My Favourite Oil Wells

You should see them on the Alberta wheat fields , bobbing up and down in the seas of wheat like deranged mechanical prairie dogs.....

Now, I knew that here in England we had our own onshore oil field, at Wytch Farm, near Swanage in Dorset. It has been there since 1936, carefully hidden in trees on a chalk ridge. It holds around 0.5 billion barrels of oil, which makes it a tiddler by global standards but still a giant among the plankton-sized fields in the rest of the UK.

Wytch Farm : The Dorset Donkeys

Some ten years ago, it looked as if its crown was going to be surrendered. A huge oil reservoir had been found in Sussex which the ever-excitable press labelled the 'Gatwick Gusher' and trumpeted would turn England into the Kuwait of Europe. One hundred billion barrels - two hundred times the amount of the noxious goo at Wytch Farm, and the size of a respectable North Sea reservoir, were waiting to be pumped out. They said. 

Sadly, there were a couple of minor snags. For a kick off, some of it was buried under Gatwick Airport. And much of the rest of it was under pretty and pricey countryside within commutable distance from London. So as you can imagine the good Burghers of North Sussex weren't too chuffed about it. Their resistance was 'rock' solid and they wanted nothing to do fracking. The social geology was more obstinate than the physical. No amount of oily PR from the drillers, or reminders that what was proposed was drilling, not fracking, could allay their indignation. 

They oilmen haven't given up yet though and after years of sage cogitation (!) and maybe just a little (!!!!) political interference, a planning application has now been granted for the exploratory drilling. Good job. We cannot hurry these things! As you can see from the two pics below the place isn't exactly gushing with activity just now. 

The Horse Hill Drilling Site: Recent. 
And what's in the Box? 

For those of you who follow the pink pages, the company behind all this is UK Oil & Gas. Until a few years ago they were run by a bloke called David Leningas, an Aussie 'entrepreneur' (chancer?) known in the investment business as Laughingas. He cut his teeth in Tiny Rowland's predatory Lonhro group and has had fingers in pies ranging from Lithium mines in Greenland to African Airlines. Maybe the company has moved on since then. Or maybe not. They must have been delighted when they heard of Liz Truss support for domestic oil production. Liz is the MP for the comfortably distant constituency of South West Norfolk. Sadly, Sunak is more likely to go with the flow of mustard-cord trousered opinion.

Surrey in 2030? 
UPDATE: June 20 2023. The Supreme Court starts to hear the case against drilling the Horse Hill well

Even more improbable....

In 1911 The White Heather Laundry in Gibbons Road, Willesden had been drilling a borehole looking for a water supply and instead found traces of oil. The Pall Mall Gazette reported that Standard Oil (later Esso and Exxon) had taken an interest. But it didn't come to anything.  

Roll forward to 1947. After World war Two, needing oil and with foreign currency at a premium, there was a real interest in possible local oil supplies. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which would one day become BP) took a look and new and deeper bore holes were drilled. 

Some oil was found at 1200 feet. Ecstasy! The Illustrated London News suggested that 'North London could become 'another Kirkuk', which is an oil town in Iraq. Ironic, but a nice idea. They kept going and the bore holes eventually reached down to almost 3,000 feet, far below the layers of clay and then chalk into the ancient rocks beneath. Salty water was encountered at 1600 feet which was attributed to 'an old sea formation'.  (See my post on the geology:  After the Asteroid)

The Willesden Drilling Rig. 1947. 

Pathe News' coverage of this for cinema audiences in 1947 can be watched here:

Sadly they had to conclude that there wasn't enough oil to make it viable, even though they drafted in Texans with big hats, and that gas bubbled up through the water like Texan beer. This part of Willesden went back into hiding from celebrity until a another, different type of strike; the infamous Grunwick dispute in 1976. Maybe that's a good thing, it would have rather spoiled the view from the magnificent Hindu temple on the adjacent site.

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden 

I just love the idea of Britain's onshore oil being buried under Gatwick Airport! But even sweeter for me is the idea of oil under North London and, for me, only a few miles away.  Maybe under my tiny garden..........The Kilburn Klondike! 


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