Sir Nicholas Soames, the Conservative candidate for Mid Sussex, supports fracking – but not in his constituency, he told voters last week.
Speaking at an environmental hustings, organised by Friends of the Earth, Sir Nicholas said he thought fracking should be carried out in the Trough of Bowland in Lancashire to show that it was safe because it would not trouble people living there.
He said fracking in Sussex would be silly and he would not do it. But Lancashire, he said, was “very under-populated”. To shouts of “No it’s not” from the audience, he said: “Yes it is.
“I think it would be a very good place to start because the infrastructure is there and it wouldn’t trouble people and they can prove that it would work. But I would not do it in Sussex”.
Sir Nicholas, who had a majority at the last election of more than 7,000 and took more than half the vote, said he supported fracking.
“I am in favour of fracking and I think it would be very foolish to turn it over”.
He said the country had a “well-established and extremely effective regulatory framework” for drilling onshore oil and gas wells. Oil had been produced locally for 25 years, completely satisfactorily, he said.
But he described Cuadrilla’s handling of its exploratory oil operation at Balcombe in West Sussex in 2013 as “lamentable”. It was, he said, “absolutely grotesque up there”. *
“You can’t frack in very built up areas. It’s a silly to do. There’s isn’t the infrastructure … thousands of trucks thundering through the place in a heavily populated area.”
Sir Nicholas shared a panel with the six other candidates contesting Mid Sussex. Four are also opposed fracking in the constituency.
Beki Adam, a local farmer and a campaigner against fracking, told the hustings the process could not be compared with conventional drilling for oil.
“The implication that there’s a nodding donkey behind a hedge like there is in Singleton [a West Sussex oil field] is ridiculous. The number of wells: it could be up to 30,000 wells in the Weald. It is a completely different process to conventional extraction. It is incredible expensive but it also covers the landscape.”
She said future generations would have to deal with leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, if abandoned wells were not maintained properly.
The way the process had been presented to the public had twisted the truth, she said. “People have literally not be told about what has been involved with the process. So yes, I’m opposed to it.”
Miranda Diboll, of the Green Party, said she believed fracking was a threat to the environment, climate, public health, air, water and local infrastructure.
“There are so many reasons why we must not have this industry here. Not even in Sussex but absolutely anywhere. I am completely against it. I would not see it if I was MP here.”
Greg Mountain, Labour’s candidate, said fracking was an outdated technology and it would not be economic to frack in Sussex.
“I don’t think we can make any comparison with the US, because the US has miles of open plains, and is far less densely populated. So the factors around here mitigate against it.”
Daisy Cooper for the Lib Dems, said she would take direct action against fracking in Sussex, but she has not signed the Greenpeace/Friends of the Earth election promise to oppose fracking in her constituency. Nor have the other candidates in Mid-Sussex: Toby Brothers for UKIP, and Baron von Thunderclap, for the Monster Raving Loony Party, Sir Nicholas Soames has not signed the promise either.
*Cuadrilla did not frack at Balcombe