Julie Wassmer is a freelance writer and author, member of the campaign groups ‘East Kent Against Fracking’ and ‘Mothers Against Fracking’. She also sits on the Environment Committee of Kent’s Campaign for Protection of Rural England.
The Government claims fracking must not become a political football, but they remain determined to kick it into our backyards.
My backyard is Kent. When applications for exploratory drilling were submitted here by Coastal Oil & Gas Ltd last August, our campaign group, East Kent Against Fracking (EKAF), mobilised to spread awareness of what this could mean for us.
We publicised the findings of a respected hydrogeologist which showed that there was a clear risk of fracking causing the irreversible contamination of an aquifer which provides up to 90% of our county’s water. Even the local Conservative MP, Charlie Elphicke, a supporter of the shale industry, was forced to come on side and agree that the risk to local water from fracking was too great.
In the course of a fierce campaign, conflicts of interest were unearthed. Kent’s Green Party found that our local planning authority (KCC), held shares worth £153m in eight companies involved in extracting shale oil and gas. When pressed with questions about how the company involved would protect our local water from contamination, Coastal Oil & Gas Ltd withdrew its applications to ‘collate’ that information. That was 7 months ago. They have neither produced that information nor resubmitted their applications.
So I have to ask: if we had not organised meetings to debate what fracking would mean for us locally, could Coastal Oil & Gas Ltd now be fracking in Kent and risking the safety of our water? I believe so – which is why public debate on this issue is crucial.
David Cameron has described opponents of fracking as “irrational” while shale gas supporters repeatedly claim that what is needed is proper debate to “inform” the public about fracking. But the fact remains that our Government neither initiates public debate nor participates in it when it is provided. Early in June, Talk Fracking filled the vacuum by staging free public debates in five UK cities. In order to achieve a balanced audience, the public were asked to register their position on fracking as pro, anti or undecided. To achieve a balanced panel, industry chiefs, as well as ministers and MPs who support extreme energy exploration were invited. None took up the invitation to attend.
Surely this clear lack of engagement demonstrates that neither the industry nor the government have the courage to expose their arguments to public scrutiny? Despite the comment made by UN toxins expert Mariann Lloyd Smith, when she stated that “you can regulate to make fracking safer but you cannot make it safe”; our government continues its blinkered commitment to extreme energy exploitation in the UK. David Cameron pursues his irrational argument for shale, ignoring the mounting opposition from many respected scientists and ordinary people like those of us in Kent; but we will continue to stand in the way of this toxic industry.
East Kent Against Fracking
Mothers Against Fracking