FRACKING has dominated national headlines in recent weeks, with much of the attention focused on West Sussex. But what does the future hold for the Chichester, Bognor Regis, Midhurst and Petworth?
Valerie Briginshaw, the convenor for the Chichester and Bognor branch of the Green Party, said people needed to realise the potential impacts on them if fracking became standard practice throughout West Sussex.
“Seventy-five per cent of drinking water in Sussex comes from underground water and aquifers,” she said.
“There are serious concerns this could be contaminated.
“Once it’s contaminated we can’t clear it up – it’s irreversible.”
She has visited the Balcombe site in recent weeks and described the protests as ‘very well organised’, praising the positive atmosphere.
Regarding the impact on Chichester and Bognor Regis, she said: “I think the key thing is that even though you think: ‘Oh, it’s Balcombe, it’s several miles away from Chichester,’ it’s not... because the whole of the county is targeted.
“People say: ‘They’re not fracking now, are they? It’s not dangerous now; I will leave it for the moment.’ If you wait until it starts it’s too late. It’s the fact they’re drilling exploratory wells now, putting a lot of resources and money into it. They wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t think they were going to get something out of it.”
The ‘they’ to whom she refers are companies such as Cuadrilla, the Staffordshire-based UK energy company behind the drilling at Balcombe, and Celtique Energie, the London-based oil and gas exploration company which wants an exploratory well at Fernhurst.
The Weald basin has been identified as a prime area for shale gas, and was described by energy companies as full of ‘untapped’ reserves.
Closer to home, oil exploration is taking place at Forestside, near Compton, which could potentially lead to fracking if shale gas reserves are found.
All the applications, including the one at Balcombe, are not for the hydraulic fracturing process to take place: they are exploratory wells to see what gas and oil reserves lie beneath the ground. However, the companies have indicated a further application would be made for fracking if such reserves were found.
“Our proposals to undertake initial exploratory drilling at a remote and well-screened area of land west of Fernhurst would enable us to confirm whether commercially viable levels of oil and gas are present in this area, said Geoff Davies, chief executive officer at Celtique Energie.
“This would involve tried and tested methods of exploration that have been used in the UK for decades, in many surrounding fields. We take our responsibilities as an exploration company seriously, and we will be taking all precautions to ensure our operations have a minimal impact on the environment and the local community.”
Transition Chichester held an open information meeting for residents to discuss fracking at the Bassil Shippam Centre this week.
Around 50 people attended, including several people with specialist knowledge of the topic.
Many of the participants wanted further study on the immediate effects and long-term consequences of fracking.
A separate group from Transition Chichester was formed to better understand fracking – currently no firm conclusions for or against it have been made.
A spokesman for Transition Chichester said fracking was an issue ‘much wider than just Chichester’.
However, Transition Chichester will not take a stand on the issue unless a fracking operation is planned close to Chichester.
Last week, it was reported this meeting was taking place today, August 29, when it was actually last Thursday.
Sussex Police announced this week that the cost of policing the protests at Balcombe had risen to £2.3m.
Nearly 1,000 extra protesters arrived at the camp to take part in marches and a campaign of direct action around the Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site between Thursday, August 15 and Wednesday, August 21.
During that time, more than 30 people were arrested, including Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas.
Since the protests began at the end of July, 80 people have been arrested.
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, said: “It is important that taxpayers are kept updated on the ongoing costs of this policing operation.
“The increased involvement of national protest groups has meant Sussex Police has had to deploy significant additional resources, including mutual aid from other police forces and this has put a strain on the police budget.
“Sussex Police is policing what I believe is a national issue. What happens in Sussex may determine what will happen nationally across police force areas in the future.
“I have now spoken and written to the policing minister confirming that I will be applying to the home office for funding to meet the additional costs of this policing operation, once the final figures are known.
“We anticipate that the final cost of this operation will be approximately £3.7m.
“It is also my role as PCC to hold the chief constable to account on behalf of the public, so it is important that I address the issues and concerns raised by people during the policing of this protest. I will be holding an accountability meeting with the Chief Constable on Friday, September 6, which will be webcast live and will provide the public with an opportunity to have their questions answered.”
Concern over wildlife
Wildlife groups have expressed concern about the proposals.
The RSPB issued its first objections to fracking proposals over concerns it would harm wildlife and the climate.
Alison Giacomelli, RSPB south east conservation officer, said: “Balcombe has hit the headlines as the battleground in the debate over fracking.
“The public there are rightly concerned about the impact this new technology will have on their countryside. These are not just nimbys worried about house prices – there is a very real public disquiet about fracking.”
Meanwhile, Petra Billings, landscapes project officer at Sussex Wildlife Trust, said on a recent blog post: “Parish council meetings have been held in Wisborough Green and Kirdford recently to discuss the proposal for an exploratory oil well between the two villages.
“In the meantime opposition is growing. Parish councillors have indicated that they expect the oil drilling to lead to the highly controversial fracking in parallel with other local proposals for fracking at Fernhurst and local people are increasingly concerned.”
Frack Free Fernhurst was formed as a campaign group in opposition to Celtique Energie’s plans for an exploratory well near the village.
“We have been fundraising to pay for expert planning and legal advice and to pay for printing and other expenses,” said Marcus Adams, one of the founders.
“We have been fundraising to pay for expert planning and legal advice and to pay for printing and other expenses.”
The campaign has set up its own website and Facebook page which said Mr Adams had attracted huge support.
“We have had 100,000 hits on the website and are currently averaging about 15,000 a week.
“Since we set up our Twitter feed we have heard from people as far away as Australia, Canada and America, but the bulk of them have been local people.”
He believes politicians are finally realising fracking is a much bigger issue than they thought it was going to be.
“Despite government rhetoric they clearly don’t have a licence to force fracking on the electorate.”
He also believes publicity surrounding the proposals at Balcombe has been good for their campaign.
“They have raised the profile of the issue across the country although there are negative connotations.