It was like a scene from a Michael Moore documentary. There was a divided community, a heavy police presence in place to protect vested interests, fear, corporate interests and a large group of people protesting peacefully but who are viewed as a danger. I was at the anti-fracking protest in Balcombe. It is the sort of English village which would be used in the filming of whodunnits. Then there is the contrast with the protester's tents which may have been poorly structured but their ideas were not, as I discovered.
When I arrived at the station a lovely friendly local woman approached me and offered to drive me to the camp. Her name was Kathryn Mcwhirter and during the 3 minute car journey she gave me a deep insight into what it was like to be a Balcombe resident who does not want fracking to take place on her doorstep.
As a local she was not informed about Cuarilla being granted permission to drill and only found out when her husband spotted an article about it in The Independent newspaper almost two years later. Kathryn confronted Francis Maude, the local MP, about it and warned him that he lived in a 'PEDL' (Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence) and he replied, 'Oh good, that pays for my pension then'.
Perhaps Mr Maude meant for his words to be a joke or he was being serious but the point that I make here is about how a proper democratic process of consulting the locals was not carried out adequately and the local MP does not see anything wrong with this. Also, it has been well documented that there is a close working relationship between cabinet office and Cuadrilla.
At the camp I spoke to a fearful woman called Janet who was Balcombe born and bred. She did not want her photo taken because she had already been verbally abused by 3 local men for taking part in the protests. Even her own family did not know that she was anti-fracking.
This is how divided the community is and it reminded me of all that I had read about of the miner's strike. Residents who are against the drilling tie yellow ribbons around lamp posts and wake up to find that these have been snipped off overnight. The broken yellow ribbons symbolise the rifts.
Janet spoke about police intimidation and how the protesters are watched and photographed and arrested for no obvious reason. Interestingly, about 30 police officers have asked to be moved from their duties at the fracking site because they thought the policing situation was in danger of becoming unethical. I received this information from a very reliable source.
It is all to easy to dismiss the protesters as 'unemployed hippies' or some other slur as the Right wing often does but if you do so then you miss a point. There is no conclusive evidence that fracking will not cause harm. Fracking has been known to cause earthquakes even if these were minor ones. The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering approve of fracking but want stronger regulations to be put in place which in itself suggests that there is some cause for concern. The fluid that is used in fracking worries people because the chemicals that it contains are not always known. There are also worries that fracking will affect drinking water. If there was nothing to worry about then why were two children in America slapped with a lifelong ban by a fracking company? Where capitalism exists there will always be corporatism. It is a simple fact.
In the search for alternative energy sources it would be a missed opportunity if brute force, vested interests and damaging language are used to deal with genuine fears. I do wish the Lib Dem leadership would speak up. For all the talk about wanting to be the greenest party there has been silence.