Guest Blog: Balcombe Fracking Meeting
Last autumn I helped organise the Campaign against Climate Change’s Camp Frack in Hesketh Bank. At that time I never expected that a meeting against the imminent threat of fracking in Balcombe, less than 10miles from my home in West Sussex, would be so well publicised or even attended.
When I arrived with my family, the first thing that struck me was the sheer number of people. The crowd were spilling out of the doors, desperately straining their necks to see the stage. Fire doors were opened to allow more people to have a glimpse of the film showing on the impacts that fracking is already having in the US: water pollution, inflammable tap water and affects on the health of humans and animals.
There must have been about 200-250 people there, and after seeing the film there were 200-250 very worried and very angry people. Then Mark Miller, CEO of Cuadrilla Resources, stepped up to speak..
As you can imagine this probably wouldn’t have been his ideal moment to speak, but even so he did not do particularly well in his attempt to recover the situation.
He showed a slideshow which he accompanied with a dry commentary that insisted everything Cuadrilla did met industry standards and was entirely “safe”. This was not particularly convincing given the footage the audience had just seen, and depended on believing that any form of industry could guarantee it was totally infallible. I wondered how a rep from Shell or BP would have dealt with it - perhaps focusing on the potential job opportunities would have been better?
His clarion cry throughout was “exploratory”, referring to the drilling site. This did not impress the audience. People started returning cries of “What’s the point of exploring if you don’t want to find anything”, “Lies!” and “Go away!”. Stirring stuff.
By this stage there was no real control over the meeting and heckling happened freely. The meeting was punctuated by frequent angry shouts by locals telling Mark Miller, Eric Vaughan and another man in a suit (their legal advisor?) who looked pained throughout, that no one believed anything they said.
In contrast, when Will Cottrell spoke from Frack Off the audience briefly hushed to listen to an explanation of Cuadrilla’s background in detail, the significant probability of the exploratory well breaking the aquafer layer therefore contaminating our water and the seismic effects that drilling sites were having in the States. This, to me, encapsulated the mood of the meeting entirely and the direction the audience were leaning.
The impacts fracking would have in Balcombe would be extremely significant. However, the issue of fracking does go beyond these localised effects. Hydraulic fracturing is yet another fossil fuel, allbeit an unconventional one, and takes us further down the path to climate crisis and destruction of our planet. But we are not alone.
Though the group against fracking in Sussex is still in its fledgling stages there are groups all around the UK that they can learn from who are fighting, like REAF (Ribble Estuary Against Fracking), the Vale says NO! and Frack Off.
Hopefully, when we come together in Manchester on the 17th March for the National Anti - Fracking gathering, groups (like my local one) will become stronger and more effective. The only way this can be done is through getting informed and groups sharing their skills and experience.