For many years the government has been spending a large amount of money on the research of the highly controversial process of ‘fracking’. Fracking is the process in which holes are drilled deep in to the earth’s crust and small explosions are set off deep underground in order to extract shale gas. This research has also been to find out what areas of the UK have good enough shale reserves to carry out the process and there have been up to 8000 fracking sites proposed for the country, including in Herefordshire! Recently Herefordshire Council has revealed three potential sites in the east of the county in which fracking could take place; Fownhope, Much Marcle and Eastnor.
What’s the problem?
Since similar areas have been used for exploratory sites, the problems have been clear to see. These problems are both environmental and economic. In the US, where ‘fracking’ has been established for a number of years, water supplies have been poisoned, seismic activity has increased and some people have experienced several linked health issues. In 2011, earth tremors were caused in Lancashire after test drilling there. Likewise, heavy vehicle activity associated with fracking in such small, rural places is neither good for the quality of life of residents, their health or the environment. Many are also opposed to it as it furthers the use of fossil fuels, a trend which environmental campaigners argue should be reversed.
The economic issues are equally as serious, house prices in some areas have dropped up to 30% in some areas of the country where the oil company Cuadrilla has started the construction process and many people have struggled to obtain house insurance.
Herefordshire is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with prestine countryside and what is generally seen as a green and healthy area to live. Fracking will almost definitely have an impact on the landscape of the county, with tourism likely to suffer. As an agricultural county, there are also potential risks to this industry from fracking. Experience in the US shows that fracking can create problems for local agriculture, including the loss of agricultural land, and concerns about clean water supplies.
Opposition to fracking has been hitting the headlines recently. National newspapers have been running pieces on the practise of fracking, and the opposition to it, for a number of weeks now; namely because of events in Balcombe, West Sussex. Residents and environmentalists there have peacefully been opposing the site recently erected by Cuadrilla and have proved to be a force to be reckoned with. They successfully stopped the process from starting for over a week, despite the army of police officers deployed to push it through. This weekend saw a ‘weekend of action’ by protesters at the site, with camps set up for the weekend, a protest march which was 2,000-strong and a series of blockades, occupations and other forms of ‘direct action’ taking place against Cuadrilla and associated companies.
The opposition to fracking in Herefordshire has also been building. Nearly 400 people have signed an online petition to get Herefordshire council to reject all planning applications they get that relate to fracking, both exploratory and sites proper. A facebook campaign page has also been set up and meetings are being arranged to discuss the possibility of fracking in the county and what to do about it.
The coming weeks and months will show which way it’s going to go; will drilling companies start applying to drill in Herefordshire or is it just a case of ‘what if?’ Time will tell but the wheels are already in motion to oppose such a move. For any campaign against fracking to be successful, it needs to ensured that local people and the concerns of their communities are at the forefront of any camapign, as we have seen to an extent in Balcombe. Professional activists parachuting in from elsewhere just won’t cut the mustard, especially if drilling is rolled out to thousands of potential sites across the country.
Resources and more information
by Meadow Ender