17th March 2014
Contamination of air and water, noise and traffic disturbance, and threats to local wildlife were the main issues raised by people objecting to Cuadrilla’s latest planning application at Balcombe.
The public consultation by West Sussex County Council, which ended on March 13th, attracted 925 objections. Of these, 858 raised specific issues. InvestigatingBalcombeAndCuadrilla.com has analysed these responses to discover out more the key concerns.
(For the analysis methodology, go to the bottom of this post. And click here for more findings.)
Ground and surface water pollution
Among the objections which raised a specific issue, the most frequent concern was water contamination. It was mentioned by 76% of the objections analysed. Concerns included drilling through the aquifer and the role of local geological faults in distributing pollutants into groundwater.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the objections analysed mentioned air pollution. The main concerns were about pollution from fugitive emissions, the proposed flare and traffic.
One person, who said she was highly allergic to diesel and petrol fumes, described how she spent £1,000 on two high-quality air purifiers during the drilling phase last year.
“I had them for 2 weeks prior to Cuadrilla starting and during that 2 weeks the medium pollution light for diesel and similar chemicals only came on once when a John Lewis van was turning outside the house and the window was open as it was a hot day. When Cuadrilla was bringing in or taking out their equipment it was on high pollution for a large part of every day. My breathing suffered accordingly.”
14% of objections mentioned concerns about the impact of well-testing on general health.
One objector, who has an 8-month-old son, wrote: “We live in Newlands less than 700m from the drilling. So concerned are we by the negative health impact on our child we feel we will have no option but to leave Balcombe whilst the flare is in operation.”
More than half the objections (57%) raised the issue of noise.
One person wrote: “During the test drill on some nights we could not sleep due to noise and vibration”. Another wrote: “The noise during the summer last year coming from the site was quite distressing.”
Nearly two-thirds of responses (65%) raised concerns about increases in heavy traffic. Particular issues included the impact of noise and fumes on the local primary school and the increased risk of road accidents.
One person, writing on behalf of a child, said: “Eddie also doesn’t like the noisy lorries going past his school (as his classroom has an outside play area next to the B2036.”
Nearly half the objections (48%) mentioned the impact on wildlife, particularly birds and bats.
One person said: “We noticed a dramatic absence of wildlife from August the first that only started to return at Christmas and even now is not back to pre drilling levels.”
Lack of trust in Cuadrilla
The analysis revealed a lack of trust in Cuadrilla. 13% of objections mentioned issues about the company’s lack of corporate responsibility.
On objector said: “Asking the companies to ‘self-regulate’ is like suggesting that a burglar leaves a house he has entered without stealing anything.”
“Cuadrilla’s word cannot be trusted. They have been shown to be less than truthful in their discussions within Balcombe the village, in the press and on TV.”
“They do not have a track record that inspires confidence having already admitted to causing earthquakes in Lancashire.”
There were also concerns about a lack of information about emergency planning.
One person said: “There have been no statements telling the public what will happen in case something goes wrong and what plans are in place, especially after a well has been abandoned.”
Lack of trust in regulators
There was also scepticism about the ability of the regulatory process to protect people and the environment (11% of objections).
One objector wrote: “I do not trust state authorities to monitor safely this industry. Our government is in deep with the oil companies and we are feeling somewhat helpless to keep them out.”
“The Environment Agency has issued a flaring permit to the applicant which does not set limits for toxic air emissions from the flare. A strategy needs to be in place for continuous monitoring of all toxic emissions from the flare at Kemps House and Holts House. If it is found that any emissions levels breach safe limits a strategy must be in place to immediately remedy this situation.”
“It is patently obvious that the council does not have the power and influence to ensure that health, safety and environmental risks are managed effectively.”
Social division in Balcombe
15% of comments mentioned the social impact that the previous and current applications have had on village life in Balcombe.
One comment said: “Cuadrilla’s proposed and then actual presence since 2010 has led to stress, heightened social division and anxiety within the community.”
“Ever since I have lived in Balcombe there has always been a small village, friendly feel about the place. In the last two years, however, a huge amount of ill-feeling and disharmony between residents has been allowed to emerge with Cuadrilla’s presence in the community the obvious cause.”
“People behave differently, relate to each other differently and show signs of stress and tiredness because of the extent of the opposition and the threat of further activities.”
Scepticism in democratic accountability
The responses raised questions about the planning process. 38% of the responses analysed were critical that the council had not carried out an Environmental Impact Assessment. There was also scepticism about the consultation process.
One person wrote: “Given that I have written to my local MP 5 times so far without a response about this matter, you will understand that I am somewhat dubious about the value of the time I have spent writing this note.”
Another said: “If local democracy is to have any meaning, it must be seen to be capable of resisting the vested financial interests of energy companies and inappropriate government policy which the energy companies lobby to manipulate to their advantage at our expense.”
Of the 925 objections, 67 (7 per cent) made no substantive comment or simply asked for their objection to be noted.
For the remaining 858 objections we allocated the issues they raised to 39 different categories. We then counted the number of objections in which each issue was raised and expressed this as a percentage of 858.