Monday, 12 August 2013

A message from the Balcombe front lines

I'm sure that if you're reading this blog, you're aware of the current protest ongoing in the village of Balcombe. The main impact for me has been a lot of radio interview requests, but also, if the Blogger stats page is to be believed, a surge of interest in this blog. For obvious reasons, the protest itself has had as much of an impact on the local community as the drilling itself. Reports from either side of the debate will tell you either that the locals are fed up to the back teeth of the imported rent-a-mob, or that the locals are joining in with gusto.

If you'll excuse me another colossal name-drop, chatting to Prof Iain Stewart after his visit to Pennsylvania for his Horizon documentary, one of the most striking impacts that he found wasn't the pollution or lack of it, but how drilling had divided communities. Sadly, it seems that this is already happening in Balcombe, as a message I received from a local resident will testify:
A few months ago, I like many had never heard of fracking! Just a few lines to put you in the picture about who I am. Malcolm Thomason is my name, a 56 year old Balcombe born & bred guy. Until a couple of weeks ago most in the world had never heard of our lovely village with a population of about 1750. Balcombe is about 16 miles due north of Brighton, 8 miles south of Gatwick Airport in the Sussex Weald. We have a lake, mill and the fantastic Ardingly Reservoir - most of reservoir is in Balcombe. We have a pub, social club and a village shop. Not a lot but its nice and mainly quiet. But in recent years the outsiders, not village types have moved here, paying vast prices for houses near the main London-Brighton rail line with easy access to Croydon & London. I would say 25/30 years ago I knew 90% of the Village and now I dont know 90%. Thats the short introduction done with !

In 1986 Conoco drilled the same site next to B2036 south of village for 23 days. The site is 600-700yds due south of my house as crow flies. In 1986 there were no protesters, in fact we were invited to view site and to see what was going on, a very interesting visit it was as well. Conoco found some oil, not in large quantities but it was there.

How things have changed in July/Aug 2013, we have now been invaded by a vast array of people of all descriptions. Another 1000 NoDashForGas folk are setting up a camp in a field from 16-21August, the same group that shut down West Burton power station for three days last year! They seem intent on shutting down also the Cuadrilla site in Balcombe as well.

Not knowing about fracking I set of to research the subject! Plenty info about if one cares to take time and look that shows in my opinion that it is not dangerous in any shape or form! Just scaremongers putting out propaganda to try and convince the gullible that its not the thing to do! I stumbled across James Verdon twitter page and read with interest his blogs on fracking and learnt a lot more than I already knew. I only wish the antis in Balcombe would view these blogs, but a lot can only see the the water being polluted, the fantastic Victorian Balcombe Viaduct finished in 1841 collapsing through an earthquake, and the blue skies turning black!

This issue is already dividing a village with people who used to talk to each other, now trying to avoid each other, a sad state of affairs i think you all will agree!


  1. Excellent comments from Mr.Thomason it seems ignorance of facts is always missing from these protester types.

    1. I'd agree. Protester types are rarely ignorant of the facts. That's what you meant, right?

      When attacking someone else's intelligence - make sure you have some of your own.

      There are many facts to consider along with the ones given to you by the corporate sponsors behind the drillers.

      The safety debate I'll leave for others - but while we start drilling up more shale gas, we're not solving the real problem - we shouldn't be burning stuff. If the money spent on drilling into the ground under towns and villages were spent on renewable local power generation, we'd all have carbon free power by now. The uk has enough offshore wind resource *alone* to power us 3 times over - but balance that with other forms of generation, and there's no need to risk earthquakes and water contamination, no need for gas.

    2. I agree that investment in alternative sources of energy is important. However, in order to improve renewable sources, they'll need investment, and money doesn't come from nowhere.

      Personally, what I'd like to see is a proportion of the tax take from shale gas developments ring-fenced to be spent on developing renewable and novel nuclear tech.

      Sadly, even the most optimistic estimates of what can be achieved still see us burning hydrocarbons for many years to come. Given that, it makes more sense, both in terms of GHG emissions and economics, to be burning domestically produced natural gas than it does coal that has to be shipped from Siberia.

      In addition, remember that less than a third of our natural gas consumption is in electricity generation (Chart 4.2 here). So even if we were to somehow create an entirely non-fossil-fuel-based electricity system, that would only reduce our gas consumption a small amount. Most of our consumption is in domestic heating, industrial boilers, and also, importantly, as a feedstock for industrial processes such as synthetic materials, and fertiliser production (there are some who argue that hydrocarbons are far too useful for us to waste them by burning them). So even if we 'go big' on offshore wind, shale will still be a useful resource for us.

      Looking globally, the biggest emitters of CO2 are Chinese coal-fired power stations. The CO2 emissions reductions that could be achieved if they burned natural gas are huge (a far bigger reduction than could be achieved by greening the UK electricity supply). It's thought that China has huge shale potential, so there is a possibility of using it to reduce China's CO2 emissions.

  2. Over 80% in Balcombe were against at last poll so not terribly divided. If you want drill sites, flares, pipelines and a massive increase in traffic that's up to you, to say nothing of the evidence from the states about the dangers. If it's so safe why have the oil companies been compensating people who have been contaminated?

    1. Well, 80% of the 30% or so who actually bothered to return their polling cards. So we can only be actually certain that about 25% are opposed. Nationally, opinion polls have consistently shown more people in favour than opposed.

      In Balcombe Council's own report, they estimate there are typically 200 HGV movements per day through the village. Drilling activities will add 30 trucks per day (during the most active period). That's an increase of 15%, for a period of 2 weeks. Not sure I'd call that a 'massive increase', I guess that depends on your point of view.

      With respect to flaring, this link is taken from an Environment Agency talk on the subject - the picture shows what they imagine a flare will look like, as well as a common misconception. Again, everyone is welcome to their own opinion, but lets make sure we're all talking about the same facts:

      Regarding drill sites, I'd be happy to have them near to me. In fact, I grew up only a couple of miles down the road from Humbly Grove oil field in Hampshire. There are 5 - 10 well sites there, and I didn't even know about them until I went to university and studied geology. Like Balcombe, where I grew up is a beautiful, unspoilt area.

      Pipelines? I'm sure that, like most of the UK, there are already plenty of pipelines running through and around Balcombe, delivering the gas used in heating and cooking.

      As for the US, it's likely that companies find it easier to give pay-offs than it is to waste time going through the courts. For example, the recent Guardian 'scoop' failed to point out that the DEP had tested the water of the family in question, finding no evidence of any contamination. See my post on this here:

  3. Do we know what Cuadrilla are planning to do with the wastewater at Balcombe, should they get that far?

    1. I'm not aware of this at present. Environment Agency would be the people to contact for this I imagine.

  4. Balcombe Fracking - More News of Dodgy Dealings
    Private Eye reports that after two weeks of protests in the village of Balcombe, West Sussex, United Kingdom, villagers keep asking themselves: who allowed Cuadrilla to drill on our doorstep?

    Planning permission for the US firm's test on the Balcombe estate - owned by Simon Greenwood, a great grandson of the first Lord Cowdray - was granted by West Sussex county council (WSCC) in 2010 and expires at the end of September. If Cuadrilla had waited any longer to start work it would have had to reapply, and this time round it could have expected strong opposition to a revised planning application. So why was the original one waved through? Because almost nobody knew about it. The WSCC planning officer wrote to Balcombe parish council in January 2010 drawing attention to the application, saying that if no comments were received by 18 February "it will be assumed that the parish council has no objection".

    In March, after a reminder, the parish council clerk confirmed that "the matter was discussed at the last regular meeting" and there was "no objection". Shome mishtake? There is no record of any discussion" in the minutes of the Balcombe parish council meeting in February 2010. The only fleeting reference comes after a debate on an application for a carport, in a brief sentence noting that Simon Greenwood, who is a parish councillor, "mentioned" a recent application at a site off London Road. And, er, that's it. No debate, no vote and no declaration of interest from Greenwood, who stood to earn tens of thousands from Cuadrilla. WSCC then approved the application using delegated powers, precisely because of the lack of public objection. As the exploratory drilling begins, Greenwood and parish clerk Richard Greig have some explaining to do to irate villagers.

    PS: Simon Greenwood's mother, Anne, was given Balcombe by the Cowdray estate as a dowry. But his cousin Lord Cowdray is on the other side of the barricades: he supports protesters at another West Sussex site, Femhurst, and recently revealed that he refused to let Cowdray land in Femhurst be used for drilling because of the environmental impact on the area.

    1. Rather than copy-and-pasting tittle-tattle from Private Eye, why not take the council at their own words: