The search for black gold worth £346m begins

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THE search for oil in the heart of South Downs National Park is stepping up a gear as extraction begins at an ancient woodland site.

Northern Petroleum has announced it is due to start advanced tests for oil with a view to production at Markwells Wood, Forestside, near Rowlands Castle.

A rig was put up on the site last month and the company has said it will start advanced tests, lasting up to 40 days.

It comes after an initial drill last year struck oil.

The firm believes between 35m and 61m barrels of oil – worth £346m – are buried more than 4,000ft below the surface.

The testing will not involve a traditional ‘nodding donkey’ pump, as pictured below, but a less noisy device called a linear reciprocal pump.

Julie Tassell, the local councillor for Forestside, said the main concern was the lorries going in and out of the site.

But she said: ‘When they found oil, it was exciting.

‘People are hoping the oil company are going to put something back into the community as a thank you for putting up with the noise and aggravation.’

A statement from Northern Petroleum said: ‘We’re pleased to announce that it has started operations for an extended well test of the Markwells Wood oil discovery in West Sussex.

‘The test will enable Northern Petroleum and its joint venture partners – Magellan Petroleum (UK) Limited and Egdon Resources UK Limited – to evaluate the potential and scheme for future development of the Markwells Wood oil accumulation.’

Derek Musgrove, managing director, said there were no immediate plans to start drilling for oil off Hulbert Road, near Leigh Park.

The firm has permission to build a testing rig and has built an access road.

Oil extraction has taken place at Horndean since 1988.

Drilling for oil in the South Downs has been opposed by green campaigners, including The Woodland Trust.