If bad news travels far and fast in shale, the results of a study by Balcombe Parish Council on shale oil in Balcombe, West Sussex prove how when the news doesn't fit the catastrophist narrative, simply ignore it.
Let's go back to the infamous Battle of Balcombe back in January:
After earthquakes in Lancashire and tales of poisoned water and flaming taps in the US, "fracking" for gas or oil in the English home counties was never likely to be easy. And so it proved when oil executives faced the fury of a village hall full of West Sussex residents in a clash over a controversial technology that energy companies believe could open up major reserves of energy from underground rocks.
Miller and his two PR minders, all dressed in black, gritted their teeth as the film spoke of "red nasty water oozing out of the hill", "radium in waste products", "methane in drinking water" and how "our heaven has turned into our hell".
I have the curse of a long memory, so I also recall this laughable contribution to the debate from Michael White. He's the Political Editor of the Guardian, which should scare everybody:
An oilman I know slightly said in the pub that the "flaming taps" problem widely associated with techniques of hydraulic fracturing – fracking – became a problem only after rural folk in Pennsylvania went drilling for oil in their back yards (as Americans do) in an amateur, "mom and pop" fashion.
It went downhill from there.But journalists of MW's stature judging matters of great national interest from a man I met in the pub, doesn't lead to informed debate, or is that the point. Scare, fear, frighten and alarm sell papers. Throw in some famous British sneering. Facts? They, as Ed Davey can attest, can be safely ignored.
There are facts aplenty in a short and readable report that Balcombe Parish Council published the other day. The conventional wisdom is that in such a leafy and rich bastion of middle England, any change at all is automatically a change for the worst and fracking just ain't' going to happen because of pedestrian NIMBY concerns. To hell with billions of pounds worth of oil, the CW says it will stay in the ground because of local issues like traffic, noise and visual impact. But as usual, those concerns are inflated. The Guardian is eager to present fear, but will stop printing reality when it doesn't match the narrative. On traffic, let's consider the thousands of truck visits:
The number of vehicles travelling through the village has been counted on several occasions in recent years, and is about 10,000 vehicles per day. The number of vehicles per hour varies through the day with the largest number in the morning rush hour. On the London Road vehicles passing the school amount to about 4,000 per day. Using national statistics about 200 of these will be Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV).
The estimated numbers and types of vehicles associated with the exploration well were set out in an appendix to Cuadrilla’s planning application. This indicates that there will be between seven and eleven weeks of activity, with the largest vehicles being those delivering and collecting the drilling rig to and from the Lower Stumble site. The extra light vehicle traffic will amount to approximately 30 vehicles per day added to the existing 3,800. The extra HGV traffic is expected to be 30 vehicles per day during the most active two weeks, and an average of 10 vehicles per day for the remainder of the period, to be added to the existing 200 per day
That could be an extra truck every twenty minutes. Worth leaving $100 a barrel oil in the ground for? But what about the noisy new neighbours?
In accordance with Government policy, it is a condition of planning permission at this site that noise emission (measured at the nearest residential properties) must not exceed 55 decibels between 7.30am and 6.30pm from Monday to Friday, and between 8am and 1pm on Saturday. At all other times it must not exceed 42 decibels. The only exception is when drilling is in progress 24 hours per day, but even then the sound level must not exceed 42 decibels between 10pm and 7am.. When drilling is in progress, other than in an emergency, Cuadrilla is prohibited from withdrawing or reinserting the drilling string, installing a casing or placing cement in the well between 10pm and 7am.
OMG! 42 decibels sounds awful! Shut the whole thing down. But credit to the Parish Council which unlike the Guardian provides that rariity in the shale debate, informed background:
To put these sound levels in context:
40 decibels = the sound of a refrigerator
50 decibels = the sound of moderate rainfall
60 decibels = conversation, or the sound of a dishwasher
Since some antis, including bizarrely many in Lancashire and Ireland, obsess on a perceived desertification potential from fracking, I assume that local residents aren't planning to legislate against moderate rainfall anytime soon.
Finally, the big one: Visual Impact. I live in a part of the world where getting planning permission for a roof extension is a multi year exercise that is mostly about planning department jobs more than anything else, but I can sympathize with those who think it's going to a sea of derricks and hundreds of wells. The reality? Far different, and far too boring for the Guardian to print:
The site is well screened by trees but visual intrusion will be at its highest while the drilling rig, which is approximately 30 metres (100 feet) high, is in position. The rig, which will be in place for up to six weeks and will be removed once drilling is complete, will probably be visible from some properties on the south side of the village, the road and the railway. If the exploration is successful and Cuadrilla wishes to further develop the site, it is expected that a landscape assessment would be undertaken and that further screening and landscaping would be required as a condition of planning permission.
All in all, pretty boring news But no one will ever learn about it from the UK national press, who will continue to describe shale gas as "controversial" no matter how much evidence to the contrary.