Cuadrilla’s chairman promises “we won’t frack at Balcombe”

The chairman of Cuadrilla Resources, Lord Browne of Madingley, told a room of 400 people last night that his company would not frack at its site at Balcombe.

Lord Browne was responding to questions following a lecture about climate change and fossil fuels at the London School of Economics. The audience of academics, policy-makers and students, also included a group of residents from the Balcombe area and anti-fracking campaigners from other parts of Britain.

In his lecture, Lord Browne called for four changes to meet the challenge of climate change:

  • Targets and commitments that would provide stable and credible incentives for action
  • New ways to support the development of low carbon technologies and energies
  • Greater study of human behaviour as a mechanism for change
  • More attention to public perception and understanding of the energy mix

But, in the second question after the lecture, Vanessa Vine, of Frack Free Sussex and Britain and Ireland Frack Free, accused him of “massive discrepancies in truth” and a “deeply disingenuous speech”.

“I live four miles from Balcombe where the company in which you sir are heavily invested – which has 50% failure rate already on its wells in Lancashire – wishes to frack, potentially.”

She asked how, as a human being, he could equate his championing of green issues and philanthropy with the risks of the fracking industry. She said: “There are 17-hundred families and more in Pennsylvania and these are the ones who just dare to speak out about the neurological problems, the asthma, the cancers, the spontaneous abortions in their livestock. And you know this sir. You know this is happening.”

In response, Lord Browne said: “Cuadrilla is not going to be fracturing in Balcombe. It is not going to be doing that. I believe the company has already said that.”

In his lecture, Lord Browne called for radical new forms of public engagement to build relationships with local communities. He said: “That means transparency about our operations, consultation at every stage in a company’s working processes, and supreme clarity of vision and purpose. That sort of external engagement is the only way to earn the public’s confidence. We must replace fear and dread with education, communication and evidence and trust.”

But another anti-fracking campaigner from Sussex criticised Lord Browne for not mentioning the risks from geological faults: “fissures and existing weakness which can be exacerbated specifically through the process of hydraulic fracturing.” He told Lord Browne “We are not hearing the whole story. We can’t behave as you want us to behave.”

Another campaigner said there were documented cases in the US of ground water polluted with methane. Lord Browne blamed problems with the well casings, rather than fracturing itself. But he did concede that the disposal of waste water from fracking wells needed to be looked at very carefully. To shouts from the audience “what are you going to do”, Lord Browne said “new proposals are in our planning application.”

Cuadrilla has submitted a planning application to test flows at the well on its Balcombe site. West Sussex County Council has not yet made the application public.

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