FRACKING may not yet have tested the thickness of his rectory
walls, as suggested by the "light-hearted" Energy Minister Michael
Fallon, but it has already caused emotional tremors in the parish
of the Priest-in-Charge of Balcombe, the Revd Desmond Burton.
On Monday, he described how the drilling of an oil exploration
well in the West Sussex village had divided parishioners.
Protesters, who have arrived in their hundreds, fear that the
drilling by Cuadrilla, an oil and gas company, is the precursor to
hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), whereby water mixed with sand
and chemicals is injected at high pressure into rock deep beneath
the earth's surface, to release gas.
"People in the village who have been good friends, because of
fracking issues have fallen out quite strongly," Mr Burton said.
"This is a village that tends to accommodate, quite maturely,
differences of opinion. . . People in our village who have become
anti-frackers are genuinely taken over by deep concern for the
environment - almost an evangelical zeal." He said that the church
in Balcombe was "completely neutral" on the issue, but that "the
issue of global warming is one that virtually all of the village is
united in being concerned about." One farmer's field had been
"commandeered" by protesters, causing "genuine anger".
A group of Christians have been staying at the Reclaim the Power
climate camp in Balcombe since Friday. On Monday, two Christians
were among 25 demonstrators arrested.
One of the Christian activists, Westley Ingram, said: "A church
that does not take a stand on climate change in the interests of
the poor, at home and abroad, does not represent Jesus Christ well,
if at all."
On Thursday of last week, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin
Warner, called for a "more challenging" debate about fracking: "It
is easy, but also dangerous, to claim the moral high ground in
complex debate about the environment and our quest for new energy
sources. The rich resources that fracking can unlock come with some
questionable consequences, both for the present and the
Last week, the Church Commissioners issued a statement rebutting
claims in the press that their registering of mineral interests, in
line with Land Registry requirements - prompting letters to
residents across the country - had any link to fracking. There were
"no particular plans to mine under any property".
On Friday, the chairman of the Mission and Public Affairs
Council, Philip Fletcher, said that the Church of England had "no
official policy either for or against hydraulic fracturing. . .
There are a number of balancing considerations which need to be
taken into account when coming to a view. Fuel poverty is an
increasingly urgent issue for many in society - the impact on
energy bills is felt most by the least well off. Blanket opposition
to further exploration for new sources of fuel fails to take into
account those who suffer most when resources are scarce."
He said: "We do not want cowboys and cavaliers digging up the
land in a free-for-all exploitation. However, as the Royal Academy
of Engineering concluded recently in a review on fracking, this is
a procedure which 'can be managed effectively in the UK as long as
operational best practices are implemented and robustly enforced
Cuadrilla has a number of exploration sites in the Bowland Shale
basin in Lancashire. The diocese of Blackburn has produced a
leaflet on fracking that highlights numerous concerns about
potential environmental risks. Produced by the diocesan rural and
environmental project officer, the Revd Chris Halliwell, it calls
for fracking to be considered "in the context of global climate-
change, which itself cannot be ignored by Christians, as it raises
questions of justice, fairness, provision, stewardship and love for
God, his creation and his creatures, including our global human
On Monday, the Area Dean of Blackpool, the Revd Dr Simon Cox,
said: "The diocese is trying to sound neutral, but key figures are
opposed as much on carbon usage as fracking itself, with a possible
over-reliance on nuclear-free alternatives.
They are strangely quiet about the long running gas-storage saga
at Fleetwood [protesters oppose the storage of gas in salt caverns
under Wyre], which presumably can't co-exist with fracking and seem
less driven by the appalling levels of unemployment in Blackpool
which fracking could in part address. In part, it is the old
question about how far a local community should pay for national
and international decisions."
On Tuesday, The Times reported that the chairman of the
Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, Derek Lickorish, said that it was
"part of the Government's duty" to explore fracking for shale gas,
which had the potential to reduce energy costs: "the voice of the
fuel, poor has been lost in the current frenzy".
The Prime Minister is firmly behind fracking. In an article for
The Daily Telegraph earlier this month, he wrote: "If we
don't back this technology, we will miss a massive opportunity to
help families with their bills and make our country
Besides the risk of water contamination, campaigners warn that
fracking will put pressure on scarce water supplies, and is a
distraction from investing in cleaner, renewable sources of
Question of the Week: Should fracking be permitted in the