THE OIL company set to drill at Arreton has come head to head with campaigners Frack Free Isle of Wight in the fight over public relations.

UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), which holds an exploration licence for oil and gas on the Isle of Wight, has accused Frack Free Isle of Wight of scaremongering and making false claims.

Frack Free Isle of Wight issued an open letter to local landowners, highlighting risks of leasing their land to oil and gas companies.

Stephen Sanderson, UKOG chief executive, said: "Frack Free Isle of Wight has made some outrageous and malicious claims about what we plan to do on the Island.

"It is totally false that we are fracking, acid fracking, stimulating with acid and employing other 'aggressive' techniques that will pose a threat to the environment, to the water supply or the health of residents.

"Frack Free Isle of Wight should be ashamed of the damaging scaremongering they have embarked upon.

"Let us be absolutely clear: We do not frack, we do not need to frack, and we will not be applying for permits to frack."

Frack Free Isle of Wight said: "We asked landowners to think carefully about the long-term effects of allowing this industry to gain a foothold on the Island.

"Rural landowners are custodians of significant chunks of our natural environment, their decisions and actions can have lasting impacts on everyone's future.

"We believe the protection of our natural environment and long-term water supplies should be more important than short term profit.

"We also feel that it is important for all possible future scenarios to be considered before decisions are made."

In its letter, Frack Free Isle of Wight indicated UKOG may have downplayed the potential for future use of controversial extraction techniques. It pointed out that there was a difference between conventional oil and tight oil.

It also told landowners that NFU insurance no longer covered environmental damage caused by oil works and that senior government officials had said that if oil companies go bankrupt, the liability for clean-up operations could revert to the landowner.

The letter also warned landowners there would be 'massive' local opposition on environmental grounds to the establishment of new sites for fossil fuel extraction on the Isle of Wight.

UKOG's Mr Sanderson said: "Our operations are rigorously regulated by the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, the UK Government’s Oil and Gas Authority and, of course, the Isle of Wight Council as the mineral planning authority.

"We adhere fully to the strictest regulations and we have an exemplary record of employing both high operational standards and high levels of openness in our dealings with residents and stakeholders.

"We are solely pursuing conventional oil reservoirs, which, like our Horse Hill oil field near Gatwick Airport, we aim to flow naturally without the so called 'stimulation' techniques erroneously referred to by Frack Free Isle of Wight.

"Crucially, our targets are not 'tight' reservoirs as Frack Free Isle of Wight claims, as is evident by the record-breaking natural flows at Horse Hill.

"Our sites are zero discharge, employing the use of impermeable membranes, which means all produced or stored fluids, even rainwater, are taken from site by road tanker. No fluids can enter the ground underlying the site."

UKOG has also said that it will not use any form of matrix acidisation, due to its potentially adverse effects on the flow of oil.

The company has promised that if it receives planning permission, it will establish a community liaison group to have dialogue with residents.

Mr Sanderson said: "We will also ensure that residents will benefit from our success — we propose to share six per cent of gross revenues (i.e. before our costs and taxes) with the Isle of Wight, comprised of business rates taxes and a royalty to the local community.

"And in the event of a poor result from our operations, UKOG would then swiftly restore the site to its original agricultural condition. This is a normal part of our business."

UKOG has said that if it is given permission to explore for oil and gas, there will be site construction activity for the first six to eight weeks.

Drilling will last around 60 days, during which, there will be a period of five to seven days at the beginning and end where up to ten lorries per day will be needed to bring in and take out the rig.

During the rest of the drilling operation, there will be one or two lorries a day.

After the rig has gone, rig-less flow testing of the well would commence for up to a few months to assess the well’s commercial viability.

Any produced oil would initially be exported via road tankers, up to five per day.

A spokesperson for Frack Free Isle of Wight said: "If ever there was a time to think globally but to act locally, it is now.

"With the Isle of Wight bidding to be designated as a UNESCO biosphere and the council pledging to implement environmental action plans for a sustainable future, it should be unthinkable that new drilling operations on the Island would be approved.

"However, this is no time for complacency, UKOG's response to our letter indicates that they are very serious in their intentions to commence operations on the Isle of Wight.

"Frack Free Isle of Wight is calling on all Islanders to get involved with this issue, to understand the impacts and to actively engage with the planning process when applications to establish drilling operations are submitted.

"Now is the time for all who care about the future state of our local and global environments to stand firm in the face of operations that place profit before planet."

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