The Isle of Wight is set to host its own showdown on the future of fossil fuels, just weeks before the Prime Minister welcomes heads of state from around the world to a climate conference in Glasgow, aimed at tackling the climate crisis.

On Tuesday, members of the Isle of Wight Council's planning committee will consider an application by UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) that could see two deep holes drilled on privately-owned greenfield farmland at Arreton, over three years.

The aim is to see if there is enough oil underneath for a financially viable extraction.

If there is, the site could be earmarked (subject to new planning permission) for a longer project.

Isle of Wight County Press: The Arreton site, where UKOG wants to drill for oil.

Those opposed say it comes as fundamental questions are raised about the future of non sustainable energy, both for the Isle of Wight and the planet, but UKOG insists the site will not be polluting and will be restored to nature when work is complete.

Controversially, the council's own planning officers have recommended the three year scheme be given conditional approval.

The scene is set for a dramatic finale, between elected members, their planning staff, UKOG, and campaigners who this week descended on County Hall, armed with a petition of more than 4,000 signatures calling for the application to be rejected.

UKOG told the County Press: "We welcome the planning officers’ recommendation to approve our application.

"It was a fair and balanced report."

However, when the temporary borehole plan was advertised on the Isle of Wight Council's website, it racked up thousands more comments.

Don't Drill The Wight is among those to have been campaigning against the proposal for five years.

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So will planning committee members opt to represent the many thousands of residents (and voters) opposed to the scheme, by going against the recommendation of their officers?

If they do, and their reasons are not considered to have been strong enough, they face an appeal and possible financial action, but a precedent has already been set by their mainland counterparts.

In June 2020, similar plans for a site in Surrey were turned down, despite the recommended approval of the county council's planning department.

In September this year, plans to expand an existing site in East Yorkshire were rejected.

Conservative councillor Suzie Ellis represents Central Wight, which includes Arreton.

She does not want the Isle of Wight drilling plan to go ahead and told the County Press: "This is an unacceptable proposal, which would cause irreparable damage to the natural environment in this special part of the Island.

"This application should be refused, and there are sustainable reasons for doing so.

"I will do all that I can, to maximise the prospects of this application being refused, on a sound policy basis that would be fully defendable at appeal.

"It is ultimately up to members to determine this application."

Isle of Wight County Press: Cllr Jonathan Bacon.Cllr Jonathan Bacon.

Councillor Jonathan Bacon, member for the environment, feels equally strongly.

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He said: "I hope the application will be turned down.

"It runs entirely counter to the principles of sustainability and support for our environment, and our status as a Biosphere which we, as an administration, are supporting and developing.

"The limited economic gain, based on the outdated reliance on fossil fuels, is no justification for the harm that will be done and the risks that will be created to valuable parts of our ecology.

"I hope committee members will see sense and use their judgment to support our environment and look to the long term future, rather than permit a short term and short sighted money making project."

In its application, UKOG said the Arreton project site is not in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Boreholes would be six inches in diameter and lined with steel and concrete, three quarters of a mile or more below the surface, to protect from contamination.

It said there would not be polluting discharge and said an 'impermeable membrane' would be laid down to protect the active area' of the site, and drinking water sources.

UKOG also argues the top of its drilling mast will be seen from most directions, but not the rest of the rig, and it would not be on site for the full three years.

There will, however, be associated lighting in the rural area below the Downs road.

Isle of Wight County Press: Blue Seas Protection's Susan Betts and Garry Oates, Councillor Jonathan Bacon, member for environment and Councillor Paul Fuller.

Blue Seas Protection's Susan Betts and Garry Oates, Councillor Jonathan Bacon, member for environment and Councillor Paul Fuller, and campaigners at County Hall.

In 2019, UKOG chief executive Stephen Sanderson said: "If we drill our wells and it is not promising, the sites will be reinstated and there will be no impact.

"But we would not be doing this if there was no chance of oil. We need to know if it's commercially viable."

In a statement to the County Press this week, Blue Seas Protection chairperson Captain Garry Oates said: "We cannot believe that the Isle of Wight Council planning dept has recommended conditional approval.

"Considering the council has declared a climate emergency with a commitment to Island-wide net zero carbon by 2040 and has promised protection for our unique Biosphere, we find this is directly at odds with the recommendation."

Campaigners fear that leaks might still find their way into the Island's water supply and told the County Press: "We believe, if approved, the application is is tantamount to ecocide"

Ten wells were drilled on the Isle of Wight between 1925 and 2005, and in Arreton there were two - in 1952 and 1974, but no oil or gas was discovered.