VILLAGERS have been urged to act fast to halt exploratory drilling which could lead to fracking.
More than 100 angry residents packed Wisborough Green Village Hall at a public meeting concerning an application for temporary exploratory drilling between Kirdford and Wisborough Green.
Many spoke out against the plans, with one asking: “Is this an exploration, or exploitation?”
British oil and gas exploration company Celtique Energie Weald, along with its investment partner Magellan Petroleum, hopes to construct a temporary well site to test for commercial oil and gas.
They will also be logging data for the presence of shale oil and gas. However, the application does not yet include the use of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.
Di Haines, who lives in Wisborough Green, highlighted the need to ‘act fast’ to stop the plans. “How far do we let this testing go before it is too late to stop it?” she said. “The impact on the village will already be done. If we let it go that far, there will be no turning back.”
Chairman of Wisborough Green Parish Council, Keith Charman, led the meeting, while councillor Josef Ransley, cabinet member at Chichester District Council and councillor for Kirdford and Wisborough Green, was on hand to answer queries.
Although Cllr Charman emphasised the need not to pre-empt the possibility of fracking and to focus attentions on the current proposal, many remained steadfast that exploratory drilling would inevitably lead to fracking.
Key concerns included the movement of heavy-duty vehicles and the convoy of trucks that would be needed to transport the large drilling rig through the village, the visual impact upon the area, wildlife conservation and water supplies.
Others also noted the change to the social ‘face’ of the parish, should local pubs become the stomping grounds for ‘low-skilled workers’.
Many voiced fears about the effect of industrialisation upon the countryside. “Developers will only see an industrial site. They would not see it as a pretty, historic area,” said one.
Petra Billings, who represented the Sussex Wildlife Trust, expressed her concerns for wildlife, arguing the incredibly-rare barbastelle bat, which uses a flight path that would be parallel to the drilling site, would most certainly face an enhanced risk of extinction should the plans go ahead.
One resident, who said she had researched Celtique, said: “If, God forbid, there is a disaster caused by their work, how would they support the community? How are they made liable for the activities they are undertaking?” Her question was greeted by a round of applause around the hall.
Every villager who spoke was against Celtique’s application, although one asked: “Is there anyone brave enough to highlight the advantages of this project?”
The only answer noted the village may benefit financially from the scheme, to which someone replied: “This is a political solution, not an economic one.” This too was met by applause.
County and district councillor Janet Duncton, who sat in the audience throughout the meeting, said she had taken on board all concerns raised.
Villagers referred to recent demonstrations in Balcombe, noting the policing costs at the site.
Everyone agreed unity was needed if they were to successfully stop the application in Wisborough Green.
It was also suggested that parishes, in particular Kirdford and Wisorough Green, should join forces and start a ‘fighting fund’.
The application comes after consultations with residents, a presentation by Celtique to Kirdford and Wisborough Green parish councils, and a public consultation in May, which attracted 154 people.
Celtique have stressed the plans at this stage do not include the use of fracking.
Geoff Davies, chief executive officer, said: “We recognise that the vehicle movements associated with the proposals have been a key issue for many and we have responded positively by including a number of traffic calming measures in our final application.
“As part of its planning application, Celtique will be drilling through shale formations encountered in the well to confirm what potential (if any) these rocks have for commercial production. Should this data prove positive, Celtique may wish to explore these formations further, which could include the use of hydraulic fracturing at a new well on this same site.
“However this would involve a separate planning application to drill a new well, additional permits from the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Environment Agency and further public consultation.”
The application will be available to view on West Sussex County Council’s website once it has been validated by planning officers.
A spokesman for WSCC said the application is being verified and checked before getting a planning application number. It will go before a planning committee in early 2014.