An oil leak from a pipeline owned by gas company Perenco contaminated waters in Poole Harbour,  UK, on Sunday. A major incident has now been declared while the clean-up of approximately 200 barrels of reservoir fluid continues.

Perenco said in a statement that a small amount of the fluid, which is allegedly 85% water and 15% oil, escaped from a pipeline in Wytch Farm, an oil field and processing facility that produces approximately 14,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

A clean-up operation is underway, and the company has said that the leak is “under control” with “no risk” of further leakage, the BBCreports. It added that it has activated an oil spill plan and that the pipeline has been shut down.

Poole Harbour Commissioners (PHC), the harbour’s regulator for leisure, commercial and environmental activities, has advised members of the public to avoid swimming at beaches within Poole Harbour until further notice.

Sir Robert Symn, the Member of Parliament for Poole, said he and South Dorset MP Richard Drax have requested the government take urgent action on the incident on Monday.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council said it is “working as part of a multi-agency response to the major incident declared this afternoon”. Phillip Broadhead, leader of the council, said in a tweet that the council team will “be working to see what implications this leak may have and what action we may need to take”.

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“It is of course extremely disappointing to hear of this event, and while there will be a time later for anger and investigation, our focus now must be on ensuring we can mitigate any impacts of this situation,” he added.

Impacts on a Site of Special Scientific Interest

PHC said in a press release: “Anyone who has come into contact with the spill should wash immediately with soap and water. If eyes have come into contact with the spill, they should be rinsed with water.” It said a further assessment of the clean-up operation will be announced on Monday morning, though this is yet to happen.

The statement also said that “it is unlikely that there will be any long-term health effects from short exposures”.

However, risk to local wildlife remains less clear. Poole Harbour is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its extensive wildlife habitats and populations. In 2019, protections for the coastline were extended by nearly 40% to better protect feeding sites for wading birds.

Hundreds of overdue repair orders

Perenco has a history of safety breaches regarding its UK operations. The company has been served 18 notices by the Health and Safety Executive since 2016 identifying violations of health and safety regulations.

In June last year, the company was given an Improvement Notice for its Norwich site, in which it was stated that of the 424 items on their overdue list, 237 “safety and safety critical items on the hydrocarbon live installations were noted as beyond the ‘max overdue date’”. The notice also identified that the company is not following the procedures and arrangements in its safety management methodology.