A month ago today, on Thursday July 25th, Cuadrilla began moving equipment onto its exploratory drilling site near Balcombe in West Sussex. Anti-fracking campaigners gathered outside the gates and successfully stopped lorries getting into the site. By 11am, campaigners had established a camp on the verge alongside and vowed to stay overnight.
Since then, fracking became headline news around the world. Reclaim the Power set up a camp in a field near Balcombe for six days. About 2,000 people attended a protest march. The verge-side camp grew, as did the costs of policing and the media’s attention.
More than 75 people were arrested, including MP Caroline Lucas, and more than 47 people were charged with varied offences under trades union, public order and highways legislation.
Despite all the attention, it is no easier to get to the truth about fracking. Over the next month this blog seeks to find answers to questions and question the answers that all sides have given about fracking. We’ll start with 10 key issues:
- Greenhouse gases Will the process of fracking to release shale gas actually result in lower greenhouse gas emissions? Or will methane releases make the problem worse?
- Fuel prices and national budgets What effect will shale gas exploitation have on energy prices and the balance of payments?
- Water How much water does it take to frack a well. Does the south east of England, in particular, have enough water to support the industry, should it go ahead?
- Pollution Does anyone know what the true risks are of polluting water aquifers?
- Scale How many wells are there likely to be if fracking goes ahead in the Sussex Weald?
- Knowledge Just how experimental is the technique that Cuadrilla wants to use in the Weald and how likely is it to work?
- Liability What would happen if something went wrong? Who would be liable? Does Cuadrilla Balcombe Ltd have enough money behind it to pay compensation? And how would local people prove that fracking was to blame?
- Democratic deficit How democratic has been the process of granting permissions, permits and licences? How many debates have there been about fracking in parliament and among local politicians? What would it take to stop a permit or permission? Is financial viability of fracking the only realistic restraint?
- Regulation Can the regulatory system – from granting permissions and permits to inspections – cope if fracking becomes widespread. Will the rules need to be relaxed?
- Licences How are licences awarded? How much do they cost? Where is the money coming from and where will it go if fracking succeeds?