Anti fracking protest

It was in the Sussex village of Balcombe that fracking exploded into the public consciousness in the UK. In August 2013 Caroline Lucas was arrested as part of the protests against fracking just outside Balcombe, after the parish council hid plans from villagers.

From then, right up until today, Green politicians, including outgoing South East MEP Keith Taylor have been at the forefront of campaigning against fracking and other unconventional oil and gas extraction in the UK.

Why say no fracking and acidisation?

Oil Change International research clearly shows that exploiting already developed known oil, gas and coal reserves, where infrastructure has already been built and capital invested – would lead to dangerous climate change (well above 1.5 C of warming). The problem of climate change requires us to stop looking for and exploiting even more fossil fuel reserves. We must leave them in the ground.

Fracking (the use of water under pressure) and acidisation (which uses acid to access hard to reach oil) also carry other risks. Both techniques risk water supplies. Both require ‘back to back wells in an industrialised production’ across our countryside. That is why the call to end extreme oil exploration is backed by such a broad coalition of groups from local residents and campaigners, to national groups from Greenpeace to CPRE.

In Balcombe, and across the Weald (an area across the South East of England that stretches from West Kent to the Isle of Wight) acidisation is proposed to be used for the commercial extraction of oil. It has already been tried at some sites, like Broadford Bridge in Sussex. Acidisation avoids the tighter regulations that exist for fracking, meaning that local communities are concerned that in a time of cuts to monitoring and largely self-regulation by operators, their environment is at risk.

Earthquakes from oil and gas exploration

It’s clear that fracking in the north of England has caused earthquakes. The Government even has a warning system in place to control the risks. But in Surrey – where there have been dozens of quakes since April last year – the Government has resisted making any link with oil drilling. This is despite scientists warning that there appears to be a cause and effect relation between operations at the Horse Hill oil site and the quakes, most likely set off by releases in pressure destabilising faults underground.

Earlier this year I made the case to MPs that the government’s fracking earthquake rules are extended to cover all onshore oil and gas operations. I presented evidence of the anxiety caused to local residents and physical damage to property. Because the quakes are shallow they are felt more strongly and damage is more likely. Instead of listening to residents’ concerns the oil regulator has failed to consider Horse Hill as the cause, saying it was not operating when the quakes started, despite evidence to the contrary.

Green MEP Keith Taylor has challenged the government saying that the UK regulatory system for onshore oil and gas is far from gold standard. But it is not just the weak regulations and fast-tracking (dodging) of planning rules, or even the way oil companies have tried to redefine peaceful protest as unlawful which shows why there is a need for honest green politics – it is money. Did you know that fracking is subsidised by taxpayers while subsidies to renewable energy have been cut? The close links between global corporations and the funding of political parties may be one reason.

Resistance is not Futile

Green politicians are free from these corporate ties to campaign against such corporate interests. And we are winning. The pressure Green MEP Keith Taylor and local residents applied to the Forestry Commission was the final act in a long-running campaign that led to no oil drilling at the beauty spot Leith Hill in Surrey. But there is still a long way to go.

A 100% Renewable Future

And it is not enough just to campaign against fracking – we need to back the alternatives – renewables and energy saving as part of a green transformation of our economy. This European election we are calling for a Green New Deal locally and across Europe, so we can have a zero carbon economy by 2030. This is possible. But this requires action now. We need to decarbonise the whole of the UK economy – just like Repower Balcombe’s target to generate 100% of the village’s energy needs.

This is why we are took our Stop Brexit Bus to Balcombe. This is why our MEP Candidates along with Caroline Lucas are once again showing their support for the Community in their fight against unconventional oil that threatens to wreck their community. This is why we are saying ‘No to Climate Change’ as part of the EU elections.

Jonathan Essex is a Green Party candidate in the European elections for the South East Region. He is also a civil engineer.