Cuadrilla has gone ahead with exploratory drilling for shale gas in Balcombe, Sussex, but local residents have promised to continue their fight against fracking. The government, meanwhile, has said local complaints should be overlooked because the energy source is “essential” to the UK’s economy.
After 10 protesters were arrested at the site last month, the number of people stopped by police in Balcombe has now risen to 30. People contesting the hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) operations are afraid that it will affect their land, water and air in a highly populated area and want Cuadrilla to stop.
The current saving grace is that the firm does not have a license to frack yet. It has permission to explore and conduct tests, and if it’s successful, it will then have to ask the government for further consent to do conduct full-scale extraction.
Its operations in the south have already raised a number of concerns and controversies. In a recent document, the government said that local planners should leave behind renewable energy plans and go ahead with fracking and mineral extraction instead.
“Mineral planning authorities should not consider demand for, or consider alternatives to, oil and gas resources when determining planning applications. Government energy policy makes it clear that energy supplies should come from a variety of sources”, the document says.
“Mineral extraction is essential to local and national economies […] minerals planning authorities should give great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy, when determining planning applications.”
Brenda Pollack, a regional campaigner for Friends of the Earth in the south-east, said, “People are right to be concerned about fracking. It threatens their environment and quality of life and will mean more climate changing emissions are pumped into the atmosphere. And there’s plenty of evidence that it won’t lead to cheaper fuel bills.”
Energy minister Michael Fallon, a strong supporter of shale gas and MP for Sevenoaks in Kent, has admitted that fracking would affect the Tory heartland.
He is alleged to have said privately that fracking operations were set to expand: “The second area being studied is the Weald. It’s from Dorset all the way along through Hampshire, Sussex, east Sussex, west Sussex, all the way perhaps a bit into Surrey and even into my county of Kent. It’s right there.”
He then referred to the commentariat – newspaper opinion writers who supported shale gas.
“The beauty of that – please don’t write this down – is that of course it’s underneath the commentariat”, he said.
“All these people writing leaders saying, ‘Why don’t they get on with shale?’ – we are going to see how thick their rectory walls are, whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive.”
Despite Fallon and Cuadrilla’s reassurances that fracking won’t ruin the countryside and won’t contaminate groundwater, experts have warned that there might be many risks related to health, safety and the environment.