Balcombe residents who are opposed to fracking were lied to about the impact and the risks, according to a witness giving evidence to the House of Lords yesterday.
Phelin McAleer, producer of FrackNation, a film supporting fracking in the US, told the Economic Affairs committee that the beliefs of Balcombe residents were genuine but based on deception and withheld information.
“I am not saying the residents in that area are actually lying,” he said. “The people who supplied them with the information, people who have supplied that story, that scenario, they were deceptive. They withheld information. They withheld evidence. We now have people with genuine beliefs but based on fundamental deception and that is a very difficult thing to overcome because these are genuine beliefs.”
Lord May of Oxford challenged Mr McAleer’s comments, saying the only people on record for being, as he put it, economical with the truth, were from Cuadrilla. In April this year, the company was found guilty of breaching Advertising Standards Authority codes on misleading advertising, subjective claims, substantiation and exaggeration.
Lord May said: “To speak as you did is, I think, really quite over the top, particularly when you are speaking essentially on behalf of people who have been found by rigorous process to be economical with the truth.”
Mr Phelin responded by saying that all reports of serious illness relating to fracking in America were bogus and that the people involved wanted to get money out of the oil companies.
He told the committee “I have looked at all the serious cases of pollution in America, the flaming waters of Dimock and the flaming waters of Texas and the earthquakes of wherever and at every sick dog and ill granny and people telling me their husband doesn’t fancy them anymore and my sister’s left leg is shaking, every story that they come up with. All of them were bogus. Look, these are people who are suing gas companies. They are suing the biggest companies on the planet for money. We need to look at what they are saying with extreme scepticism….Why are you claiming all these illnesses against all these oil and gas companies? Because that’s where the money is.”
Also appearing before the committee yesterday were the journalist Matt Ridley (referred to by his title Viscount Ridley) and Nick Grealy, the publisher of the website No Hot Air. Both witnesses have supported fracking.
“Traffic not fracking”
Mr Grealy said most residents of Balcombe were concerned about traffic, rather than fracking itself. He said “Cuadrilla were trying to show, originally, that there was nothing to fear and if you take away the demonstrators nobody would have noticed a thing.”
Viscount Ridley said people in fracking areas would “see through the myths” and he suggested that opinion could be turned round by giving communities lots of benefits.
“Payments to nimby Britain”
He said “if there was enough funds in the kitty to do road improvements in these areas as a quid pro quo for having too many lorries for a few weeks then it may well be popular. Something imaginative like that in the way of a quid pro quo is going to have to be done to get people on side, particularly in some of the more nimby parts of Britain.”
When asked about the scale of oil and gas resources in the Weald, Mr Grealy predicted that the production companies might not bother with the gas.
“They may go straight to oil because there are plenty of people who tell me that the Weald is analogous geologically to somewhere like the Baaken or the Eagle field. So that would be kind of like winning the lottery ticket and then, oh, finding you have won the raffle as well.”
The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee is investigating the economic impact on UK energy policy of shale gas and oil. Transcripts of the hearings are on the committee’s website. Other witnesses have included academics, representatives of oil and gas companies and campaigners from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF UK.