Oil prospecting in Surrey – Oxted meeting raises concerns

Press release from the No Fracking in Balcombe Society (NO FIBS), Monday 8 February 2016.

Surrey Against Fracking organised a packed meeting at the Oxted Community Hall on Saturday 6th February to spread awareness of the dangers surrounding drilling for unconventional oil and gas, including fracking. This was the end of the week in which equipment and chemicals entered the site at Horse Hill near Horley in preparation for flow-testing the oil well drilled there last year.
Amongst the speakers in Oxted were John Ashton, who worked as a diplomat for over 20 years, and latterly as the UK’s Special Representative for Climate Change, and Dr Damien Short, a social scientist from the University of London specialising in human rights. The audience also heard from members of other communities threatened by fracking or other unconventional means of extracting oil and gas: Helen Savage and Charles Metcalfe from Balcombe in Sussex, and Tina Louise Rothery from Blackpool in Lancashire.

It was an inspiring series of talks, covering the threats posed to our health and environment by unconventional oil and gas exploration and production, the astonishing growth of the anti-fracking movement throughout the UK, studies in the USA detailing communities’ rejection of fracking, and the way in which the UK government has changed legislation to facilitate fracking. A film from Ryedale in Yorkshire expressed residents’ distress at the prospect of thousands of shale gas wells being drilled across their beautiful countryside.
Paddy Horne from Balcombe commented: ‘If fracking for shale oil is allowed to take off, we could have 12,000 boreholes in East and West Sussex. In the whole of the UK to date we have had 2,000 – and only one of those has been high-volume fracked. This will be industrialisation on an unbelievable scale.’   
Former diplomat John Ashton, who lives in Surrey, spoke of a letter from government ministers leaked recently to the press suggesting that frack sites should be  ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’, to be permitted by central government, not by local people and their councils.
‘This letter is the most troubling document I have ever seen under the letterhead of the British government,’ he said. ‘Are decisions made with us or done to us? Fracking is not in the national interest. It will simply further the vested interests of a few. The struggle against fracking will do as much as any to determine what kind of country we want to live in and bring our children up in. To quote David Bowie, ‘we can be heroes’, not just for one day, but for our lifetimes. You can be in favour of fracking, or in favour of tackling climate change. You cannot be in favour of both.’
For more information on fracking and other unconventional oil and gas extraction, contact:
Kathryn McWhirter 01444 811682  /  07484 601374
Helen Savage 01444 819118  /  07957 563387
a)    Please contact us if you’d like a more detailed report of the meeting.
b)    Conventional or unconventional?

‘Conventional’ oil and gas comes from ‘reservoirs’ where the oil is free-flowing. This may mean an underground open space, or it may mean rocks that are so porous that oil or gas can flow through them at a rate that makes it worthwhile commercially.

‘Unconventional’ oil and gas comes from rocks where the oil is trapped and cannot flow without what the industry calls ‘stimulation’. That may mean fracking – cracking the rock open with a mixture of oil and chemicals at pressure – or acidisation, where hydrochloric or fluoric is used, again at some pressure, to eat passageway through limestone-based rocks.

Like the Bowland Shale country of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire, southern England also has shale, a finely-layered rock with gas (in the north) and oil (in the south) trapped between the layers. This gas or oil will not flow unless fractured – hence the word ‘fracking’.

The anti-fracking movement in Britain is also campaigning against two other methods of unconventional oil and gas extraction.

1)    Coal bed methane is threatened in Britain’s former coal mining areas. It involves dewatering old coal mines, with potential consequences for water pollution and environment generally. Coal bed methane sites are sometimes also fracked.

2)    Companies already have licences for underground coal gasification at sites right around the British coasts – just off-shore. Underground coal gasification involves setting fire to a coal seam and harvesting the resulting gases. It has been done very few times worldwide and has caused environmental disasters, for example in Queensland, Australia.

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