The MP for Arundel and South Downs has spoken out about fracking as the bitter protest in Balcombe enters its 14th day.
Nick Herbert told this newspaper this week communities need ‘more information and reassurance’ about the controversial technique - which involves fracturing rocks deep underground with water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas.
He said the impact of fracking on the Sussex countryside and environment ‘really isn’t clear’ and added ‘an invasion’ of protesters from outside the county is not what villagers want.
On Friday (August 2) energy firm Cuadrilla finally began test drilling at its Balcombe site after being held up for more than a week by an impassioned campaign.
West Sussex County Council revealed this week the work is due to take 40 days and 40 nights.
Mr Herbert said: “We are being told that the Sussex Weald may contain huge reserves of shale gas which may well be exploitable.
“Local people understand the arguments about cheap and secure energy, but they are concerned, not least because the scale and the impact of the proposals on the Sussex countryside and the environment really isn’t clear.
“Communities need more information and reassurance that any operations will not be damaging.”
The MP added: “I don’t think local people want an invasion of direct activists from outside West Sussex, but they do want to know that the countryside they value will be protected.”
Mr Herbert entered the fracking debate late last month when he stressed the importance of protecting the countryside to colleagues in Westminster.
The MP’s focus falls on exploratory drilling in his own constituency which has been proposed at a site between Kirdford and Wisborough Green by Celtique Energie.
He has met constituents at Kirdford to hear their concerns and also been in touch with Celtique Energie to discuss their proposals.
On his website he comments: “I seek a careful debate in which we ensure a balance of interests and a recognition that the national interest does not consist only in economic advantage, however powerful that argument might be.”
Mr Herbert has pledged to follow the issue of shale gas extraction closely and ensure that the concerns of his constituents are addressed.