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From Fracking to Solar Power – An Inspirational Journey of a Sussex Village

Updated: May 22, 2019

On July 25, 2013, Balcombe, a sleepy village in Sussex (UK) woke up to protests and demonstrations by 100 odd protestors who were trying to block a lorry from entering a test drilling site.

These young protestors were on the streets because Cuadrilla, an Oil and Gas Exploration company in the UK were attempting to drill 3000 feet (900 meters) vertical well to test for oil.

Are you wondering as to why this is such a big deal? They are just drilling to test for oil… why should that spark a protest? Let me explain why…

The vertical well that was being drilled at Balcombe is called Fracking. It is a process where a hole is drilled into the earth and a high-pressure water mixture is directed into the rock thereby releasing the shale gas (natural gas that is trapped within rocks). When water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure the gas that there are within the surface gets released and new pathways are created to release this gas.

Why is the UK government keen in Fracking?

In the UK, two large reserves of Shale gas have been identified in Northern England and more than 100 licenses have been awarded by the Government to many firms encouraging them to pursue oil and gas exploration activities. Fracking has significantly boosted the domestic oil production in the US and has reduced the gas prices.

I am not surprised that the UK too wishes to tread the same path, as it would contribute significantly to its energy needs. Apart from the obvious advantage of procuring energy reserves, the industry bodies in the country have also predicted that this would create thousands of jobs – an enticing prospect for a country that has been in the grip of a recession.

Dangers of Fracking

While Fracking helps to tap into natural gas reserves on the surface of the earth there are many environmental concerns related to the process –

•    Groundwater contamination

•    Methane pollution •    Air pollution •    Toxic chemical exposure

•    Dangerous blowouts due to gas explosion •    Waste disposal

•    Large water requirement especially in water deficient regions

If these concerns weren’t enough Fracking is also known to cause tremors in the earth when the fluid is injected into the shale rock under high pressure. A precedent for this happened in the United Kingdom when the first well to be fracked near Blackpool in the county of Lancashire was abandoned after it triggered an earth tremor. This resulted in an 18-month ban in the United Kingdom!

Now that I have given the back-story behind fracking and shale gas tapping, the fact about protests in Balcombe must be making sense to you now.

The protests began on July 25 and spread intensely throughout the country. Many notable human activists joined the protests and on July 31, 2013, they formed a ‘human lock’ to block the work at the test-drilling site. UK’s green MP Caroline Lucas got arrested for protesting along with the others.

Test drilling began at the site despite the protests and continued for the better part of the year costing the Sussex Police four million pounds!

By 2014, Cuadrilla scrapped the drilling process after they discovered that the rocks at the site contained natural fractures. The protestors moved away and the village of Balcombe was relieved if not happy that their area would be spared but there were many concerns that worried the residents.

One of the residents said, “The threat of fracking elsewhere in Sussex has not disappeared, with applications for drilling in Fernhurst and Wisborough Green by Celtique Energy. With mounting evidence of the threat climate change poses to our environment and economy, we should be developing clean energy solutions, not more dirty fossil fuels.”

Though these residents won the battle against the fracking, they lost the war to govt. policies.

The residents of Balcombe after successfully combating the threat of fracking process at their village decided to utilize nature’s clean energy to power their electricity. Working on a proposed 5-megawatt (MW) project the residents needed 18,500 solar panels to be installed to power the electricity.

What saddens me the most was the fact that despite the good intentions of these villagers to utilize clean energy in their village, they had to shelve their solar power community project. Ironically, days after the historic Paris Climate Change meet UK government cut 65% of financial aid to householders that have installed solar panels.

Despite these legislative changes, the Balcombe village went ahead and installed the solar panels in three sites, which continues to operate today. The community mega project is still a dream that they pursue with the hopes that a private investor might take an interest in it.

Innovate & Prosper, Krish Murali Eswar.