The Real Significance Of The Blockade At Balcombe


  • Cuadrilla drilling tight oil well in Balcombe
  • Similar to Bakken Shale in North Dakota
  • Claim well ‘unlikely’ to go into production
  • No one is celebrating with good reason
  • Battle not just about this particular well
  • Threat of thousands to follow real concern
  • Potentially 300 within 5 miles of Balcombe
  • Balcombe well will provide data to Cuadrilla
  • Allowing them to get more investment
  • They have no intention of producing anything
  • Plan to prove viable, sellout to larger company
  • With enough resistance can be made unviable
  • Wherever they try to drill, community must resist

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Despite the fact that the company at the centre of the storm in Balcombe, Cuadrilla Resources, have just stated that their fracking site is ‘unlikely to go into full production’ there are ‘no victory flags’ in Balcombe and with good reason. While the timing of this announcement stinks of PR spin there are more fundamental reasons behind this reaction.

The expectation that the residents of Balcombe should be relieved by this announcement, even presuming that it isn’t just more of the lies they are used to by now, shows a wilful misunderstanding of what the last 3 weeks of blockading has been about. This is only about one well in so far as that well is a step on the road to something far worse. Unconventional fossil fuels are literally scrapping the bottom of the barrel and require thousands of wells to produce even small amounts of energy.

Unconventional oil and gas targets less permeable rock with horizontal drilling and large numbers of densely packed wells

The layer within the Kimmeridge Clay that Cuadrilla is targeting for tight (shale) oil in Sussex is very similar to the Bakken Shale in North Dakota where up to 4 wells per square mile are being drilled. A typical Bakken well will have a 9,500 ft long horizontal section that will be fracked in up to 40 places along its length. The environmental, safety and social consequences of those developments have been dire.

If such a development was allowed in Sussex this could potentially mean 32 tight oil wells within the parish of Balcombe, over 300 within 5 miles of Balcombe and up to 1200 within Cuadrilla’s licence blocks in Sussex. Further to the west another fracking company Celtique Energy wants to target shale gas. To extract the quantities that they are bragging about would require in excess of 6,000 wells to be drilled and fracked.

Well pads, pipelines, compressor station, gas and water processing plants and a whole host of other infrastructure is required for this industry to function. It results in a wholesale industrialisation of the landscape and as we have seen in the US, Canada and Australia, leaking methane, water contamination, severe air pollution and a variety of health impacts follow in its wake.

Like most of these new startup companies targeting unconventional fossil fuels Cuadrilla will almost certainly never produce commercial quantities of unconventional gas or oil. That has never been their intention. They are an exploration company and their business plan is to prove that extraction is viable and then sell out to a much larger company (think Exxon, Shell etc.) which have the resources to undertake such a drilling program.

Time-lapse Of The 2000 Shale Gas Wells Drilled Over 4 Years In Bradford County, Pennsylvania (80 Percent Area Of Sussex)

Given this Cuadrilla are free to promise whatever they like about future developments, safe in the knowledge that they would have taken their money and run by the time that production wells are being drilled. It is telling that the fine print of the promised “community benefits” touted by the government only applies to members of the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG), a previously defunct trade association resurrected by Cuadrilla et al. An association to which the massive corporations who might actually produce unconventional oil and gas do not belong.

The importance of the well at Balcombe is the data that Cuadrilla will acquire from it to bolster more investment, and conversely the level of community resistance to it, which will deter investment. This is a fight to the death between the thousands of threatened communities across the country and companies like Cuadrilla who wish to exploit them. As Cuadrilla burns it’s way through millions in investment cash it has to show progress if it is to survive. In the face of sustained resistance, no one in their right mind would continue investing in fracking.

Now is the time for threatened communities from across the country to rally round and make sure that Balcombe is supported in its fight. We have to fight fracking at Balcombe and wherever it rears its head or one day you too will find it on your doorstep. When there is nowhere in the country that a company like Caudrilla can use its drilling rigs it will be game over for the frackers.

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