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The County of Dorsetshire     OS Map Grid Ref: ST721015

 The County of Dorsetshire

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The British Isles, although small in extent, are very rich in their geological diversity which leads to a great diversity of not only landscape, but flora and fauna as well. Dorset, like many counties in England, has its share of this diversity. Among other things, its rocks are famous for the imprints of fossils which they carry, especially along the rocky coasts where the land often rises with great beauty, sheer from the waves of the English Channel. Indeed, the tongue-twisting rhyme, "She sells sea-shells on the sea shore, the shells that she sells are sea-shells I'm sure", known by almost every child in the country, has its origins in Lyme Regis at the western extremity of the county where Mary Anning earned her living by collecting and selling the local fossils in the 19th century.

Yet, as well as the familiar ammonites, ichthyosaurs and dinosaur footprints as well as plant remains which are so abundant in the county, nature has also seen fit to leave other fossil treasures deep beneath Dorset's soils, fossils not of such curiosity value it may be, but of scientific interest and most off all, of great economic interest - that precious fossil fuel which we call ' oil '. Indeed, the Wytch Farm oil reservoir beneath and to the west of (the itself remarkable) Poole Harbour, is the largest to be found beneath any European soil.

The exploration of this mineral wealth, the black gold which drives our industrialised society, came of age during the last quarter of the 20th century and thrives and matures still. Yet this comming of age was a noisy process, not least because the oil men wished to trample and intrude upon an area of great natural beauty, biological diversity and scientific interest. It is perhaps this noisy birth of a successful large-scale oil industry in the county while has dimmed the memory of previous efforts to claim these riches - efforts stretching back to the middle of the 19th century.

The Wytch Farm oil field is the largest onshore oil field in Western Europe. It produces some 100,000 barrels per day from the Sherwood Triassic and Bridport Jurassic sandstones but half of the recoverable reserves extend offshore, under the waters of Poole Harbour.

Originally, BP had planned to build an artificial island in the harbour at a capital cost of $ 260 million to develop the Wytch Farm field's offshore reserves with the first oil forecast to be produced by the venture in 1996. Late in 1991 however, they decided that extended reach drilling could not only reduce the capital expenditure by 50 per cent but also advance the first oil produced by three years to 1993 - it this is the option which they pursued. This resulted in the drilling of BP and partners' M11SPY well into the oilfield - the extended reach drilling project which achieving the world's longest stepout.

The Wytch Farm oilfield is operated by BP Exploration on behalf of its partners, ARCO British Ltd, Premier Oil Exploration Ltd, ONEPM Petroleum, Clyde Petroleum (Dorset) Ltd and Talisman North Sea Ltd.

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With half of the recoverable reserves of the Wytch Farm oil field lying beneath the waters of Poole Harbour BP originally intended to build an artificial island in the harbour to exploit these reserves. Instead, the company opted for the extended reach drilling beneath the waters of the harbour as both cheaper and bringing the oil into production faster. It is the result of this decision which caused the record-breaking M11 well, the 14th extended reach well on the Wytch Farm site as part of the projectcommencing in April 1993, to be drilled.

The M11 well took 173 days to drill and case taking it to a total depth of 34,967 ft (10,658 m) with a true vertical depth of 5,266 ft (1,605 m). The stepout under the waters of Poole Harbour - the remarkeable engineering feat - was 33,181-ft (10,114-m). It was the first to break the 10-km mark and exceeded the previous record by 6,729 ft (2,051 m).

The M11 well was drilled as part of the Stage III development of the offshore section of the field's Sherwood reservoir. It was for this project that BP received the Queen's Award for Environmental Achievement in April 1995.  

The experience which BP gained drilling the M11 means that repeating such a project would be much easier and cheaper and it has made possible projects which it would not have seriously considered previously. The ability demonstarted here to drill out to such an extended reach also has vast implications for reaching other oil deposits economically elsewhere in the world.

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1859Drilling of the first well in the world specifically for obtaining oil (USA)

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The Oil Industry
  Prehistoric Dorset

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Geology of the Country Around Weymouth, Swanage, Corfe and Lulworth
  by WJ Arkell, 1947

The Kimmeridge Venture
  by D Sherry, 1974
The history of the oil industry at Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset.

Oil in Dorset
  by D Sherry, 1971

Fieldwork in Purbeck
  by D Sherry, publisher
Purbeck Press (2nd ed.), 1974

Dorset Shore
  by T Woolf, publisher Purbeck Press, 1974

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