An open letter from Sussex groups

To the Editor of The Argus. July 3rd 2014
An open letter from Frack Free Sussex, Frack Free Arun, Frack Free Forest Row, Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green, Frack Free Horsham District, The Sussex Frack Free Food Alliance, Worthing Against Fracking, Brighton Action Against Fracking, Frack Free Mayfield and Five Ashes, No Fracking in Balcombe Society, Worthing Downlanders, Broadoak Residents Against Fracking, Mid-Sussex Friends of the Earth, Hastings & Rother Says NO to fracking, Chichester Anti-fracking Forum and Frack Free Fernhurst.

The Sussex groups listed above have many thousands of supporters from all walks of life, in both the towns and rural villages of Sussex. These groups represent a vast array of concerned local people, spanning all professions and age groups, committed to defending our beautiful counties and our right to clean air and fresh drinking water.

We are appalled that the Environment Agency Chairperson, Lord Christopher Smith would “not rule out fracking in our National parks.”

The South Downs National Park Vision for 2050 aims to achieve an outcome where ‘the iconic English lowland landscapes and heritage will have been conserved and greatly enhanced. These inspirational and distinctive places, where people live, work, farm and relax, are adapting well to the impacts of climate change and other pressures;’ (1)

Approving plans to extract shale oil and gas, fossil fuels that drive climate change, directly contradicts this vision. And that’s before you assess the impacts and risks on people, communities, land and wildlife due to contamination, pollution, industrial traffic and noise.

Lord Smith should know that for shale gas and oil extraction to be economically viable it would require the construction and drilling of THOUSANDS of well pads plus supporting infrastructure. The UK uses 3 trillion cubic feet of gas per year. To meet just one year’s supply 3,000 wells per year would have to be drilled in the UK- that’s 8 per day! To meet the UK’s annual demand for 550 million barrels of oil 4,400 wells would have to be completed each year.

To call this ‘minimal visual intrusion’ is an outrage. The South Downs are ‘recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (1) and our National Parks exist for the purposes of conservation of flora and fauna, preservation of a way of life and protection of biodiversity and wildlife. By their own definition they ‘are protected areas because of their beautiful countryside, wildlife and cultural heritage.’ (2) If fracking is permitted in the UK our downland, meadowland, farmland and woodland would be subject to wide-scale industrialistaion. Our National Parks would be utterly destroyed.

In 2012 the guidance issued by the EA was unequivocal, potentially limiting shale gas extraction:

‘The Environment Agency would not allow hydraulic fracking to take place in an area where there are aquifers used to supply drinking water. If there were sensitive groundwaters present in an area where a company wanted to carry out hydraulic fracturing, we would object during the company’s planning application and refuse to grant an environmental permit.’

It was also recently stated in the House of Lords debate on the Water Bill that ‘the importance of protecting ground and surface water must not be under emphasised’.

As most of Sussex water comes from the chalk aquifer, we must ask WHY has the EA’s view on fracking changed so drastically? And WHY are the Government, and agencies, willfully choosing to ignore the ever-increasing number of peer reviewed scientific reports that prove fracking is not and cannot be made 'safe'.

Many doctors and scientists are now linking poor health outcomes, such as infertility, cancer and birth defects, with the high level of endocrine and hormone disrupting chemicals used in the fracking process. Just two weeks ago, New York once again voted to continue the moratorium on fracking in the state, a position supported by many health professionals, researchers and organisations including the American Lung Association, Breast Cancer Awareness and the American Academy of Paediatrics.

The British Government is desperately trying to persuade the public that the rules and regulations here in the UK will be better than those in other countries, yet they are not. For example, in December last year Dallas ruled that fracking should not to take place within 1,500 feet of homes, schools, hospitals and other protected areas, yet no such restrictions exist here, even though we are far more densely populated (430 people per sq mile in Sussex as opposed to 22 per sq mile in Texas)

David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics at University of Glasgow states: ‘The UK shale basins are heavily faulted, from the shale layer right to the surface, in contrast to those of the USA’ and further warns ‘We have 400 times the amount of faulting as in the US, we are completely different’
This dramatically increases the risk of chemicals, naturally occurring radioactive materials, gas and oil leaking into water sources or to the surface. In other words, shale gas/oil extraction would be even more dangerous in the UK than in the USA.

The Environment Agency's stated purpose is ‘to protect or enhance the environment, taken as a whole’ so as to promote ‘the objective of achieving sustainable development.’ The vision of the Agency is of ‘a rich, healthy and diverse environment for present and future generations’. The South Downs National Park Authority state that: ‘We all have a shared responsibility to care for the National Park and the South Downs.’
If Celtique Energy’s drilling applications are permitted at Wisborough Green and Fernhurst, we believe the South Downs National Park Authority and the Environment Agency will have completely betrayed their purpose.

To allow unconventional onshore gas or oil exploration and extraction in ANY part of Britain is reckless. To allow it in a NATIONAL PARK is unthinkable.