Drilling the South Downs: a national park at risk from fracking

Posted by simon clydesdale — 26 June 2014 at 12:09pm - Comments

This morning the Not For Shale fracking roadshow rolled into Midhurst at the heart of the glorious South Downs. This is the frontline of a local and national battle for the future of our communities, landscapes and climate.

Sleepy Midhurst is home to the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA), the UK’s newest National Park. The South Downs has a momentous decision to make: it must decide whether it is prepared to fire the starting pistol for the race to frack the UK.

At the top of its inbox sits an application from Celtique Energie, who plan to drill and subsequently frack for shale oil and gas at Fernhurst in West Sussex. Local people in Fernhurst have come together to exercise their right to deny permission to drill under their homes, surrounding the drill site with a Wrongmove legal blockade to prevent fracking.

The fracking industry is terrified that such blockades will fatally damage their plans to frack half the country. They have lobbied the government ferociously to pull out yet another frack-fix and remove this problem.

This has resulted in new government plans to disconnect you from your home and landscape, tearing up your rights and handing them over to the frackers who will be able to drill and frack under your home without your permission. Our own mercurial frackers Frack & Go recently made use of this scandalous scheme by paying David Cameron a visit.

Celtique has recently withdrawn horizontal wells from their application. This might feel like progress but is simply manoeuvring by Celtique. They want to take the heat off this application, especially in the light of the legal blockade. They hope that government plans to take away your rights to say no will give them a clear run at a fracking application in their next move.

Let there be no doubt, Celtique are looking to frack at Fernhurst. "We may wish to explore these formations further, which could include the use of hydraulic fracturing on this same site," said Geoff Davies, CEO of Celtique.

Not all Mr Davies’ comments are quite so helpful. This is the diplomatic genius who described those who oppose fracking as "selfish and unpatriotic" (£). ‘unpatriotic and selfish’. That really made him the pin-up boy for the residents of West Sussex, as well as raising questions about how patriotic Mr Davies can be if he is happy to export profits offshore from Celtique’s fossil fuel speculation. Let’s not forget this mindbomb either: Celtique have no fracking experience. "We have not engineered any hydraulic fracturing in any well," they've said. Reassuring.

Celtique is a private company, less than transparent in their finances, much of which we believe comes from outside the UK. You have to wonder just how much money do Celtique have to burn, and exactly whose money are they burning in this speculative venture?

Especially given the recent British Geological Society report on the Weald which indicated that there was practically no gas to be extracted here, and that any oil was likely to be very hard to extract economically, possibly as little as two months worth of UK oil consumption. Is peppering the UK’s national parks with fracking wells really a price worth paying for this?

We’d all like to know more about Celtique: their backers, background, plans, first pet etc. So if you have any useful info on Celtique, or indeed any of your favourite frackers, then let us know on our new Fracker Tracker email: frackertracker.uk@greenpeace.org. All information will be treated in complete confidence.

The SDNPA rightly wants to plan the best future for the Park and those that live in it and use it. But it risks being dragged back to the past, the dead end of extracting evermore fossil fuels that can only create problems for the Park, its people and beyond. The International Energy Agency advises that if we are to combat climate change then we need to leave two-thirds of known fossil fuels in the ground, not extract new reserves.

Approving this application runs counter to the very purpose of the SDNPA which is "to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area". This application will industrialise the Park and is completely inappropriate. A coalition of groups including the National Trust and the RSPB believe that fracking should be banned in national parks.

The South Downs National Park Vision for 2050 aims to achieve an outcome where "the iconic English lowland landscapes and heritage will have been conserved and greatly enhanced. These inspirational and distinctive places, where people live, work, farm and relax, are adapting well to the impacts of climate change."

Approving plans to extract shale oil and gas, fossil fuels that drive climate change, directly contradicts this vision. And that’s before you assess the impacts and risks on people, communities, land and wildlife due to contamination, pollution, industrial traffic and noise.

The SDNPA members need to fulfill their duties, and that means refusing this application. The decision on this application has now been put back to 3 September, so there’s still time for you to add your voice by responding to the consultation.

We need as many people as possible to stand up and make it clear: The South Downs are not for shale.

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