Denise Robertson: Protesters must be willing to listen

Fracking is big news at the moment. Denise Robertson is one of the few willing to listen to the arguments for the practice

Anti fracking demonstrations at the Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex
Anti fracking demonstrations at the Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex

I am wary about fracking, but I deplore what has happened at Balcombe – the village where they are drilling not to frack but to find out whether there’s anything  worth fracking.

Residents registered their disapproval, as they were entitled to do. Now some 700 strangers, many of them habitual protestors, have turned up and mayhem has broken out.

Surveying 50 tents, two lorries, eight vans and one vintage double-decker bus parked on his field, a farmer despaired: “The grass will be  damaged, we’ll lose 24 acres of grazing.

“I tried to explain we needed the field to graze our sheep, but they said they weren’t asking for permission because they were doing it anyway.”

That’s not protest, that’s arrogance.

Some ‘protesters’  were part of the illegal camp outside St Paul’s or veterans of the Dale Farm travellers’ camp. One young man, calling himself ‘a professional protester’, cheerfully admitted to living on benefits.

A Balcombe villager said: “They seem to be looking for a party.”

The police operation is expected to cost taxpayers over £2m.

Green MP Caroline Lucas, among more than 30 people arrested, says: “The evidence is clear that fracking undermines efforts to tackle the climate crisis and poses potential risks to the local environment.”

Campaigners say it might pollute local water supplies and cause earthquakes.  Are they right?

There has  been fracking in Britain since 1963, near Beckingham Marshes. The site pumps 300 barrels of oil a day and one million cubic feet of natural gas, generating enough electricity to power 21,000 homes.

Local people say there have been no environmental problems from the site, which is next to a nature reserve.

One woman said: “Plans to allow wind turbines in the area caused more strong feeling in the village than fracking ever did.”

Another said: “We have 35 employees working at the field in good jobs, supporting 35 families.”

Rumour has it that a secret Government report provides confirmation that the 3,000 wind farms in the  United Kingdom can harm rural areas. They certainly kill birds. In Beckingham, wildlife and the environment flourish in spite of fracking.

If fracking becomes more widespread will that bring unforeseen problems?

In the USA, there have been two million fracking operations reportedly without a single proven case of groundwater contamination.

A recent British survey concluded that mining, geothermal activity or reservoir water storage causes more and bigger earth tremors than fracking.

A report last year  found that at about 200 of the 2,000 onshore wells drilled in the UK in the past 30 years there had been fracking to improve yields of oil and natural gas. So why no protests until now?

We are in imminent danger of power cuts. European Union regulations are closing down the coal-fired power stations that supply a third of the electricity needed to keep our lights on.

A target agreed with the EU commits us to producing nearly a third of our electricity through  subsidised wind farms and other renewables, but so far their contribution is negligible.

With no new nuclear power plants for more than a decade, the only hope of maintaining a reliable energy supply will be gas.

So I’m at least willing to listen to the arguments for fracking. If we can be convinced it is safe, it will be preferable to sitting in the dark.

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