“Fracking risks far too high” – Balcombe woman responds to industry comments on female opposition


Helen Savage, a Balcombe villager who campaigns against fracking, has replied to comments by Averil Macdonald, the new chair of the industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas.

Ms Macdonald told The Times yesterday that women opposed fracking because they were “always concerned about threats to their family more than men.” She said women didn’t know about or understand fracking and didn’t want to take things on trust.

In a letter to Mc Macdonald, Ms Savage said she had done her own research into fracking.

“The more research I did, the more I realised fracking is an extreme form of energy production, the risks of which are far too high.”

She said she and other villagers had had the chance to study Cuadrilla’s activities in Balcombe and elsewhere at first hand.

“We don’t take something on trust”

“We have found out just how dangerous this process is”.

Here is Helen Savage’s full letter to Averil Macdonald. At the bottom of the post you can see what Ms Macdonald told The Times.

Helen Savage’s letter to Averil Macdonald

Dear Averil Macdonald,

Your sweeping generalisations do a grave dis-service to your sex.

You made one good point in your statements about women and fracking, that women don’t ‘want to be taking (something) on trust’.

When Cuadrilla arrived, I heard the shocking stories about how fracking not only causes earthquakes, but also pollutes and creates health problems. So I started researching. Like many others, male and female, the more research I did, the more I realised fracking is an extreme form of energy production, the risks of which are far too high.

I have read the government’s own AMEC report (stark enough reading in itself) as well as the MEDACT report by concerned health professionals; The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health report; the Public Health review of Fracking in America by the New York State Health Department, the Chemtrusts’ report; the recent report by Physicians for Social Responsibility and many more.

It would appear that these reports are written by both male and female doctors, environmental health experts and scientists.

You forget also Mrs Macdonald that we that oppose fracking have studied very closely Cuadrilla’s actions, in which they have:

  • Lost air samples;
  • Exceeded noise levels;
  • Missed gases off air simulations;
  • Caused an earthquake
  • Failed to report when they had cracked a well casing.

What silly women (and men) we are, not to take their word on trust that they were self-regulating effectively, but to investigate further. How annoying for you, and the oil and gas juggernauts doing your best to bulldoze us, that we don’t take something on trust, but we have found out just how dangerous this process is.

We have also found out it is not economically preferable to renewables, (we can actually count as well) and not compatible with our climate change targets.

Apparently your research has shown you that men are more in favour of fracking than women. How useful (for your purposes).

Meanwhile, we have been researching the pros and cons of fracking.

Oh dear, Averil, your ability to persuade other women is obviously part of your remit. Trouble is, most women are more intelligent than that.

I’m afraid we would look much, much, further than your sex, before we decide whether we trust you or not. Thankfully you’ve just answered the question. How much is UKOOG paying you for your 40 days work a year?

Yours faithfully,

Helen Savage, Balcombe

AverilMacdonaldWhat Averil Macdonald told The Times

‘Frequently the women haven’t had very much in the way of a science education because they may well have dropped science at 16. That is just a fact.

‘Women do tend not to have continued with science. Not only do [they] show more of a concern about fracking, they also know that they don’t know and they don’t understand. They are concerned because they don’t want to be taking [something] on trust. And that’s actually entirely reasonable.

‘More men on the other hand will look at the facts and be persuaded because ‘fair enough, (I) understand’

‘We are keen to ensure the facts around fracking are presented in a digestible way so that everyone is able make informed decisions.

‘Why are men persuaded? That’s because an awful lot of facts have been put forward,’ she said. ‘[Men] will say, ‘fair enough, understand’. But women, for whatever reason, have not been persuaded by the facts. More facts are not going to make any difference. What we have got to do is understand the gut reaction, the feel. The dialogue is more important than the dissemination of facts.

‘Women are always concerned about threats to their family more than men. We are naturally protective of our children. I would similarly be concerned but I read the literature and I feel comfortable that I understand. What I hope is that I can make the women who are concerned comfortable that the myths they are worried about are myths.’

‘As a scientist I have read all the relevant studies and this allows me, as a mother, to be convinced there is nothing that could harm my, or any other, family. We know from research and experience that men and women tend to react to information in different ways, and that this has led to more men being in favour of fracking than women. Our job to alleviate people’s fears by dispelling the myths that have been spread, and show why shale gas can be part of delivering an ultra-low carbon future for Britain.’

8 replies »

  1. Of course, if Ms Savage gets all her info from Friends of the Earth, Frack off and Greenpeace she will have a very jaundiced view. If she read the Royal Society of Engineering report, and Health Protection England’s report, she would have a completely different opinion. F Of E are in the process of being brought to book. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/environment/article4590730.ece

    Its not being a woman that’s the issue, its the plethora of rubbish science, misinterpreted data and plain made up stories that are the problem.

    • Sorry Anon, but I seem to have missed the references to FOE and Greenpeace in Helen Savage’s response to Averil MacDonald, perhaps you would be so kind as to point them out to me. Having reread her letter I find references to the AMEC report the MEDACT report by concerned health professionals; The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health report; the Public Health review of Fracking in America by the New York State Health Department, the Chemtrusts’ report; the recent report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, the authors of which all have professional experiences on which they have based their conclusions.

      Helen speaks from personal experience and those of the community in which she lives. These are facts as is the the woeful efforts by Caudrilla in fracking their first well in Lancashire. It seems to me that your post has more to do with having a swipe at Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace rather than a critique of the substance of Helen Savage’s letter.

      As to your final sentence, this is no more than we have come to expect from uniformed pro frackers it is almost identical to the arguments used by the Tobacco Industry and their supporters regarding the risks to smokers of contracting cancer.

  2. I think I made it clear that I don’t take things on trust, so no, I am glad to say that all of those reports I read came from british scientists whom I know, university professionals and scientists abroad. So no, of course I didn’t take Friends of the Earth’s word for it, I went to read the raw data myself before I made my mind up. I am lucky enough to have been able to read the original reports and data of studies of life near unconventional oil and gas development with my own eyes (not just as they appeared in other people’s articles). Luckily there are plenty of peer reviewed university studies which present the evidence that living near these sites harms people’s health (and livestock and wildlife). It goes without saying that I have read the Royal Society of Engineering report and am aware that only one of the10 recommendations it made has been implemented. I certainly have not relied on the mainstream press articles to provide me with my evidence as you seem to have, I notice your link is to a Times article. One thing I have learnt is that the press also produce a ‘plethora of rubbish science, misinterpreted data and plain made up stories’ . May I respectfully suggest that you read this report by scientists that reviews medical data from across america and prompted the moratorium on fracking in New York? “After studying the public health impacts of fracking for years, New York State Health Commissioner Dr Zucker was clear that he would not let his family live in a community with fracking.” (Martha Robertson, Tompkins County Legislator, from Elected Officials to Protect New York)

    Click to access high_volume_hydraulic_fracturing.pdf

  3. I just wanted to clarify something Anon, did you mean Public Health England’s report? In which case, yes I’ve read it.

  4. I suggest Anon reads Ms Savage’s letter properly. She makes no mention of Friends of the Earth, Frack off or Greenpeace.
    Anon appears to be following the usual attempt by pro-frackers of simply denigrating anything said or written by the anti-frackers. One day perhaps the government, the Oil & Gas industry and the pro-frackers will attempt to directly respond to the specific concerns of those against fracking, rather than simply slinging mud at their views.

    Anon’s final sentence can be equally applied to publications from the Oil & Gas industry concerning fracking. If Anon gets all their info from the Royal Society of Engineering and Health Protection England, they will have a very jaundiced view. If they were to read the publications from the sources mentioned by Ms Savage, they would have a completely different opinion.

    The reference to the F Of E and The Times article is irrelevant to Ms. Savage’s response.

  5. But thats exactly the issue Anon the Royal Society report was proved incorrect, after concerned people contacted DECC it was proved 200 wells have not been fracked, just one has Preece Hall in Lancashire which ended in a cracked well casing and earth tremors. We can’t trust scientists to get it right and Ms Macdonald should have checked her facts before blindly quoting them.

  6. Anon, you are probably from industry, government, or retained by one or other to spread propaganda and undermine the men and women who (in full grasp of both facts and emotions) are giving up their free time to fight fracking (not to mention coal bed methane, underground coal gasification and a most incredible government onslaught on truly renewable energy).

    We anti-fracking campaigners and activists in Balcombe and all around the country have had several years now to gain a thorough and evolving understanding of the science (and the economics and politics) behind fracking.

    Oh yes, we have read the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report (don’t forget the Academy, Anon!). We know how many caveats it included – how it said, very cautiously, that fracking would be OK so long as this and that. ‘This and that included’ many recommendations that have not been put in place – and that the government appears to have no intention of putting in place. The industry is allowed now and will be allowed in the future to self-monitor. We have experienced that in Balcombe. So have our friends in the north. Why should we trust this industry?

    A growing body of scientific evidence points to the dangers of fracking to our health and environment. Anon, did you mean Public Health England? Did YOU read the report? You would have found that it was also cautious in its findings. It will be OK if… The PHE report was also already way out of date at point of publishing, and omitted many recent health studies on the negative side. These studies continue to be published. This article came out only last week: ‘Fracking Studies Overwhelmingly Indicate Threats to Public Health’ http://insideclimatenews.org/news/16102015/fracking-studies-overwhelmingly-indicate-threats-public-health-air-water-pollution. A ‘near exhaustive and evolving’ database of a very large number of peer-reviewed studies and journal articles on fracking was compiled recently by the American organisation Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy. It is organised into twelve categories, including air quality, water quality, climate, public health and regulations. You may find it revealing: http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/site/view/1180

    Take a look at The List of the Harmed http://pennsylvaniaallianceforcleanwaterandair.wordpress.com/the-list/ to get some idea of the extent of environmental damage (as well as medical and harm to farm animals) from effects of operators’ procedures as well as accidents.

    No, it won’t be different here, because we have learnt that the UK’s regulatory regime is not rigourous (as government claims and industry complains). Anyway, two key differences between the USA and UK are size and population density. Our green spaces are more limited, and shrinking. A greater number of people will be living and farming closer to fracking wells. Thus potential impacts are more serious for the UK.

    Clearly, fracking would also industrialise swathes of our countryside and create vast quantities of waste. Here is a link to a fascinating satellite view of North America, showing the density of wells and the way habitats and wildlife corridors are disrupted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jN6TSSPZwU.

    In truth, fracked gas would make little difference to our overall energy mix or energy security.

    It would create few jobs – those jobs figues are spurious.

    And fracked gas would come too late. The industry would (God forbid) be up and running in the 2020s, by which time we are committed to be on the way out of fossil fuels. Remember climate change, Anon? At this point in the history of the world we do not need a whole new fossil fuel industry.

    Ah, Anon, you would no doubt like to put Averil right on one of her myths. She said on TV that 200 British wells have already been fracked. Is she pulling wool or doesn’t she know that these little local tickle-fracks bear no comparison to the high-volume fracking in long lateral wells with which the country is now being threatened? It’s like, to quote one ex-industry engineer, comparing a corner shop to a hypermarket, Whatever her reason for menrtioning those corner shops, and whatever her sex, shame on her.

  7. For anyone interested,

    Physicians for Social Responsibility Report:

    Chartered Institute of Environmental Health report:

    MEDACT report (by doctors/physicians scientists):

    New York State Health Department’s report:

    Click to access high_volume_hydraulic_fracturing.pdf

    Yes I have read government reports, and don’t feel they make great reading either, I prefer the peer reviewed reports of independent scientists than those produced and paid for by Oil and Gas.

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