East Sussex County Council has rejected calls for a ban on fracking in the county.
This morning the lead cabinet member for transport and environment, Carl Maynard, turned down a request in a petition calling for the refusal of any attempt at fracking in East Sussex.
At a meeting at County Hall in Lewes, Cllr Maynard said the council could not apply a blanket ban on fracking because this would “seek to fetter future decisions”. The council was under a legal obligation to consider each application on its merits, he said.
The petition, which attracted around 500 signatures, was organised by Andrew Durling, of Eastbourne Friends of the Earth. He told the meeting the call for a ban on fracking was based on the “known harmful effects upon public health and the environment in areas of the world where fracking has already taken place”.
It was “not acceptable”, he said, to extract new reserves of fossil fuels when “at least two-thirds of all known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change”.
He urged councillors: “You should be aware, more than most, of how large areas of East Sussex, especially along the coast where I live, are extremely vulnerable to sea level rises that are one of the most significant impacts of climate change.”
Mr Durling rejected the idea that fracking was a bridge fuel in a transition to a clean energy future. “Fracking”, he said, “is a bridge to nowhere and there’s no time left to build a bridge anyway”. He also said East Sussex was a water-stressed area and any risk to water supplies was unacceptable.
He appealed to councillors to “show true leadership and respect for local democracy” and not risk the “wrath of an East Sussex public that will be enraged by the inevitable impacts upon them of contaminated air, water and soils”.
Cllr Rosalyn St Pierre (Lib Dem, Ringmer and Lewes Bridge) also urged the council to accept the petition, warning that it would have to bear the costs if anything went wrong with a fracking operation.
Tony Cook, head of planning at ESCC, told the meeting only 20 sq km or 1.2%, of the county was currently licensed for oil and gas exploration and production, though he acknowledged that a new licence round was underway. He said there had been no planning applications for fracking in East Sussex and there were no pre-application discussions. He also pointed to research by the British Geological Survey, which suggested the potential for shale oil was greater in the western part of the Sussex Weald, rather than in East Sussex.
On the volume of water needed for fracking, Mr Cook said “as a proportion, each frack would actually be akin to watering a large playing field”, prompting laughter from public gallery. He said the council’s planning policy (WMP16) was to “support proposals for the exploration for oil and gas where it can be demonstrated that there is no less sensitive location that could be utilised and that there is no unacceptable adverse impact on the environment or local amenity”.
The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport, Rupert Clubb, said the Environment Agency, not the county council, would determine what risks there were from fracking to water and air and from naturally-occurring radioactive materials. He said the environmental legislation that would be applied to fracking proposals was “some of the strongest” in Europe. On radioactivity, he said “You would probably get more of a radioactive dose if you went down to Cornwall on your holidays”.
Cllr John Hodges (Lab, Hastings) described the discussion as a mixture of fact and opinion and called for more information based on fact, so that councillors could make what he called an “informed decision”.
After the meeting, Mr Durling said it was clear that councillors needed more information about fracking. “It is crucial that they get these facts from independent sources”, he said.