Demonstrators outside the planning meeting yesterday | Credit: Brenda Pollack
County council grants temporary permission to fracking firm Cuadrilla for shale gas exploration in Balcombe, despite thousands of objections from local residents
West Sussex county council has voted to once again allow fracking firm Cuadrilla to test for shale gas and oil at a site near the village of Balcombe, despite receiving thousands of objections from local residents and green activists.
The council’s planning committee yesterday voted unanimously in favour of an application from Cuadrilla for exploratory fossil fuel work to take place near the village, which is located in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Cuadrilla, which is headquartered in nearby Lichfield, has been granted two years’ permission to test and monitor the existing shale gas well, and if oil is found to flow, the firm may then apply for full production at the site.
However, the company claimed the well required no hydraulic fracturing – the controversial process which uses large quantities of water, sand and chemicals to fracture rock to release gas or oil – because the rock is already naturally fractured.
Nevertheless, the committee had received more than 2,700 objections to Cuadrilla’s application, with just 11 in favour. The application was granted subject to several amended conditions on noise monitoring, lighting, and traffic.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Brenda Pollack branded the council’s decision as “devastating” for the environment and village residents.
“Where is the democracy when over 2,700 people objected to Cuadrilla returning to this beautiful rural part of Sussex?” she said in a statement. “Whether it’s fracking or not, dirty fossil fuels must be left in the ground. Allowing companies to drill underground for ever more difficult to extract oil and gas reserves is crazy when it won’t help keep polluting emissions down. We need to see a much bigger push for a cleaner future without an over-reliance on oil.”
Repower Balcombe, a community energy group set up amid fracking protests five years ago that aims to source 100 per cent of the village’s electricity needs from community-owned renewable power, also criticised the decision in a statement on Twitter:
The government torpedoed our community solar project in a policy ambush back in 2015, and have made life almost impossible for groups like ours to keep going since then. Yet here we are being told we are going to be fracked again, with the full support of the government.
— REPOWERBalcombe (@REPOWERBalcombe) January 9, 2018
The village has played host to numerous anti-fracking protests in recent years, with Cuadrilla previously scrapping plans to continue testing controversial exploration at the site in 2014 after its previous temporary permission expired, having concluded that the rocks at the site already contained natural fractures.
Reacting to the council’s decision the firm said it was “delighted” its application had been unanimously approved, covering the same scope of work as the previous permission granted in 2014.
“The flow testing Cuadrilla is looking to undertake will measure the rate at which oil flows from the well,” the firm said in a statement. “We are aware the planning permission only runs until 2021 and that once we start the work it must be completed within two years, including plugging the well with cement and fully restoring the site.”
Recent UK government surveys suggest public support for fracking dropped to its lowest ever level last year, with only 16 per cent backing the fossil fuel extraction process and 33 per cent against.
However, the Conservative government continues to support fracking and wider onshore oil and gas exploration in England, despite Scotland and the Republic of Ireland both agreeing to ban fracking activity.
The news came as another shale gas company, INEOS Shale, revealed it is seeking a judicial review of the Scottish Government’s effective ban on onshore ‘unconventional’ oil and gas development in Scotland.
INEOS said it believes the ban is unlawful, with the firm’s operations director Tom Pickering describing the decision as a “major blow” to the industry.
“We have serious concerns about the legitimacy of the ban and have therefore applied to the Court to ask that it review the competency of the decision to introduce it,” he said in a statement.