THE search for natural gas poses “huge risks” to the environment of the River Ouse Valley, it has been claimed.
Drinking water could become contaminated and the railway infrastructure put in jeopardy, protesters have warned.
Concern centres on the headwaters of the Ouse where controversial hydraulic fracturing – fracking – has been proposed at Balcombe by US multinational Cuadrilla.
The process involves sending a concrete pipe down and sideways for thousands of feet. Holes are blown in the sides of the pipe using explosives and a mixture of water, sand and toxic chemicals is pumped down the pipe at high pressure.
This forces the rock to crack, releasing the gas which returns up the pipe to be carried away in tankers.
Opponents say much of the toxic mix remains in the ground and can leach into groundwater.
A public meeting is due to be held in Lewes today (Friday) at Subud House, 26a Station Street (7.30pm) to discuss widespread concern.
Organiser Jim Hindle said: “If the Balcombe drilling goes ahead it could open the way for many more similar sites throughout Sussex and the South-East.
“Fracking carries huge risks; ecologically, to seismic stability and the purity of aquifers essential to drinking water supplies.
“The scale and potential irreversibility of the ensuing contamination mean that people throughout the region should be watching developments in Balcombe very keenly.”
Cuadrilla admitted responsibility for two earthquakes measuring 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter Scale near Blackpool, Lancashire, while investigating last April.
The potential Balcombe fracking site at Lower Stumble, off the B2028, is only 100 yards from the mainiline rail link between Sussex and London. Less than a mile away is the 170-year-old Balcombe Viaduct which spans the embryonic Ouse.
Susan Murray, of Lewes Green Party, said fracking posed the threat of potential contamination of local water supplies as chemical-laden water used in the process seeps into both groundwater and local rivers and streams.
“This kind of damage is coupled with the risk of earthquakes,” she said. “When you consider how close the site is to the Balcombe Viaduct carrying trains to and from London then you cannot ignore the risk of serious transport disruption if an earthquake was to weaken the viaduct.”
She will raise her worries at a forthcoming meeting of Lewes Town Council.
Cllr Murray hopes to present a statement at tonight’s Subud House meeting from MEP Keith Taylor, who has visited the Balcombe site and spoken to worried local residents.
Fracking has been banned in France, Bulgaria and several states in America.
Meanwhile, South East Water has also expressed concern over fracking. A spokesperson said: “There has been much publicity recently over the potential reserves of shale gas in the UK. Whilst this is still in exploratory stages in the UK the technique used for extraction of shale gas (known as ‘fracking’ or hydraulic fracturing) has been associated with risks to drinking water sources in the US.
“There is a mixed evidence base on the magnitude of the risks involved but nonetheless there is some acceptance that they do exist. Although water companies would not wish to hinder economic development there is a view that the risks to water supplies (and in particular drinking water supplies) need to be addressed to ensure the safety of our customers’ water quality is maintained.
“We are working with Water UK, the industry body which represents water companies across the UK, to investigate opportunities for water companies to be included as statutory consultees in this work. Until any change in the legislation we will continue to work closely with the Environment Agency which is ultimately responsible for protecting groundwater sources regarding any proposals to implement hydraulic fracturing in our region.”