WAKE UP!! WAKE UP!! It's yer faraging about...
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Residents of Balcombe, West Sussex, are gearing up to prevent the first exploratory fracking* well from being drilled just south of their village – and have warned they're going to use all possible methods, including determined direct action, to stop it. Preparatory work has been completed and the work to begin drilling the well is due to start sometime in June. Tensions are running high for the locals, who are waiting for the trucks to rumble into sight.
Balcombe is not normally a hub of civil disobedience. It's a very quiet, quaint biscuit-tin village of around 700 residents. But the threat posed by the plans of frack-freak corporation Caudrilla** has prompted an unprecedented level of community mobilisation and unity.
The locals are taking tips from the highly-networked resistance efforts in Australia, where entire communities have declared themselves 'gas free' and physically stopped vehicles entering their land. Their tactics have proven effective – big energy corporations are pulling out of projects faster than you can say 'PR disaster'.
As in Oz, Balcombe residents have conducted a survey of all inhabitants to give concrete figures of those who oppose, proving the plans fly in the face of democracy (so much for Camoron's 'localism'). And although individuals' have different ideas of what's the best way to protest, there's a genuine grassroots unity supporting a diversity of tactics.
The planning application for the well got passed without publicity in 2011 – with the fracking element pushed into scientific small print. After word spread (in part thanks to Frack Off organised info nights) that Cuadrilla were planning a repeat of their Lancashire omnishambles down South, locals realised their picturesque village risked being turned into an environmental time bomb.
The stakes are high. Not only is the surrounding countryside is an area of outstanding natural beauty, but the well site is close to both rivers and underground water sources that provide drinking water for tens of thousands of homes. The nearby Lower Stumble Woods house numerous protected species.
The locals risk bearing the brunt of the toxic fallout from gas flares, poisonous water, and the ecocidal effects of a potential well leak (it probably will). It doesn't stop there though: the test well is the first attempt to establish viability of unconventional gas extraction across the whole natural area of the Weald, stretching between London and the South Downs. Gas companies have boasted that they're going to pump trillions of cubic metres of gas out of the area – a tacit admission that they are planning thousands of wells.
For more info: www.frack-off.org.uk
*In case you've been under a (soon to be radioactive) rock, fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing – an extreme method of extracting natural gas from shale rock by drilling thousands of feet underground, close to the water table, then forcing thousands of gallons of water mixed with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals into the well to release trapped gas. The effects are poison in the water, the earth, and the air – leaching out chemicals which can be radioactive – and potentially causing earthquakes. Oh, and destroying the landscape above the crust with well pads, water pools and heavy traffic across the countryside of articulated lorries.
**Cuadrilla are most famous for accidentally causing an earthquake in Lancashire. They also cocked up two of their four wells there.
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