Anti-fracking campaigners say report wants to use Balcombe as guinea pig

Balcombe Fracking protest Saturday 27.07.13 ENGSUS00120130729104857
Balcombe Fracking protest Saturday 27.07.13 ENGSUS00120130729104857

Anti-fracking campaigners have accused a report of wanting to use Balcombe residents as guinea pigs.

The industry-financed Shale Gas Task Force led by Lord Chris Smith has today (July 15) published its second report on environmental issues around fracking including earthquakes, air and water pollution, and health.

Balcombe resident Kathryn McWhirter said she believed the report down-played the risks but acknowledged that current UK regulations are deficient.

Mrs McWhirter said: ‘This is a report that wants to use us as guinea pigs. There is a growing body of evidence from around the world of illness in communities near oil and gas wells: cancers, respiratory and skin diseases, birth defects… with the vulnerable, young children and old people most at risk.”

The report recommends a new body that will ‘examine, collate and evaluate health impacts associated with shale gas operations in the UK once operations have begun and data from the first wells becomes available’.

Balcombe resident John Butcher also criticised the report’s focus on regulation and monitoring.

He said: “We want a ban on fracking. It’s the only safe option. There are too many environmental reasons not to do it at all: air and water pollution, squandering water, industrialisation of our landscape. The risk to human health due to proximity of wells to communities is of enormous concern.

“The report does not properly address how the large quantities of waste water would be treated and disposed of, nor does it address the cumulative affect of the many wells that would be required.

“The Task Force report suggests that ‘Groundwater contamination is unlikely.’ Yet a recent study in North Texas has proved how fracking chemicals have migrated considerable distances from wells, and there have been thousands of documented cases of water pollution in Pennsylvania.

“British geology is highly faulted, providing conduits for liquids and gases. Our islands are densely populated. Arguably the danger of pollution here is greater.”

The Task Force report wants to strengthen regulation around gas production. It does not propose tighter regulation of the exploration stage.

“If Caudrilla comes back to test-flow the Balcombe well, the gas will be flared, sending pollutants down the prevailing wind into our village - polyaromatic hydrocarbons and other volatile organic compounds, oxides of nitrogen, hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide, formaldehyde, benzene, ethylene, toluene…

“The report admits that there is little monitoring of abandoned wells in the UK – these are wells that have failed or are exhausted.

“Wells have a cement and steel barrier, but in time cement crumbles, and metal pipes corrode.

“Fracking has been deemed too risky in Holland, France, Scotland, New York State and elsewhere. Chris Smith and his Task Force do us a disservice in underestimating the risk.“