“I know that everything I say sounds like utter fucking bullshit,” a top Cuadrilla PR executive told me yesterday when I asked him about the risks fracking poses to the sleepy Sussex village of Balcombe.
Fortunately I was recording our exchange of views and captured this extraordinary admission on tape.
Balcombe, in West Sussex, is about to become a fracking flashpoint, which is why the Cuadrilla PR juggernaut had rolled into town. Cuadrilla executives, together with shady public affairs company Bell Pottinger and public relations consultancy PPS, descended en masse to convince the locals that having an exploration well drilled in their village is a good thing.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the villagers don’t agree.
In fact, they’re extremely upset about it and feel that they’ve been ridden roughshod over by the company and the entire planning process. A survey conducted by Balcombe Parish Council found that 82% of the village is opposed to Cuadrilla’s activities.
We put this to the same PR executive (I don’t want to name him because he seemed, aside from his job, to be quite a nice guy), who said that due process had been followed. He also told us that Cuadrilla don’t need to seek permission to drill under people’s houses and that they would be flaring during the exploration phase.
Crucially, he admitted that fracking won't bring down energy prices – contrary to the line George Osborne has been peddling.
Local opposition to Cuadrilla’s plans is strong and growing more powerful by the day. Villagers are going street to street signing up their neighbours to a declaration that Balcombe is a frack-free zone.
This is just the first step in a campaign that could very well see civil disobedience sweep through the Home Counties, as that hotbed of environmental radicalism, Conservative Home noted just the other day.
I’ll leave the final word to Jill from the Balcombe Tea Rooms. "Fracking is awful”, she said. “I don't think you should do it anywhere in this little country".