Protesting recently saved a number of Sussex towns from fracking but with a new law passed allowing companies to drill, frack and leave waste under your home without your permission, Daniel White spoke to Claire Robertson of Frack Free Sussex to find out exactly what fracking is and how it can be stopped…
What is fracking?
Fracking is short for ‘hydraulic fracturing’, an energy industry term. It refers to a process by which rock is cracked by the water under pressure to release oil or gas.
Why is fracking controversial?
Fracking is a process that uses up an essential resource, one we all need to survive, in order to extract a non-essential resource. It then leaves that essential resource poisoned. The essential resource is water. The non-essential resource is fossil fuels.
That fracking has already caused water contamination in other countries is a certainty. That fracking will inevitably lead to more water contamination in the future is also certain. The process is inherently risky. People are already getting ill due to fracking.
New York State has permanently banned fracking, after the State Department of Health documented evidence of an increase in health conditions in people closer to fracking operations, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, skin rashes and nosebleeds.
There are also many other risks – air pollution, earthquakes, constant drilling noise and light, industrialisation of previously rural or wild areas and impacts on wildlife from fragmenting the landscape.
However, the other huge risk is globally, to the climate. The world’s energy companies have already laid claim to five times the amount of fossil fuel that we as a planet can safely burn and keep the warming of the climate within the ‘safe’ limit of 2 degrees C.
What chemicals are used in fracking?
Many different ones – different companies use different mixtures. However, to give an example – at the exploratory drill site in Billingshurst, West Sussex, the chemicals used amount to 74 ‘known hazards’.
Why are companies fracking?
To make a profit! It’s a ‘boom and bust’ form of economics – the wells produce a lot of oil or gas in the first few years, but this quickly tails off. In this country, the government has introduced large tax breaks for fracking companies to encourage exploration here.
This is probably because of the close links between the Government and the oil and gas industry. Research from Platform, a London organisation, showed that over a third of ministers have links, either financially or via past employment, to oil and gas.
Who benefits from fracking?
Mainly the investors. Local people close to the fracking site get very few benefits. Fracking brings very few jobs to the area. Property prices also decrease. It would not greatly increase the nation’s energy security either, and certainly would not drive down gas prices, as the gas has to be traded on a European-wide market.
Is there an alternative?
Yes, there certainly is. The technology for renewable energy is available, sufficient to power our energy needs and becoming cheaper all the time. A recent report for the campaign against climate change predicted that widespread investment in renewables and energy efficiency would not only help the UK reach and exceed our emissions targets, but produce one million ‘climate’ jobs!
How would fracking in Sussex effect the county?
The ‘frack off’ website estimated that to extract the volumes that the industry and the Government have quoted, over 6,000 wells would have to be drilled in Sussex. Large-scale fracking would change the face of the county forever.
Things we treasure about our county – quiet rural villages, ancient woodland rich in species, the South Downs National Park – would be altered or lost forever to lorries, pipelines, drilling rigs, flaring and noise.
In addition, if fracking were to happen in Sussex, it would be the first anywhere in the world to drill through and frack under chalk aquifers. The people of Sussex would essentially be guinea pigs!
Is there likely to be fracking in Sussex?
It hangs in the balance at the moment. Celtique Energie did get permission to drill a well in between Billingshurst and Pulborough in West Sussex. Cuadrilla also have permission to return to Balcombe and test the well they drilled there, amidst heavy protests.
In addition, after the general election we discover the results from the ‘14th licensing round’ – when the Government allow energy companies to bid for exploration licenses in different areas of the country. 60% of the UK was up for tender, including nearly all of Sussex.
Should we be worried?
Yes, we should be. But not without hope. Community action can stop planning applications locally, and nationally calls for a moratorium are growing stronger every day. However, as local campaigners ramp up their actions, so do the other side. The government recently passed a new law which allows companies to drill, frack, and leave waste under your land or your home without your permission.
What lessons can we learn from fracking in the U.S.?
The main lesson is that you have to stop fracking early. What starts with a few exploratory wells soon turns into an explosion, with wells popping up everywhere which are then near-impossible to oppose.
The second main lesson is that fracking companies will completely run over local communities. They have lied to citizens in the US, slapped non-disclosure agreements on entire families (“don’t report water contamination otherwise we won’t give compensation”) and even have sued one Ohio village for trying to protect its water supply.
They block comprehensive research and full environmental and health impact assessments because they know if they were carried out, fracking would be so obviously dangerous that it would have to be banned.
What can people do to stop fracking in Sussex and beyond?
So much! The most important thing is to educate yourself. The best film to do this is Gaslands II. Write to your MP expressing your concern and whether fracking would affect how you vote.
Invest in renewable energy. Come down to the Billingshurst site once drilling starts to make your views known – perfectly legal and part of our democratic right to protest. Join Frack Free Sussex!