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16/08/2013 - Fracking Threat in Balcombe

Labour demands answers to the following questions about the drilling operation near Balcombe, on which the great majority of local people, including Labour’s Professor Alan Rew, a Balcombe resident and expert on environmental planning issues, are voicing their concern:

Why, after planning permission for 60 passages per week of drilling trucks through this small village was granted, did the regulators allow 120 when Cuadrilla told them they had really been asking for 60 two-way passages?

Why did it take weeks of complaints from residents about noise from the site for the regulators to admit that the permitted noise levels were being exceeded? (Some Balcombe homes are just metres away.)

Why did the Environment Agency have to be forced by Friends of the Earth to recognise the need for mining and radioactive waste licences, and to take into account the ambiguous legal position of the horizontal well? (Forcing Cuadrilla to reapply for full planning permission to continue testing).

Why has the Environment Agency — without publishing their own emission limits - issued flaring permits for emission of air pollutants over the people of Balcombe?

Why has Defra published proposals for the significant reduction of local air quality monitoring in Britain — if not to suit the Coalition's frack everywhere, regulate lightly strategy to allegedly meet our energy needs?

And why does the Government, claiming that the environmental risks of fracking will be overcome, still go on about greenhouse gas emissions, yet hardly mention the serious health risks of radon? (Yet Public Health England (formerly the Health Protection Agency) is preparing a report that examines whether fracking releases or emits radon — the main cause of lung cancer in non-smokers).

Labour is deeply concerned about events near Balcombe for three very good reasons:

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT.

There’s been no adequate assessment, despite a Department for Communities and Local Government document highlighting 16 environmental risks linked to fracking, including seismic shocks and the appearance of radioactive surface water.

SITE POLICING.

It’s been disproportionate, even heavy-handed. The cost of logistical support and overtime was spiralling towards £100k in the early days of drilling, excluding the salaries of around 100 officers a day.

AN AFFRONT TO DEMOCRACY.

If they receive an application for a fracking mine, planning authorities have been banned by the Government from listening to residents and considering whether renewable energy sources are more appropriate.

Instead, Government guidelines to councils say they should regard mineral extraction as economically ‘essential’.

‘Flawed’ attempt by West Sussex Tories to evict protesters flops: ‘Human rights ignored’.

High court judge Mrs Justice Lang has ruled that an application by Torycontrolled West Sussex County Council to evict fracking protesters camping near the drilling site was ‘flawed’.

Adjourning the application, she said that the protestors’ human rights and right to peaceful assembly needed to be considered.

The County's application gave lower priority to the scope for citizens to protest against a technology lacking any social licence to operate than to the state of roadside grass verges.

After the hearing, the protesters’ barrister, John Cooper, commented:

"One of the real problems today for West Sussex was that they didn't address at all the human rights issues. They did not even touch upon them in their documentation - right of protest, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech - all these matters were not touched upon at all.”

The protesters can now remain until 28 September at least, when Cuadrilla’s planning permission expires — as they had intended.

The county council, claiming its concern is purely about road safety, can’t go back to court over this until 8 October, unless road safety issues increase.

Policing costs, said the Sussex PCC Katy Bourne, may reach £3.7 million by October

‘Fracking’: its full effects on the environment in Balcombe and elsewhere

Labour in Mid Sussex urges much caution — in view of a great deal of worrying international experience of the effects of the techniques involved — before granting any further licences for fracking shale and other unconventional oil and gas extraction.

Balcombe Parish Council surveyed residents and found that more than 80% were opposed. Fracking licences apply to many areas in Worth Forest.

Fracking:

industrialises precious countryside;

contaminates water sources — 70% of water in Sussex comes from ground sources;

releases carcinogenic benzene and other volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) directly into the local atmosphere;

produces waste fluid with heavy metals and radioactive isotopes like Radium 226;

requires large numbers of heavy tanker movements on congested roads; • is short term and short sighted;

can produce at most only 10% of UK energy needs.

A fracked shale gas or oil field means large numbers of densely spaced wells.

Each borehole exploits only 40 to 50 acres meaning 12 to 15 wells per square mile.

Based on the US experience, within just four years, Sussex would have 2,000 fracked wells.

The US has large tracts of sparsely populated land.

The UK is a small and crowded island with little open countryside and few Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) like the High Weald.

The UK’s North Sea oil and gas assets have been squandered.

Because of their very high adverse environmental impacts, unconventional sources of oil and gas like shale rock should be used only in emergency and as a last resort.

‘Fracking’: Labour’s six-fold safeguards

In March 2012, Labour set out six conditions that the Government should ensure the regulatory regime for shale gas should meet before exploration and potential shale gas extraction could proceed.

They are designed to address the legitimate environmental concerns expressed by many communities, individuals and organisations:

Evidence of seismic activity led to the suspension of operations in Lancashire in 2011.

As Labour set out in an article for Business Green on 7 March 2012, baseline conditions should be assessed prior to any exploratory work with microseismic monitoring, in order to discriminate natural from artificially induced seismic events once the drilling begins.

An early warning detection system should also be implemented, similar to that used in the Netherlands and Germany, which would allow measures to be taken before seismic activity has a noticeable impact.

There has been a lack of transparency and control in the USA on exactly what is being used to fracture shale rocks and extract the resulting gas.

In the UK, the chemicals used must be restricted to those that are proven to be non-hazardous.

Further, there should be mandated disclosure of all the chemicals to be used in fracking, including their toxicity levels.

The integrity of each shale gas well must be assured to prevent water contamination.

An independent assessment of the well design, the cement bond between the casing and well bore, in addition to the composition of the casing to determine its ability to resist corrosion, is essential.

The level of methane in groundwater should also be assessed prior to any drilling.

Methane can occur naturally in groundwater, but there is concern from the experience in the USA that it may occur as a result of fracking.

In each case, that needs to be assessed prior to any activity, so there is robust baseline information to monitor against.

All potential shale exploration sites should be subject to screening for an environmental impact assessment – at present, those below one hectare do not need to undertake such an assessment.

This assessment should include the level of water used, how much can be recycled and the availability of water in each case.

All of the monitoring activity referred to above should take place over a twelve month period, to allow sufficient time to gather all of the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether to proceed with exploration.

The Coalition Government has ignored virtually all of the above.

Instead, it over-rules local planning powers.

Vince Cable is determined to give drilling companies tax breaks.

In fact, the Tory / Lib Dem Coalition now offers local communities cash for prior consent to fracking.

Health, environment and democracy have to make way for quick profits.

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