Daily headlines

Another no—show by the industry for a fracking debate

15th July 2014

Another attempt at a balanced debate on hydraulic fracturing failed tonight because the pro-frackers again declined to take part.

BBC local radio stations for Sussex, Surrey and Kent organised a live programme in front of an audience in the West Sussex village of Fernhurst, where Celtique Energie has applied to drill an exploratory oil well.

The panel included the chairs of Fernhurst and nearby Lynchmere Parish Councils, which both oppose Celtique Energie’s application, as well as the organisation Frack-Free Fernhurst and Professor Paul Stevens, of Chatham House, who often speaks critically of the technique. No one from the oil and gas industry was prepared to take part.

The chair, Neil Pringle, told listeners at home: “The energy companies are not here. They were invited several times.” The defence of fracking was again left to geologist, Dr Nick Riley, who spoke at similar events run last month by Talk Fracking, for which the industry also declined invitations.

Calls for quality public debate

This evening’s often noisy event heard frequent calls for more evidence and a higher quality public debate.

Andrew Moncrief, of Fernhurst Parish Council, said “I had hoped for a rational debate and we have had a lot of emotion”. Sylvia McCallum, of Lynchmere Parish Council, called for a “better, more transparent debate”.

Paul Stevens described the quality of debate nationally so far as “extremely ill-informed on both sides”. He criticised David Cameron and George Osborne for claiming that fracking would bring down energy prices and ensure security of supply “Both are myths”, he said.

There are two schools of thought, he said, about why they had claimed fracking would reduce prices. ”They are either economically-illiterate or dishonest”. He also accused anti-frackers of making claims about the negative environmental impact of fracking, which he said were not supported by scientific evidence.

“Industry has a knack of shooting itself in the foot”

The largely anti-fracking audience in the hall was very critical of both government and industry, as were most of the emails and texts from listeners. Paul Stevens said the industry was “its own worst enemy. It has a knack of shooting itself in the foot”. A listener wrote in: “You cannot say David Cameron is listening to the people when he is saying it [fracking] is going ahead.”

Brenda Pollack, of Friends of the Earth, accused the government of “riding roughshod over local communities who don’t want drilling on their doorstep.” She said ministers were “bending over backwards for the oil and gas industry”, giving tax breaks to the industry, sweeteners to communities, changing the planning rules and undermining investment in renewable energy.

Jill Sutcliffe, of Wisborough Green, another West Sussex village where Celtique Energie has applied to drill, criticised the government for failing to implement all the recommendations of reports it commissioned. Only one of the 10 recommendations of the report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineers had been implemented, she said.

Regulatory regime is not in place

Julie Wassmer, of East Kent Against Fracking, criticised government claims of a robust regulatory system. “Everyone will say that fracking in the UK is safe with the caveat of a robust regulatory regime. That regulatory regime is not in place.”

John Buchanan, of Frack Free Fernhurst, said “The government and industry are not walking the talk.” He said there was an absence of proper evidence on the safety of fracking. “I have no faith in the industry or the government”, he said.

No trust in oil companies

Actress Sue Jameson, from Wisborough Green, said: “I simply do not trust the oil companies to be truthful.” She described how Celtique Energie claimed at its first public event about its Wisborough Green plans to be “in constant contact” with Sussex Wildlife Trust. The Wildlife Trust later said it had not heard from the company.

Sue Jamieson said: “They [Celtique Energie] started with a lie and I don’t believe an awful lot of what they say now.”

Sylvia McCallum said Lynchmere Parish Council was concerned that Celtique Energie had no 3D mapping of the Fernhurst area, while Sue Taylor, from Balcombe (where Cuadrilla drilled an exploratory oil well last year) said no money had been put aside in case the company went out of business.

When asked whether the oil companies could extract oil from the Weald without fracking, Nick Riley said: “They don’t know because we have not had enough testing. There is huge speculation. We will only know when we have a set of representative sites of exploratory wells and at the moment we don’t have enough exploration.”

But in a show of hands, the audience voted overwhelmingly against exploration. Julie Wassmer, of East Kent Against Fracking, said the consequences of drilling could be pollution of drinking water, industrialisation of the countryside, fall in property prices and problems with house insurance.

John Buchanan, of Frack Free Fernhurst, said: “If we drill out the whole Weald we might get two months of oil. Is it really worth that?”

  • Other issues raised by the panel and audience included: the need to keep 80% of known fossil fuels in the ground to avoid more than 2 degrees of warming (Brenda Pollock); hidden costs of fracking such as the need to re-route new pillons around the proposed Fernhurst drilling site (John Buchanan); the insignificant impact of the proposed compensation scheme on public opinion (Andrew Moncrief and  Sylvia McCallum) ; fears about the health effects of fracking chemicals and the flow-back material.
  • Nick Riley said he was disappointed by the debate. “Two of us have been invited as experts on the panel and we’ve only had the same amount of time to talk as people who are not experts and we’ve been interrupted while were talking. I know you’re locals but if we’re invited as experts surely we should be allowed to comment on what’s being said”.

Highlights from the event will be broadcast on the BBC Sussex breakfast programme on Wednesday July 16th, followed by a recording of the whole discussion at 9am.

11 replies »

  1. It is like a scientist debating a creationist!! i did that once only to find that the creationist was putting forward terminological inexactitudes. Until anti-frackers remove all their disinformation (see some of my blogs) any debate will either be a slanging match due to disinformation or impossible. This is summed up by claims in the Fylde that fracking will cause Blackpool to subside below sea level. Also consider the duplicity of the Not for Shale campaign from Greenpeace

  2. Ruth, Can you please see if it is possible to add a video link to this article. Previously debates were also available on video. They are absolutely hilarious. What a crowd!!
    There are off course some exceptions, and some intelligent and decent people participate as well, but a majority are just poor victims of misinformation campaigns by anti frackers. By the way, these anti frackers are also -in every debate- proclaiming the need for a new society and a revolution. Again, likely causes. Mind you, no talk of alternative solutions (other then a model which takes us straight back to the stone age).
    It would be better if TalkFracking changes their name in TalkAgainstFracking. It would be more ‘honest and transparent’

    • Thanks for your comment. I don’t think the event was videoed but it will be available on listen again. This was a BBC event, and not organised by Talk Fracking – sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

  3. Ruth, I wouldn’t have gone to Fernhurst since I don’t really get involved in local issues, but I do point out that I was at a debate nearby in July 2012.

    What is this BS about industry “not turning up again”? Remind me of how Joe Corre steadfastly refused to invite me. It’s bad enough he exploits women’s bodies by allegedly liberating them via Agent Provacateur, but he compounds things by confusing an equal time debate with a panel discussion venting session by antis who are losing the debate because obviously most people simply are getting bored by it all.

    You seem a like a rational and honourable person. Repeating the lies of Corre about industry declining to take part makes me not so sure. Corre won’t get much mileage from that in mainstream media because they will ask the same questions: Where is the “debate” when no one is offered equal time. Why didn’t he invite me?

  4. Hi Nick Thanks for your comment. The Fernhurst debate wasn’t organised by Talk Fracking – it was solely a BBC event. The evidence I have is that the producers tried hard to get the industry to take part. I think you’re right about the confusion of the words debate and discussion – they are different things. The format of last night was not a debate – but debate was what the BBC called it. It’s a shame you weren’t there because it didn’t deal with solely local issues. And local experiences often inspire national policy, whether that’s a good thing or not.

  5. I attended the debate last night and can see no good reason why someone who is there as an ‘expert on geology’ should think he has any more right to speak on other matters related to fracking, than anyone else. Part of the debate was impact on communities, and so, unsurprisingly, people who live in those communities were asked, and entitled to talk. When someone is invited as a very specific expert, but displays scant regard for how much research others have done, and proceeds to be indignant when it turns out the audience doesn’t want to listen to their opinions on compensation, communities or anything else, they should realise, its they who speak out of turn.
    Also, I suspect at least one person who spoke was, rather than an ‘anti fracker’ more likely an industry plant. There are people who are paid to discredit this powerful social movement, and I fear we had one or two in our midst last night. I do understand some members of the public find themselves more upset than expected, – especially when an event is not managed well, but, we should learn from history. Now we know, in part thanks to this website, that there were indeed undercover police at Balcombe, should we wonder how they behaved? Did they just cruise around quietly, or did they speak? How and to whom? The fact that everyone is not as they appear, including people who speak at meetings apparently holding ‘anti fracking’ views, but who may have quite another motive, is not something to be naive about.

    Finally, I found the debacle of the BBCs attempt to get a vote between ‘nuclear or fracking’ quite unethical when the presenter took advantage of no cameras by failing to relay to listeners that 95% of the audience did not put their hands up at all.
    However, it was a great pleasure to hear so many learned members of the ‘general public’. That they inspired greater applause on many occasions than ‘the experts’ should come as no surprise.

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