Letter: Fracking concerns

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THANK you for publishing the article concerning the fracking threat at Balcombe on the front page (Sussex Express, February 10), which I read with dismay.

I attended the public meeting in Lewes at Subud House that same day and the information I obtained as a result has left me shocked and disturbed.

In common with several of the local residents at this meeting I had only heard about fracking in the UK with particular reference to the Lancashire earthquakes.

I was also aware that a modest oil-drilling exercise had taken place somewhere on the Downs in West Sussex about two years ago.

What I did not know was that this venture had proved unsuccessful, and the site, (which I now know to have been at Balcombe), had subsequently been bought by Cuadrilla Resources for shale gas exploration and possible extraction. Cuadrilla is the company responsible for the fracking fiasco in Lancashire and has to date obtained planning permission for no less than five drilling sites in the Blackpool area.

The Coastal Oil and Gas Company has been granted planning permission to conduct shale core sampling at Lingfield in Surrey, Cowden in Kent and in South Wales. It should not be forgotten that southern Britain lies above an earthquake fault line, albeit minor, and that Kent was only recently affected by two earthquakes. A number of companies are showing interest in the exploitation of shale gas across the UK, as there are large areas of shale strata which could potentially produce gas.

The fracking process involves the use of one million gallons of water, (which is extracted from nearby water sources), and a cocktail of 10,000 litres of toxic chemicals per single frack. A large percentage of these toxic chemicals blasted into the ground are never recovered.

In addition, some of the extracted shale gas leaks up to the surface of the land between the bore holes and the concrete pipes. Owing to the last two successive dry winters, particularly in the South-East and East Anglia, current water reserves are worryingly low and any further depletions of this precious, and indeed vital, resource should be avoided if at all possible. The pressure from increased house-building here in the South-East will do nothing to alleviate this situation either.

In America many thousands of wells have been utilised for shale gas extraction which has resulted in wide-spread water contamination, (particularly by methane), land contamination, the decimation of wildlife, (particularly those reliant of aquatic environments), air pollution and earthquakes.

Rock fracturing can also lead to the leaching out of radioactive isotopes and some seepage has occurred in mountainous areas. People are unable to drink the local water and many farms have had to be abandoned as the land has been rendered useless for crops and animal husbandry. The levels of contamination have steadily risen over a number of years.

I find it quite incredible that, despite the disastrous American scenario, here in Britain extraction licences have been sanctioned by the Government and planning permissions granted by statutory bodies for fracking exploration, apparently without any public consultation.

The law of this country allows for heavy fines if any person or company is found guilty of poisoning any water course or the mains supply. Where are DEFRA, the EA and the water companies in all this? Are big business interests being put before public health and the environment? I also suspect that there is a political agenda behind fracking in Britain, as the Government would rather encourage home-grown fossil energy exploration and extraction than be reliant on Russian and Iranian gas.

Unfortunately, some private landowners are selling their land for drilling purposes as they stand to gain a percentage of the profits if shale gas is found and extracted. A compulsory purchase order can also be served on a landowner if he/she refuses to sell their land.

However, it is of some comfort that a few local authorities have voted against allowing fracking in their areas, including Brighton and Hove, and I understand pressure will be brought to bear on East Sussex County Council to follow suit.

In addition, the friends of the earth are convening a national conference on fracking in the near future. Although local opposition is gathering momentum; likewise in Lancashire and South Wales; there must be an urgent national debate both in the media and in Parliament before any further licences and planning permission are granted.

Hopefully, this potentially poisonous and dangerous shale gas extraction practice will then be banned in Britain, and financial investment geared towards more healthy and environmentally-sympathetic forms of energy for our existing population and for future generations.

Wendy Johnson,