On Thursday 25th July, 2013, a group of protesters held up a lorry carrying a generator to a potential fracking drill site in Balcombe. Test drilling was due to start on the 27th. The lorry’s air brake was reportedly cut, and soon the police arrived, who originally said that they would use force to remove the protesters if necessary. After seven hours however, the police told protesters that the lorry would be leaving, and that no more drilling equipment was going to be brought to the site on that day.
There have been photographs in the newspapers that show lines of young children blocking the road, holding signs such as “Frack off” and “Don’t frack our future.” Some of the children can’t be older than five years old. Unless these 5 years olds are all geniuses and know everything there is to know about fracking, a passer-by might think that the protesters were exploiting the fact that their children look sweet and innocent, and trying to squeeze out the support of the public nationwide by making them sympathetic to the children, and therefore the cause.
The definition of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, on http://www.dictionary.com, is “a process in which fractures in rocks below the earth’s surface are opened and widened by injecting chemicals and liquids at high pressure: used especially to extract natural gas or oil”. To keep the fractures open, sand and grit is pumped into them, and the trapped gas flows out through a pump, and back up to the surface.
Protesters claim that the process pollutes surrounding rivers, the air, and causes earthquakes, and they have reasons to believe this. In 2011, in Blackpool there were a series of tremors of a magnitude of 2.3, thought to be caused by the recent fracking there. The scare caused a ban on fracking to be put in place in 2011, but in late 2012 it was lifted when research proved that fracking had no more effect on the area’s seismic activity than a person jumping off a ladder. Durham University’s Energy Institute, led by Richard Davies, wrote in a study that only 3 earthquakes have ever occurred due to fracking, and that they were rare. Mr Davies also said himself that “the fractures don’t travel more than a few hundred metres so the chances of [groundwater] contamination from fracking are really very remote indeed.”
In the next 50 years, it is proven that we will face an energy crisis. However, gas reserves in the last 20 years have also been proven to have increased by as much as 70%. If we are going to face this crisis, we need to look at all our options, and then look at the consequences of going with a particular one. If we have all this gas, we should use it. In the long term, it might help prevent this energy crisis for at least another century, even if it does damage some parts of the countryside. Even though it may not be “the perfect English village” as some home owners want it to be, Balcombe will have sacrificed a part of their town for the greater good. They will be aiding their country and the world in a time of need. Of course we still have renewable energy such as solar and hydroelectric power, but when one looks at the amount of energy made, and the money put into building windmills, for example, one finds that it just isn’t worth it economically. Companies still want to make money after all.
Energy also brings power. Power to the country, which in the future, Britain could use. Our status as a global power is fading away, and in the future, the countries will all the energy, such as Russia, China, America, and Saudi Arabia, will be the ones with all the power. Recently, for example, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, amongst other countries. He did this because he was in a row with some energy companies, who were not paying for the gas that Russia was supplying them with. So overnight, Putin simply turned the gas tap off, plunging Europe into darkness. It was a show of power. Britain even felt it when there was a scare that energy prices would suddenly increase massively. Saudi Arabia has a large percentage of the world’s remaining oil reserves on their own land, and suddenly the geopolitics of it all start to really matter. Relations with the Middle East and the West, for example, are not great.
Balcombe is a town of about 7,000 homes. Not all residents support the protesters, and so the number of people who are against Cuadrilla and the potential fracking site is relatively low. The total number of protesters is around 100. According to The Times newspaper, less than 30 of the protesters were from Balcombe itself. Such a small number of people cannot halt the whole process of testing for gas and oil deposits can they? Some protesters may not even understand what fracking actually is. Lilias Cheyne, a 60 year old retired teacher, said, “…it is a social event. I don’t know a lot about fracking but I have an instinctive feeling that it is not good.” Some are only there because they want to have a chat with other friends who are also there. Yet in a poll taken by the Balcombe Parish Council, which closed on 10th September last year, 82% of the parish thought that the council should oppose fracking. The top reason for this, as the poll showed, was because they feared increased traffic activity in the area, and the second was the fear of the pollution of water supplies. As they say on their website, Cuadrilla is an independent British energy company, who drilled in Blackpool, and wants to test for gas in Balcombe. Cuadrilla has the right, for the moment, to drill in Balcombe, since they obtained a drilling permit from the Environment Agency. If they are to keep their permit, they cannot treat Balcombe as they might treat a drilling site in the middle of an American desert. They must, and will if they are clever, take environmental safety into account. Many people worry that they will cut corners, and so damage the countryside. Cuadrilla released a statement in which it said that safety measures would be put in place, including the regular testing of water samples for harmful substances and abnormal levels of minerals at five different locations around Balcombe, amongst other measures. The other measures, and some of the results, can be found at http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Interim-Pre-Drill-Environmental-Monitoring-Report-31-07-13.pdf. If the village is really going to be convinced that fracking will not harm the environment however, the government must agree to monitor Cuadrilla’s progress. The company also said, in another statement, that vehicles driving to and from the drilling site would only be allowed to drive at a certain speed, and that during the school run, no vehicles would be allowed to drive.
The opinions of so few shouldn’t matter in a struggle for cheaper energy ahead of an energy crisis, and political power on a global scale, especially as many of the protesters are not even entitled to an opinion in my view, because they may know little about the matter which they are protesting against, as the retired teacher and protester Lilias Cheyne proved.
Britain is already a diminishing global power and we don’t want to be ruled in the future by the countries that have all the energy, such as Russia and the USA. We want to be one of the powerful countries. People accused the police of using too much force against protesters. I don’t think it was too much, even if they did bring in dog handlers, yet perhaps before we arrest them all, we should educate them on what they are fighting against, and then if they continue to be a nuisance, force could be used. When the protesters are aware of all the facts, perhaps this whole affair will cease to be such a problem for the police, for Cuadrilla, and for the government.