JANE L by telephone: I’m not very knowledgeable about the fracking scandal. Can you tell me please how fracking will affect our water supply?

Isn’t there a reservoir in Balcombe? It sounds dangerous.

VANESSA VINE (VV): It is dangerous indeed. Cuadrilla’s Balcombe bore at Lower Stumble is less than a mile both from Ardingly Reservoir and the River Ouse – both of which are drawn on for domestic water supplying households over a wide region. High volume, horizontal, slickwater hydraulic fracturing uses vast quantities of fresh water.

Cuadrilla’s chief operating officer Eric Vaughan told me they would be using “municipal water”. As you know we had a drought and a hosepipe ban in Sussex last summer. Carcinogenic and radioactive frack effluent or “produced water”

can be left in capped wells (to leak ad infinitum into groundwater) or in open ponds. Cuadrilla were given Environment Agency sanction to dump their Lancashire frack waste (supposedly first treated) in the Manchester Ship Canal.

In the US and Australia, the toxic, radioactive frack effluent is in some cases being put in tankers and sprayed on roads as either “dust-suppressant” or “de-icer”. There is ample recorded evidence of this appalling practice. Do not think it couldn’t happen here.

Although Cuadrilla say they intend to use acid etching for oil at Balcombe, this licence is a critical precedent for potential shale gas exploitation permissions right across the Weald and the rest of the UK.

WIGGSY online: Vanessa, I would be interested to learn of the concerns being made about fracking and how these are being positioned with regards to drilling so close to the Balcombe Viaduct please.

(VV): Fracking has been proven and widely shown to trigger seismic activity, with studies coming out in the US now about how it can cause distant tremors/quakes, as well as in close proximity. There are many claims of damage to buildings in at least a 10- mile radius of Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall Farm frack in Lancashire. These are of course dismissed by the industry as unable to prove. I have visited the Fylde home of Gayzer Taryanji, who stood under his bedroom door frame because the house was shaking so badly when it happened in 2011. I asked Mark Miller – Cuadrilla’s former CEO – what magnitude of earth tremor it would take to crack a railway track at such close proximity. He said he didn’t know.

The Balcombe bore is also two-and-ahalf miles from the Millennium Seed Bank – a subterranean global resource.

Seismic activity affecting the Seed Bank or a main commuter railway line simply does not bear thinking about.

JONMIK online: Isn’t this a local issue?

All I see is something hijacked by professional protesters, some fresh from trying to wreck the Hastings Link Road which the majority in Hastings want built.

(VV): If that’s all you see – you’re not looking properly.

JONMIK online: Do they think the screeching harridans seen on TV do anything for their cause? Because any sympathy I had waned very quickly after seeing Ms Hynde and Mr Sitting Bull Medhurst.

(VV): The situation in Balcombe is a precedent for the whole country and it’s about time more people than Balcombe residents took responsibility for it and had the courage to speak up.

This situation has become acutely critical. More than 60% of the country is potentially up for licence for unconventional methane exploitation (shale gas/oil and coal bed methane – all of which involve hydraulic fracturing).

Thank goodness for altruistic people like Simon and Natalie. I met them outside the site on Tuesday, they are the sweetest, gentlest natured people who had already been there for a week, because they felt they had to do something to stop this ecocidal juggernaut that potentially threatens EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.

BEN DAVIES by e-mail: I would like to know the exact scientific resources Vanessa uses to inform her position.

There is lots of talk of issues but little indisputable evidence supporting it.

This way I can study the information to gain a proper understanding of the cost/risk benefits and have a properly informed position of my own.

(VV): Thank you Ben, informed opinions are what I incessantly exhort people to form, but there isn’t space for me to provide a comprehensive response here.

Please do what I have done (for the past two years now) and look for the uninvested research and the voice of truth from individual human beings who have nothing to gain from speaking out, other than their own health/survival and that of their children. Do look at who has funded any research papers/media statements.

Beware of “frackadaemia” (many supposedly impartial consultant professors are on the industry payroll).

One person specifically to follow up on is Jessica Ernst who was an O&G industry consultant for 30 years before the company she was working for fracked her land in Alberta and polluted her water so badly that she cannot even bathe, let alone drink it. She is now suing both the company and the Canadian Government. (Ernst v. EnCana).

Canada has the best fracking “safety” regulations in the world. They do not work. You could also look up Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith of the National Toxics Network in Australia and Dr Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University.

IAN LISSETER (IL) by e-mail: What is the greatest risk to the environment or property from hydraulic fracturing of shale gas reservoirs?

(VV): The relativity of risk/threat will vary in each case, due to the unknowns involved when meddling with subterranean geology. The major threats to our health are through water, soil and air contamination and to property through the triggering of seismic activity.

IL: Secondly, has this scenario occurred in the UK?

(VV:) Seismic activity was triggered the first time Cuadrilla attempted a full scale frack, near Blackpool in 2011.

Cuadrilla continued to frack a damaged well and we don’t know what may have leaked, or still be down there because of it. Beyond that no, because it hasn’t yet happened here at production level.

Contrary to extremely irresponsible inaccurate statements by some of our Ministers, high volume, horizontal slickwater hydraulic fracturing is new to the UK.

IL: And how does Government regulation address this risk?

(VV): It doesn’t. It can’t.

I refer you to my answer above to Ben about Jessica Ernst. She will tell you – with as much if not more experience than anyone – that this industry is unregulatable. That we cannot legislate for the unpredictability of subterranean geology and that, by definition, it can never be guaranteed safe. We have been through farcical regulatory hoops for the last two years with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency.

It has become manifestly clear that the only interests ultimately at play here are short term corporate/political ones.

David Cameron in a recent EU summit in Brussels said about shale gas exploitation in Europe: “No regulation must get in the way”. The Government recently implemented the Growth and Infrastructure Act to take away planning decisions from local government, in order to “streamline” industrial/ corporate interests. Pushing this juggernaut through is becoming a political mania. The Environment Agency received nearly 900 detailed, articulate objections (plus a 9,000-signature petition) to Cuadrilla’s application for a Mining Waste permit last month. Two days later, they issued the permit regardless.

Based on my reading of this and many other sources of information published by bodies such as the British Geological Survey, DECC, Environment Agency, Royal Society, Cuadrilla, Frack Off and Frack Free Sussex, the following document shows that a thorough review has been undertaken with direct public consultation – https://www.gov.uk/ government/ uploads/system/uploads /attachment_data/file/ 200377/Q_A_ version_C05_Final_.pdf. Nothing published either by Frack Free Sussex or Frack Off will describe any thorough public consultation, because there has not been such. The initial Balcombe application for planning permission by Cuadrilla was not even tabled properly by the parish council, let alone put to public consultation.

Residents were outraged to discover what had been sanctioned without their knowledge.

JIMMY STEWART’S IMAGINARY RABBIT online: In The Argus over the last few years I’ve seen opposition to wind farms, opposition to recycling rubbish into energy and opposition to a proposed biomass power station at Shoreham. Now there’s opposition to gas extraction.

Is there any chance that all the protest groups could get together and formulate an agreed plan as to what exactly is an acceptable form of energy generation? Currently all we can hear is noise whilst we’re waiting for the lights to go out.

(VV): Great question but rhetorical, because who is going to coordinate such a group – it doesn’t work like that.

What we have to do (and should have done decades ago) of course is to stop sucking more filthy fossil fuels out of the ground with increasingly dangerous and extreme technologies and then burning them. We must invest instead in developing safe, renewable energy technologies that will provide energy security and lasting, sustainable employment and take a long hard look at energy efficiency in our architecture.

In the critical position we have now come to as a culture and a species perhaps we might think about turning the lights off occasionally too? I disagree that it’s all noise. We each have to make the effort to discern and act on the pertinent bits.

ANONYMOUS online: The company isn’t doing any fracking so why are you an anti-fracking group?

(VV): Cuadrilla is a fracking company. If they find the oil (and inevitable concomitant gas) they’re looking for, they will seek to frack to extract it. Surely that shouldn’t need spelling outIt is a moot point as to whether the test drilling stage involves a degree of fracturing. Some independent experts have said that the “acid etching” technique Cuadrilla intend to use in Balcombe is indeed a form of fracturing. Cuadrilla denies this. Cuadrilla’s Balcombe planning application uses the phrase “there may be a need to stimulate”. Stimulation is a common industry euphemism for fracking. Even without fracking, the drilling stage will involve hydrochloric acid, toxic drilling mud, methane flaring, light and noise pollution, heavy tanker traffic et al. None of which is acceptable or justifiable.

ANONYMOUS online: If we end up all huddled in the dark because there is no alternative would you change your mind?

(VV): Nothing will ever change my mind about this technology. I have seen too much of the literal horror it is wreaking on people, livestock and wild ecology in North America and Australia. Would you rather have light or water? If we don’t all wake up and smell the methane, the choice could become that stark.

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