Fracking firm gets green light to test for oil at Balcombe … again | Business

Fracking firm gets green light to test for oil at Balcombe … again | Business


Approval by West Sussex council comes as another shale company plans a legal challenge against Scotland’s fracking ban

An anti-fracking protest at Balcombe in West Sussex, England, in 2013.






An anti-fracking protest at Balcombe in West Sussex, England, in 2013.
Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Fracking firm Cuadrilla has been given the go-ahead to explore for oil near a West Sussex village that was the site of the UK’s biggest anti-fracking protests.

The approval came as another shale company said it was planning a legal challenge against Scotland’s fracking ban.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a way of extracting natural gas from shale rock formations that are often deep underground. It involves pumping water, chemicals and usually sand underground at high pressure to fracture shale – hence the name – and release the gas trapped within to be collected back at the surface.

The technology has transformed the US energy landscape in the last decade, owing to the combination of high-volume fracking – 1.5m gallons of water per well, on average – and the relatively modern ability to drill horizontally into shale after a vertical well has been drilled.

Thousands of campaigners besieged Balcombe five years ago when Cuadrilla last tried to extract oil at the Lower Stumble site, igniting a national anti-fracking movement.

The company eventually scrapped its plans but recently applied for planning permission to test how much oil will flow from an existing well.

Brenda Pollack
(@BrendaPollack)

We say no to Cuadrilla exploring for oil. Villagers from across Sussex outside County offices today pic.twitter.com/78ShMIR3F3


January 9, 2018

West Sussex county council’s planning committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the application, which opponents said defied local opinion.

Brenda Pollack, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “This is devastating news for villagers and everyone who wants a clean and safe environment to live in.”

Green party co-leader, Caroline Lucas, who was arrested during the protests at Balcombe in 2013, called the decision “bad, bad news”.

Residents at the county hall meeting in Chichester spoke out against the tests, citing concerns over air and water pollution, and traffic.

Balcombe parish council, which has voted unanimously against Cuadrilla’s application, said the approval was against local people’s wishes. More than 2,700 objections were received against the proposal, with 11 in favour.

Police guard the perimeter of the Cuadrilla test drill site at Balcombe in 2013.



Police guard the perimeter of the Cuadrilla test drill site at Balcombe in 2013. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

However, one local resident suggested traffic concerns were unfounded and there were probably more vehicle movements from deliveries of logs for people’s wood burning stoves than from the well.

Another resident, Rodney Jago, backed the proposal and said previous drilling in the village had not caused any damage.

Cuadrilla told the meeting it had scrapped previous plans at the site because of the fall in oil prices in 2014, but was confident it would act this time.

The approval by West Sussex county council, recommended by its planning officers, is not permission for fracking. Cuadrilla has said the site does not need fracking because the rock is naturally fractured. If it did want to frack, it would have to secure further consents.

Under conditions imposed by the council, Cuadrilla will have to establish a community liaison group. Work is expected to start within two years, and the site will be restored to its original state afterwards.

On Tuesday it also emerged that Scotland’s fracking ban faces a legal challenge after energy company Ineos said it would seek a judicial review to overturn the moratorium.

The Scottish government imposed the temporary ban last October, justifying it on the grounds that using fracking to extract oil and gas would have little economic benefit but undermine climate change efforts.

Ineos has previously said the decision was not science-based, but the move towards legal action marks a considerable escalation.

Tom Pickering, operations director at Ineos Shale, said: “The decision in October was a major blow to Scottish science and its engineering industry, as well as being financially costly to Ineos, other businesses and indeed the nation as a whole.”

Ineos believes it can win a case if the Scottish court of session approves a legal challenge, claiming the government made errors in the decision-making process.

Of the 1.32m acres of shale licences held by Ineos, around 180,000 are in Scotland, with the rest in England. The petrochemicals firm owns Scotland’s only crude oil refinery, at Grangemouth, and last year entrenched its interests in oil and gas, buying a North Sea pipeline and Danish oil rigs.

Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Ineos’s legal challenge against the Scottish government’s ban on fracking reeks of desperation from an industry that is failing to get results anywhere in Scotland, the UK or elsewhere in Europe.”

Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish energy minister, said: “We have taken a careful and considered approach to arriving at our preferred policy on unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.”

The Scottish Conservatives supported the move by Ineos.

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