The two sides of the fracking debate made their case in a small village in north Derbyshire this afternoon.
INEOS Shale, which wants to drill an exploration well on farmland in Marsh Lane, near Eckington, put on an exhibition in the Green Lawns Community Centre.
Opponents of the plans from local anti-fracking and climate change campaign groups hosted an alternative event at the Marsh Lane Community Association hall a few minutes’ walk away.
As you would expect, INEOS had high-quality corporate display material and a team of professionals to answer questions about the shale gas process and its plans.
But the campaign groups had the final word of the day. In the dark and the drizzle, more than 100 people, mainly families with children, stopped the traffic on Marsh Lane’s main street as they marched to the INEOS exhibition. They said they wanted to give the company a clear message: “We don’t want fracking in Derbyshire.”
At the end of the evening, INEOS staff and executives had to walk through a crowd of protesters.
Tom Pickering, Operations Director of INEOS Shale, said afterwards:
“We will continue to hold these events to explain our proposals and answer residents’ questions despite the efforts of a highly vocal minority who want to limit this interaction. It speaks volumes about the confidence that this extreme fringe has in their arguments that they want all discussion shut down. INEOS will not let this happen.”
For INEOS, the meeting was new territory. It had held a series of meetings last year with local councillors across the East Midlands, Cheshire and north Yorkshire. But this was the first time staff and consultants had come face-to-face with members of the public in a place where it wants to drill.
As well as Tom Pickering, the company brought out Gary Haywood, chief executive of INEOS Shale.
The alternative exhibition fielded the former Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett. The opposition campaign in Marsh Lane burst into life in January when INEOS announced it had begun the planning application process for a field off Bramleymoor Lane.
Alan Finney, one of the organisers of the alternative exhibition (pictured below), was born in nearby Eckington. He said:
“When INEOS decided on here I thought it was important to do our own exhibition.”
The messages: INEOS
INEOS holds 10 exploration licences across this part of the East Midlands. One representative said the company was 95% sure the Marsh Lane well would confirm there was shale gas in play.
Chief Executive, Gary Haywood, said:
“People have heard a lot about this industry. Some of the things they hear are alarming. The reason to do today’s event is to give people the facts. People can speculate about what we are going to do. Or they can come to the exhibition and hear about what we are planning to do.”
The company stressed that its proposed well would be drilled vertically to extract a core sample of rock to identify the geological characteristics and gas-producing potential. The current application would not include fracking or flow testing, the company said.
Derbyshire County Council is expected to announce in mid-February whether the planning application for the well needs an environmental impact assessment (EIA). If the answer is no, a planning consultant for INEOS said the application could be submitted by the end of the month. If an EIA is required, this could add a couple of months to the process.
The message: the opponents
Alternative exhibition organiser, Alan Finney, said:
“Generally, people are against fracking in this area. They are coming here to find out what fracking is about.”
Some opponents said they did not trust INEOS not to frack the well in future. (And an INEOS representative conceded this was a possibility, depending on the results from other exploration in the area.)
One campaigner, Julie Graham, said:
“I cannot see why a company that has never drilled before is going to spend all that money [on a well] and then leave it. We will not know if they are drilling laterally. It is self-regulation.
“In these pretty little villages it [fracking] does not fit well. These people want to live quietly. Why should their peace be disturbed?”
Former Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett (pictured above with Green Party councillor Alison Teal), said INEOS would not have answers to three key issues:
“We have to move away from fossil fuels
“Shale gas is a huge distraction to government policy which should be focussed on renewables and storage
“There will be environmental impacts from large lorry movements and water use.”
One person at the INEOS exhibition shouted at Gary Haywood: “I don’t want fracking in this area. That’s all I’ve got to say”.
One said “I am disgusted about it”. Another described drilling for shale gas as “scary stuff” and another asked “Why have we got to have it”?
Organisers of both exhibitions agreed that most visitors opposed INEOS plans but they expressed them politely. Gary Haywoord said:
“When to comes down to ‘here is the site’ it focusses people’s attention. It is not surprising to get some reaction.”
The alternative exhibition, with its homemade cake stall felt more like a WI meeting than a campaign event. Yet bizarrely at one point the hall had four members of the local policing team and two other police officers. Asked why they were there, one officer said they were moving between the two events.
Organisers of both exhibitions said they were pleased with the turnout and the opportunity to talk to people.
The INEOS exhibition look more crowded but the room was smaller and the company had brought about 20 members of staff and consultants. INEOS said more than 300 people visited its exhibition and they were “overwhelmingly receptive to two-way engagement on shale extraction”.
Tom Pickering said:
“We are grateful that so many local people took the time to come and find out the facts for themselves about our plans. On the night, we heard numerous false claims that had been presented as fact to the local people, and we were pleased that we had the opportunity to correct these misrepresentations. We believe that the more people learn about this technology the more accepting they will be of it.”
At the alternative exhibition, one of the organisers said there had been 150 people through by 3.15pm.
James Eaden, of Chesterfield Climate Alliance, described the numbers at the march as “fantastic”.
“I think this community is saying no thanks, we don’t want you. This is about ordinary people standing up and saying enough is enough.”
Updated 1/2/2017 to correct Nottinghamshire County Council to Derbyshire County Council. Updated 2/2/2017 to include new quotes from INEOS Shale and video of staff leaving the exhibition