in lost revenue.

Friends of the Earth’s east Dorset co-ordinator Angela Pooley said: “It is a good thing that they reacted quickly and closed it down, but this should be a reminder to everybody of the potential for serious damage – especially while we are looking to expand oil exploration in this area.”

Dr Suzie Baverstock, Wytch Farm’s communications and land management team leader, assured the Daily Echo the leak, occurring at one of the well sites, was small and there was no contamination to surrounding water or countryside.

“It was contained and dealt with very promptly by ourselves,” she said. “No oil left the site whatsoever.”

BP say after the initial shutdown, they took the opportunity carry out maintenance work across the plant. Operations are due to re-start at Wytch Farm within the next few days.

Meanwhile, Mrs Pooley, said: “We’ve been very fortunate in Dorset, considering the length of time BP have been here, that we haven’t had any major leaks. I would suggest BP are very, very sensitive at the moment – and so they should be.

“Locally they have a good record, but internationally their record is poor. This should be a wake-up call to us all to remind us of the potential for disaster in Dorset.”

There are 80 wells on the oilfield, tapping into three separate oil reservoirs that lie under Poole Harbour and Poole Bay.

The oilfield is sited in one of the most environmentally sensitive parts of the UK – an area comprising of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Areas, World Heritage coastline and National Trust land.

Dorset Wildlife Trust chief executive Simon Cripps said: “Dorset Wildlife Trust is of course concerned about any report of leaks in what is an extremely sensitive and important natural area.

“We expect that BP will take all necessary measures to ensure that no oil whatsoever escapes into the natural environment.

“We also expect that BP will keep people informed as to the actions they are taking and any potential threats.”

Last spring the Daily Echo reported how Australian firm, Norwest, had joined forces with UK outfit, Wessex Exploration, on a project that could see drilling at seven additional sites across an area known as the Wessex Basin, which stretches across the Dorset-Hampshire border.