Fracking fears for Southern rail commuters on London to Brighton line

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SOUTH East England’s economic artery of the main London to Brighton rail line, including the Victorian Balcombe Viaduct, could be affected by “fracking” for oil in a nearby village, according to anxious residents.

Fears for railway services and commuter travel were among issues raised by an angry audience that packed into Balcombe’s village hall demanding answers from the bosses of exploration company Cuadrilla Resources.

An estimated 250 people or more left standing room only as they watched a film on the environmental and human cost of extensive shale fracturing for natural gas in North America and then heard a presentation from Cuadrilla CEO Mark Miller about the company’s plans for Sussex.

The audience, which included people from Brighton, Haywards Heath, Lindfield, Sharpthorne, Cuckfield and other areas, raised concerns about fracking chemicals leaking into the natural springs that inundate the area.

They feared contamination of drinking water with chemicals, which might or might not be carcinogenic, as well as the potential for earthquakes similar to those of around 2.5 on the Richter Scale that halted Cuadrilla’s explorations at its sites in Lancashire.

People also expressed anger that planning permission for a 1986 exploratory drill site at Lower Stumble, off the B2036, a mile from the centre of Balcombe and just half a mile from the railway station, had been renewed by West Sussex County Council without the local people having been consulted beyond their district and parish council representatives.

One speaker expressed fears that Balcombe was “cursed” for having been chosen for a test site for hydraulic fracturing in the substratas 2,500ft below the village.

But he also pointed out that the same rock geology stretched across a large swathe of Southern England and many other villages and towns would soon be on the destination maps of oil and gas companies.

Mark Miller of Cuadrilla stressed that the company had no plans imminently to carry out exploratory drilling, although it had to do so by 2014 to enact its licence.

However, he also emphasised that nothing would happen beyond that without extensive public and government consultation and consultation with other interested parties including bodies such as the Environment Agency.

He went through Cuadrilla’s lengthy precautions which it takes to protect the environment at its drill sites in the UK and he defended the company’s intensions that were not driven solely by shareholder profit incentives above all else.

Mr Miller also defended the industry’s use of tens of thousands of gallons of water to fracture below ground rocks using enormous pressure levels. And he said waste water was disposed of safety, according to regulations.

Mr Miller said he believed the industry was safe. He said: “We are doing more than we need to so we don’t have issues.”

For a fuller report and pictures on Wednesday night’s meeting see next week’s Mid Sussex Times on Thursday, January 26.