Balcombe residents challenge parish council chair on Cuadrilla exploration


Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association has responded to an interview (reported here last week) by Shale World with the village’s parish council chair Alison Stevenson. The full response is posted below from FFBRA’s latest newsletter.

Community benefit
FFBRA challenged Alison’s Stevenson’s suggestion that Balcombe could receive £80,000 from the site at Lower Stumble. This, it said, implied profits to Cuadrilla would be between £4 million and £8 million per year. The Association said this was unlikely, but even if it were true, the benefit for the village was tiny, compared with a potential loss of £28 million in house values.

Shale gas
The Association rebutted Miss Stevenson’s suggestion that there was no shale gas at Balcombe. FFBRA referred to the first public engagement meeting held by Cuadrilla in Balcombe where company representatives said the plan was to frack for shale gas. It also referred to the 2010 planning application which mentions gas and oil ( and the possible need to stimulate the well by pumping water under pressure into the shale).

Public opinion
FFBRA criticised the ballot being carried out in the village, which asks  three questions and allows for twelve possible answers. This, FFRBA said was too confusing and open to different interpretations.

FFBRA also challenged Alison Stevenson’s comments on:

  • Energy security
  • Government incentives
  • Disinformation

Read the interview and response in full:

1. Christina – from Shale World

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

Alison, BPC Chairman
“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.”

FFBRA Response
France, Germany, Holland, and Ireland have banned fracking while our PM is
cheerleading for the unconventional oil and gas industry. There will not be economic
benefits for the country. The costs to taxpayers and families will outweigh the taxes
raised from the unconventional oil and gas firms. Energy Security – less than 1 % of our imported gas in the UK comes from Russia. Cuadrilla’s main shareholder is AJ Lucas (Australian company; mainly owned by Kerogen (Hong Kong based private equity firm) which is funded by CNOOC (third largest oil company in China owned by the Chinese government. How does this provide us with energy security? What incentives could compensate us for pollution of our water supply or our air?

2. Christina – from Shale World
Will benefits offered to local communities make residents’ acceptance easier?

Alison, BPC Chairman
“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.”

FFBRA Response
People who do not have “really strong views on shale” will also not be persuaded by
incentives. Analysis of the reaction to this tactic by the government have shown
general distrust of their offer of community benefits. The bigger the incentive the
bigger the perception of risk.

3. Christina – from Shale World
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?

Alison, BPC Chairman
“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.”

FFBRA Response
Where is Alison getting the figures of £40,000 or £80,000 per year from as 1% of the
profits? It implies Lower Stumble’s profits to Cuadrilla will be between £4 million and
£8 million per year. Terry Smith’s article in the FT last week has pointed out that the
drop off rate in unconventional geology is very fast so we should assume no long
term benefits. . Even if the village were to receive this for local projects, it would not
begin to compensate residents for the loss in house values. (for example 700 houses
X average price £400,000 X 10% drop in price = £28 million). It would more likely be
used towards the cost of road repairs.

4. Christina – from Shale World
What is the public acceptance of oil and gas drilling in Balcombe?

Alison, BPC Chairman
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!”

FFBRA Response
The question is about the public acceptance of oil and gas drilling in Balcombe – her
response is to rephrase it as “are you for exploration without fracking?” which is not
the same question. Exploration without fracking is the current tactic being used to
soften up opinion in Balcombe to accept the presence of an oil industry in the village.

5. Christina – from Shale World
What do you think oil companies and the government should do better in terms of
community engagement?

Alison, BPC Chairman
“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.”

FFBRA Response
Cuadrilla have attended two meetings in Balcombe. At the first in the Victory Hall,
they proposed fracking for gas and placing a small electricity generator on top of the
well. At the second meeting in Bramble Hall they had changed their Chief Executive
and were drilling for oil. Balcombe residents should be informed about visits made to other communities if these were made in Alison’s capacity as Balcombe Parish Council Chairman. What exactly does she means by the “vast amounts of disinformation available”? There is
the implication being made that the disinformation is not from Cuadrilla.

6. Christina – from Shale World
Will a solution between the two sides be found?

Alison, BPC Chairman
“No, never….. the arguments will continue until we have 20 years of incident free
fracking under our belts!”

FFBRA Response
You could equally respond to this by saying “the arguments will continue until we
have one serious incident.

7. Christina – from Shale World
What are the actions that Balcombe parish council is planning next?

Alison, BPC Chairman
“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.”

FFBRA Response
The only way we will have a clear idea of the opinion of the village relating to oil
exploration and extraction in the village will be to have a poll that asks a
straightforward question: “Do you want oil and gas exploration and production in the village?” Yes or No. The current poll’s three questions and twelve possible answers are too confusing and open to different interpretations. A bigger response rate will not help a poorly
worded poll provide clear information.

8. Christina – from Shale World
Talking about last summer’s protests, some journalists said the majority of protesters
involved were activists and not residents. Is that true?

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

FFBRA Response
Christina’s question is a clever use of a non sequitur. Most of the protestors were
from outside the village is true but it does not follow that most of them were activists. The “wedge” technique is frequently used by PR representatives of the oil and gas industry. To force the “wedge” in Balcombe the technique is to describe all opposition to oil and gas drilling as “protesters” and to describe them as activists. For information about how “wedge” techniques are used see People know that if this industry comes to Balcombe, it will be coming to their area next and they want to stop it before it gets established. People came to Balcombe from all over the country both to protest and to understand the issues.

9. Christina – from Shale World
Will fracking in Balcombe take place?

Alison, BPC Chairman
“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

FFBRA Response
It is not true to say in Balcombe there is no shale gas. We are probably sitting on top
of an enormous amount of it. Currently Cuadrilla tell us they are targeting just one
small layer which is oil bearing micrite. Above and below that layer are huge
amounts of shale. Their original application in 2010 for which Cuadrilla received
planning permission was to frack for shale gas. This was before the Lancashire
earthquake caused by Cuadrilla raised public awareness of fracking, and before
fracking for shale gas was banned across Europe. The geology has not changed
since 2010. And Cuadrilla have a thirty year lease for the land at Lower Stumble.

2 replies »

  1. I have read our Chairlady’s interview with Shale Gas and of course I would like her to have said more about the people whose antics have cost us £4 million. No doubt others would have liked her to promote their views.
    BUT by remaining balanced and impartial rather than mouthing the slogans of either side she is likely to command much more respect when dealing on our behalf with the bodies who matter.
    It is outrageous that people who, not only attend but promote, blatant propaganda films have the arrogance to try to dictate what she should say.
    Alison has stuck to her post at a difficult time for the Council. She deserves the thanks & support AND the Courtesy of the entire community.

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