THICK black oil pours into a bucket – giving hope there may be a fortune hiding beneath the South Downs.
Engineers from Northern Petroleum have been testing for oil in the heart of the South Downs National Park since September.
And so far the results have been staggering.
The oil coming up from more than 4,000ft beneath Forestside, near Rowlands Castle, is virtually undiluted, as shown in our picture, right.
It is so pure that Northern Petroleum boss Derek Musgrove believes the site, located at Markwells Wood, may be commercially viable if the tests continue to be so fruitful.
He believes that anything up to five million barrels of crude oil – worth more than £300m – may be beneath the ground at Forestside.
It could be part of a larger oil reservoir that stretches as far as Havant.
Mr Musgrove, managing director of Northern Petroleum, said: ‘We have been pumping oil that is virtually water free.
‘We will now go to the next phase which is to go to a 24-hour-a-day operation.
‘That requires the installation of lighting for health and safety reasons.’
As reported in The News, the firm is renting a small section of the woods to drill for oil.
If the current tests continue to show a high quality of oil, the site could go into commercial production.
Extracting oil in the South Downs has been criticised by green groups, but Mr Musgrove stressed that environmental impact has been kept to a minimum.
Mr Musgrove said: ‘If it’s there, why wouldn’t you extract it?
‘I don’t think this is a highly invasive, polluting process.
‘It’s probably less invasive that the average pig or chicken farm. It’s never going to be enormous.
‘If you produce a 100 barrels of oil a day, you are saving 10,000 dollars of imports. The British economy needs this kind of industry.’
Paul Strudwick, 44, site manager, said: ‘We try not to impact the local community too much with what’s going on. We keep the noise to a minimum with the type of equipment we are using.’
Northern Petroleum has also got planning permission to build a testing rig in a field off Hulbert Road, Leigh Park.
But Mr Musgrove said the Havant scheme was on hold.
He said: ‘We must have a further discussion with the landowner before we make any decision about whether to proceed.’ Mr Musgrove said there were no immediate plans to drill for oil in any other part of the South Downs, although the company has identified potential oil reserves at Clanfield and Hinton Manor, near Catherington.
Mr Musgrove said: ‘There’s is potential in the area. Are we rapidly moving to drill a lot more? No.’
Oil extraction has taken place at Horndean since 1988 by the firm Star Energy.