Balcombe parish council chair talks to Shale World


Alison Stevenson, chair Balcombe Parish Council, is attending the 2014 Shale Gas World conference in Manchester in May. The website asked her about Balcombe’s experience, public attitudes to drilling and how well the operating companies had engaged with people.

The interview was published last week but was, presumably, carried out before January 22nd and publication of Cuadrilla’s latest planning application for Balcombe. Since then, Balcombe Parish Council has distributed a ballot to residents.  [The interview no longer appears to be on the website but a transcript is below]

Q What is your view about the supportive role that David Cameron is showing towards shale gas developments in the UK?

A “I don’t think his attitude is particularly out of line with other countries around the world. So there should be no surprise on his statements for shale gas developments, especially when you think about the economic benefits and the fears that the government has on energy security. Is he listening to people in the country? I think he is trying to make it easier for them with the incentives that he is offering – whether that would be enough I am not sure.”

Q Will benefits offered to local communities make residents’ acceptance easier?

A “What we have seen here this summer proves that people with really strong views on shale won’t be persuaded by incentives and benefits because for them it will not be worth the risk.”

Q A group of MPs and councils have written a letter to David Cameron asking for 10% share of profits from shale gas sites. Do you support this request?

A “10% of the profits could be a lot of money. How long that last? I don’t know. Should areas under fracking really benefit to that degree? I don’t know. I think local councils will certainly be tempted by the money because it will mean they can still provide services currently being cut. But I am worried that that money would just get into normal budget and won’t be used to benefit the community affected. The £100,000 in Balcombe could be good if we can get it every year, but if it is one off, we get £60,000 pound a year anyway. We can probably do a couple of medium sized projects in the village but not much more, if it is one off. The 1% could be £40,000 a year, could be £80,000 a year or more. We don’t know because we don’t know what the production rate is going to be here. So again we can make no assessment on the 1%. Balcombe doesn’t know what the figures are and neither does anyone else.”

Q What is the public acceptance of oil and gas drilling in Balcombe? –

A “It is very difficult to say because we don’t have a good enough picture yet. We haven’t polled on all scenarios. But certainly there is a division in opinion here. We had a poll 18 months ago and that showed that 85% of people in Balcombe were against fracking, but we only had a 33% response. What we didn’t ask was – are you for exploration without fracking? – So we don’t yet know what the percentages are for that . So unless everybody votes here on a wider range of questions, I won’t be able to give you a definitive answer. What is sure is that the debate is alive and kicking!” –

Q What do you think oil companies and the government should do better in terms of community engagement?

A “I think companies and the government need to do more preparation work before drilling, to explain people in a very organised way what it is going to happen in their community. From what I have seen it here – and in another couple of communities that I have visited – I am not sure that things have been explained well enough. Cuadrilla did a very good opening session here in Balcombe, but they have only done one. If they want to avoid objections they need to talk one to one with people to counter the vast amounts of disinformation available.”

Q Will a solution between the two sides be found?

A “No, never. The arguments will continue until we have 20 years of incident free fracking under our belts!”

Q What are the actions that Balcombe parish council is planning next?

A “We are waiting for the planning application for the flow test element of the exploration that started this summer. It should be ratified any day now, but we have been hearing that for the last three months. As soon as we have that, we will have another poll. We hope we will have a bigger response rate to get a better idea of opinions in the village related to oil explorations and extraction.”

Q Talking about last summer’s protests, some journalists said the majority of protesters involved were activists and not residents. Is that true?

A “Yes a lot more people were from outside the village. There was a real mix of causes and backgrounds here.”

Q Will fracking in Balcombe take place?

A “In Balcombe there is no shale gas. It is oil here in a limestone. Although we saw all those protests against fracking, Balcombe is a bit different. It is not necessarily the case that they will need to fracture in Balcombe. They will probably do just horizontal drilling. The original planning application actually says it is unlikely hydraulic fracturing will be necessary in Balcombe. Balcombe may not receive any of the benefits or money promised by the government. We would have seen the biggest protest the country will probably ever seen against a shale gas which is not here and if they don’t frack, we won’t see a penny. But no fracking is what people here voted for.”

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