Fracking ‘good for energy security’
Sunday 18th August 2013, 9:51AM BST.
Hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and gas is “in the national purpose” and right for Britain’s energy security, the chairman of Cuadrilla said.
Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, said the controversial extraction method should be pursued if it can be done safely.
He stressed that as much domestic resource should be explored as possible, saying it was more environmentally friendly than importing gas.
Lord Browne told the Sunday Telegraph: “This is about getting domestic resources. Domestic gas is more green than imported gas, and we need to explore as much domestic resource as we can.
“We need to be patient and very clear about what we want to do. It’s a national purpose, it’s right for our energy security, and, if done safely, we should pursue it.”
Communities based near fracking sites will get financial benefits, including a 1% share of the revenues if the fracking succeeds, he added.
Lord Browne’s comments come amid continuing protests near Balcombe, West Sussex, where Cuadrilla has halted exploratory drilling for oil.
After taking advice from Sussex Police, Cuadrilla temporarily suspended its drilling operation as up to 1,000 activists descend on Balcombe for the six-day Reclaim the Power protest, which began on Friday.
Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood joined the activists outside the drill site on the camp’s first day, saying fracking would store up trouble environmentally and financially.
More than 45 arrests have so far been made since the protests first sprang up in the West Sussex countryside three weeks ago.
Of those, 33 have been charged with a range of offences, including Natalie Hynde, 30, the daughter of the Pretenders’ singer Chrissie Hynde.
Police officers from 10 other forces have been drafted in as a large daily security operation has been thrown up to keep the peace.
On Friday, Sussex Police disclosed that the policing bill so far had almost reached £750,000, and that Home Office help was being sought to help with the cost.
Although Cuadrilla is not conducting fracking near Balcombe, and would need to apply for permission, activists fear the energy firm will go on to do so.
The method involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release oil or gas supplies.
Opponents of fracking have highlighted concerns about potential water contamination and environmental damage, as well as small-scale earthquakes.
David Cameron has insisted the whole country should accept fracking, claiming it will attract “real public support” when the benefits are explained, such as potentially cutting energy bills.
The Prime Minister said the process would not damage the countryside and cause only “very minor change to the landscape”.
The Church of England has said it had no official policy in favour or against fracking but appeared to show tacit support for it by warning against “blanket opposition” to it.
The Anglican church said fuel poverty, the creation of jobs, energy self-sufficiency and the development of technology that could cut the impact of more polluting fuels such as coal needed to be taken into account when assessing shale gas exploration.
The debate over the benefits for and against fracking comes as activists continue to pour into the Reclaim the Power camp, about a mile from Cuadrilla’s exploratory oil drilling site.
This weekend workshops have been held on fracking, climate change and fuel poverty, and tents, marquees and solar-powered equipment have been set up.
Tomorrow two days of “direct action” are proposed but camp organisers No Dash for Gas have not revealed what form the action will take.
At last year’s Reclaim the Power camp, West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire was shut down and 21 people were arrested
Balcombe resident Douglas Wragg said: “Because we have here a travesty of democracy and we’ve tried every democratic path to use, the only choice we have left is direct action.
“I’ve been living here for 20 years and I would never have imagined myself being involved in protest. But you either lie down and let Cuadrilla ride roughshod over you, or take direct action.”
Protestor Emma Hughes said, “I’m here in solidarity with the community of Balcombe, and I’m here because we can’t afford to extract new fossil fuels when climate change is already killing hundreds of thousands of people. We’re all locals when it comes to the impact of fossil fuels on the planet.”
The chairman of Balcombe Parish Council, Alison Stevenson, has warned anyone planning to break the law to stay away.
Her concerns were echoed by Francis Egan, the chief executive of Cuadrilla, who said he was worried about site safety and the implications for his workers and peaceful protesters.
Outside the drilling site there was a peaceful atmosphere as activists listened to music, sat around campfires and spoke about their concerns on fracking.
A line of police officers guarded the entrance to the site but the mood was lighthearted. One man calling himself “the Music Police” arrived on a bike kitted with speakers blaring out music and implored the crowd to dance.
Elsewhere on the site, a woman dressed as a fairy wandered up and down the road, while a man dressed as a druid was among the other alternative sights seen there.
At the Reclaim the Power camp, where around 800 people have now gathered, No Dash for Gas campaigners said they were planning for the start of the two-day mass action, from Monday.
Organisers said the plans were “top secret” but that they pledged to use civil disobedience tactics to challenge the fracking industry.
People in the camp have all been given a “matchmaking form” to help link people up into “action teams” based on their interests and preferred tactics, No Dash for Gas said.
The form asks to what extent each person is willing to risk arrest, how mobile they are and what activities they are most interested in, such as climbing, getting over fences or looking after people.
Protester Paul Caplin said: “The Government and Cuadrilla have no democratic mandate for fracking here in Balcombe, or anywhere else.
“These plans to industrialise the British countryside and extract yet more climate-wrecking fossil fuels were not in any party manifesto, contradict Government commitments to cut greenhouse gases and have been sprung on the public without consultation.
“It’s perfectly possible to power the country and reduce people’s bills with a mixture of efficiency and renewable energy, rather than these expensive and destructive fossil fuels that benefit no one but the energy companies.”
Former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion near Balcombe, said the village was in the frontline in the “battle against climate change”.
Speaking outside the drill site, she said: “We know from many research papers that if we go ahead in search of yet more fossil fuels then our chance of saving two degrees of warming become very very slim indeed.
“We have to leave two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, not be searching for more fossil fuels. I think it’s hugely important that people from all over the world are here today giving solidarity.”
She rebutted the claims that fracking could drive down energy bills.
Ms Lucas said: “It sounds impressive on the surface but if you look below the rhetoric, it’s not really supported by the evidence.
“It’s true that in the US fracking has helped to reduce gas prices. It’s very likely that that would not be the case in the UK for lots of reasons that include the density of population, to do with geology, to do with how the European gas market is organised.”
One woman protester from Balcombe, who declined to be named, said she decided to attend a protest for the first time in her life because she was fearful of the implications of fracking.
As she knitted by the roadside, she said: “There is no assurance that this is 100% safe. I don’t want a 1% risk. If Cuadrilla go, there will be no risk.”