Three issues continue to dominate the local news and my postbag, one of them the possibility of fracking in the UK and in West Sussex particularly, so I will answer here some of the questions I am being asked about it.
I remain open minded about exploration for shale gas. As energy demands continue to increase year on year, we have to consider every potential source of supply while insisting that the activity is properly regulated.
As I understand it, the problems experienced in the USA have come about for two reasons: lack of sufficient information gained from exploratory drilling, and non-existent or ineffective state-by-state regulation. In Britain there are many processes that must be negotiated before any eventual planning consent is granted for commercial exploitation using fracking.
I believe we should be open to properly regulated and licensed exploratory drilling; it is this that will provide the answers to many of the questions that local residents are perfectly properly asking.
I believe that in the UK this industry is rightly very tightly regulated. While there will always be local opposition to energy projects, whether wind farms, power plants or drilling sites, we should remember that the Wealden landscape has been formed by extraction industries over the centuries – iron, oak and clay being the most significant, with sand, gravel, chalk and flint extraction on and around the Downs. It is unlikely that any extraction of oil or gas from deep underground would have such a significant and lasting effect as the historic exploitation of any of these resources has done.
Should fracking ever be granted permission in West Sussex, it will not result in scores of wells close to each other, as the technology now allows for much greater distances between them. This is fast-moving technology, with constant improvements being sought and implemented.
In an ideal world we would meet all our energy demands from sustainable clean sources, but wedded as we all are to our electronic equipment, devices and tools, this is an unrealistic hope. We live in a crowded small island where a constant supply of affordable energy is seen as a basic human necessity.
The granting of permission for exploration and any subsequent drilling remains with the local authority, and I see my role as aiming to ensure that any such permissions are granted or refused on the basis of detailed information about all the risks and benefits being considered, evaluated in a clear and transparent process.
I welcome the open debate about this issue.