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Letter from Balcombe to the Prime Minister



From Charles Metcalfe, London Road, Balcombe, 20th December 2013.

To The Right Honourable David Cameron MP, Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA.

Dear Prime Minister,

Re: UK-wide call for an immediate and binding moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, coal bed methane and underground coal gasification on our islands.

Please read this.

We, the representatives of the Frack-Free Balcombe Residents Association, are writing to urge you to reconsider your Government’s policy to pursue the exploration and extraction of shale gas, using the modern method of high-pressure, high-volume, slick-water, hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as ‘fracking’).

We come with gifts, as is appropriate so close to Christmas, of decorations made bychildren in Balcombe, to hang on your Christmas tree.

Do you wish to be remembered as the Government that turned this country from a ‘green and pleasant land’ into a countryside pockmarked with thousands of well- pads? Do you wish to criminalise your natural and law-abiding supporters in rural communities by obliging them to protest and demonstrate to defend their precious environment against marauding oil and gas companies? Are these the actions of ‘the greenest Government ever’?

Prime Minister, your government is proceeding headlong with this attempt to turn two-thirds of the countryside into a giant drill site. The process that will be used has caused harm to countryside, people and animals in the US and Australia. With the cutbacks in staffing levels at bodies such as the EA, on-site regulation will be impossible.

The UK is heavily faulted. Geologically, we have an entirely unsuitable country for shale gas or oil development using modern fracking. England is also the most densely populated country in Europe (and the south-east corner is the densest part). It will be impossible to frack so close to people’s houses, to agricultural land and to livestock, without causing serious damage to all of these.

In the south east of England, we often run short of water in the summer. Fracking is a process that uses millions of gallons of water, and pollutes it irretrievably. This is water lost to the natural water cycle, polluted by fracking chemicals and by the heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials that will inevitably be extracted from deep underground. Oil and gas company PR spokespeople sometimes say a frack uses less water than is used to water the greens on a golf course. That is irrelevant, as water used on a golf course stays in the water cycle.

Returned frack fluid is lost to the water cycle. It has to be disposed of. And so far, gas and oil companies have not said how they intend to dispose of this ‘produced water’ in Britain.

Typically, half of this would be left underground, likely to find its way to pollute the surface (and the aquifer on its way) in our heavily-faulted landscape. And half would have to be disposed of elsewhere. Where? And how? The EA does not currently have an effective plan.

Please permit us to explode a few myths:

Myth 1. ‘Fracking has been used safely in the UK for decades’.

Yes, but that was the old, relatively gentle method of fracking. The only use of this modern method of fracking (first developed in the US in 1997) has been in Lancashire, by Cuadrilla, at their Preece Hall drilling site. This has been confirmed to us in a letter from Ross Lewis at DECC, sent on 20th two small earthquakes, deforming the well-casing. Cuadrilla continued fracking, and did not inform the authorities until six weeks after the accident.

Myth 2. ‘Fracking has never polluted water’.

Fracking has polluted water in many documented instances in the USA. Methane, frack fluid, produced water and hydrocarbons find their way through faults in the surrounding strata, and eventually, through corroded, cracked or deformed well casings, and even through the fractures themselves, by way of geological faults, into aquifers.

Myth 3. ‘Fracking will not affect the countryside’.

Each well pad, plus the connecting roads, and, possibly, gas pipelines, will take up approximately 8 acres of land. Even though a drill-pad can host up to 40 different wells, to frack the licensed area efficiently and effectively, operating companies will have to establish well-pads no more than five kilometres apart. If your Government succeeds in licensing two-thirds of the country for drilling, exploration and extraction, that will mean thousands of wells. This will completely change the countryside.

Myth 4. ‘Fracking is safe as long as it is well-regulated’.

Fracking has never been well-regulated. This is what has caused the problems in the USA and Australia, and that pattern will be repeated here. To have effective regulation, the rules must be policed by the regulators. The HSE, DECC, the EA and County Councils do not have enough staff, with enough experience of the industry, to have any presence at drill-pads. They rely on the drilling companies to self-regulate, and to tell them when anything goes wrong (in Lancashire, Cuadrilla failed to do this for six weeks – see Myth 1).

At Balcombe, Cuadrilla flouted noise regulations until we bought our own noise measuring equipment, and insisted the West Sussex County Council (WSCC) and EA came to see how rules were being broken. They also disregarded an undertaking not to have heavy traffic movements past our village primary school when children were being taken or picked up. Neither the WSCC nor the police paid any serious attention to our complaints.

Myth 5. ‘Shale gas will bring down fuel bills’.

No. The industry itself (including Lord Browne), bankers, and the International Energy Agency, have said that the coming of shale gas to the UK will make little if any difference to retail gas prices. Why did Michael Fallon, Minister of State for Energy, repeat this lie on BBC Sussex Breakfast at about 7.25am in an interview broadcast on Wednesday 18th December? Maybe he thought no one would be awake.

Prime Minister, we have not mentioned till now our obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Not only will shale gas not take us anywhere along the path to a renewably-powered future, but world-wide shale gas use has actually increased carbon emissions at present. US natural gas prices have fallen so low that the US coal industry has had to reduce its prices to such an extent that coal usage in the US and other countries has risen, because coal is so cheap. And fugitive methane, from leaky and abandoned wells, unsatisfactory piping, bad valves and seals and the like, has been even more harmful to the earth’s atmosphere.

The UK has undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. This would be more effectively achieved by encouraging and rewarding research into renewable energy projects than by offering tax cuts to the fracking industry.

Prime Minister, your policy of fracking the UK countryside is losing you support every time an operating company applies to drill a new site. Rural communities are learning the truth about this dangerous process of high-volume, high-pressure, slick-water fracking. They now dismiss the lies and evasive answers of the oil and gas industry. Our health and countryside are at stake, the environment we shall leave for our children. Once water is poisoned, there is no way back. We owe it to ours and to future generations to stop the oil industry chasing profit above our safety and the safety of our countryside.

Please listen to us before it is too late.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Metcalfe

Chairman, Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association (FFBRA)


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