Fracking in the North Downs and the 'Tour de Frack'

Sustainable Hackney has reported for some time that the Fracking threat is closer to us than many suppose… While soundings of public opinion reveal minority support for fracking, most Londoners are unaware it is happening just down the road from them and a mere 25 crow-miles from here.


The fracking of large swathes of Sussex and Surrey for shale or tight oil is a growing threat with four major test sites already drilled and a fifth planned. With this in mind a group of about forty people went on a tour of the drill sites on 25th March to investigate.


Leith Hill Protection Camp

The tour was organised by a coalition of groups in London and the south east. Starting from Dorking station in Surrey, and picked up by our guides we wended our way by car up the steep pre-Roman sunken road to the Leith Hill Protection Camp near the village of Coldharbour. Besides the considerable hazards of fracking: ground water contamination, air pollution, methane releases, chemical spills and environmental degradation, etc. one’s first thought is how dangerous and disruptive it will be to have hundreds heavily laden lorries labouring up such an incline belching out diesel fumes as they transport plant, personnel and the toxins used in the drilling process.


Placards in the village proclaiming ‘Coldharbour says no drill on Leith Hill’ make it evident that the activities of Europa Oil and Gas are not greatly welcome in this spot which is  acclaimed as an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’. While the hills and the variegated woodland are beautiful making it attractive to ramblers and cyclists, they also, according to Professor Smythe, (Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, University of Glasgow) indicate the presence of complex natural faults in the geology which mean this landscape is not very welcoming either to this so called ‘conventional technology.’ It is potentially more dangerous to drill here than in flatter terrain and what goes down has every chance of returning to the surface , a fact that EOG would prefer not to be too transparent about. Professor David Smythe’s presentation (video of a talk) neatly illustrates this. His is one of two independent scientific reports that have shown serious flaws with Europa's submission to the Environment Agency


The camp since getting in evicted from the drill site in June 2016 has taken up a monitoring role opposite the site. Protection camp member, Alice, will be explain how the camp operates at the next Sustainable Hackney film screening


Dodgy drilling at Brockham

We skipped out Brockham, a site also near Dorking. Here illegal drilling has taken place but thanks to a nocturnal protector the authorities were tipped off. The well was ‘side-tracked.’  Angus, the operator, denied their actions were deliberate, however, Private Eye later showed they had been told beforehand a licence needed to be obtained. They subsequently ‘corrected’ this lapse by obtaining this retrospectively.


Something scared more than the horses at Horse Hill

The next site visited was Horse Hill near Horley. Here site construction work is underway, but drilling has apparently not yet started. However, since our visit a 2.7 magnitude earthquake was felt by people living near Horse Hill on 1 April and centred on the area west of Horley. The impact of the earthquake was enough to cause reports of windows rattling, houses shaking, causing some to think an aircraft had possibly crashed at nearby Gatwick airport to the south. UKOG, the main investor in the Horse Hill site has denied any link with oil exploration and the earthquake and stated:

“We strongly refute the far-fetched, unscientific and malicious connection made between Horse Hill and the earthquake in Surrey on April 1st.



Our final stop was Balcombe the scene of large scale protests in 2014 against Cuadrilla. We met the first Balcombe resident to protest, a middle-aged female whose solitary stand with her home-made placard in 2013 developed into a huge protest movement the following year. For the present are watching and waiting as Angus, a new outfit is due to take over.


A feature of the industry, other than lax legal conformity, seems to be that despite the many different manifestations of the mining companies, there seem a lot of overlapping interests and directorships. Here the first flow tests were late going ahead and only occurred after the permission had expired. And again there are fears that the natural faults might allow the  acid wash from the acidisation process to the gush to the surface.


One ironic but nevertheless impressive consequence of fracking in Balcombe has been the success of Re-Power Balcombe; with an aim of achieving energy self-sufficiency based on renewables its most recent project is the installation of solar panels on the roof of a local primary school. The Cuckfield project represents the ninth by the group, who have now installed 163 kWp of community solar power – the equivalent of powering 40 homes – on roofs across the area since forming in 2013.

Coming up - The 'Tour de Frack' Saturday, June 23rd

The big upcoming anti fracking event in the South East is the 'Tour de Frack', a protest cycle tour around this beautiful area visiting and learning about the drill sites. Three different routes are in the planning stage to suit different cyclists; 16 miles, 30 miles, 55iles and scheduled for Saturday June 23rd. If you're interested, contact Richard Payne for more details. And if you are not a cyclist you can still participate, please come along, there will be a range of activities. Watch this space. More about this later from Sustainable Hackney.





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