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50-Year-Old Fracking Site That Makes A Mockery Of The Balcombe Zealots

Mail on Sunday

It’s next to a nature reserve – and has fracked enough gas and oil to power 21,000 homes every day… since 1963 and with no complaints from locals.

The beautiful expanse of grassland on the RSPB’s Beckingham Marshes reserve is exactly the kind of environment antifracking protesters are so determined to protect.

During their ‘Solidarity Sunday’ today in the West Sussex village of Balcombe, thousands of eco-warriors will tell the world that fracking – the process of pumping water into underground wells to ‘fracture’ the rock and force out oil and gas – should be banned to avoid ‘industralising’ the countryside.

In fact there has been fracking here in Nottinghamshire since 1963, the last time in 1989. One well has been fracked four times.

Frack to the future: Nodding donkey's next to the RSPB nature reserve in Beckingham, Nottinghamshire

Frack to the future: Nodding donkey’s next to the RSPB nature reserve in Beckingham, Nottinghamshire 

Thanks in part to this original fracking process, allowing more oil and gas to be extracted, the oilfield is still yielding about 300 barrels of crude oil and one million cubic feet of natural gas daily.

The gas, piped under the reserve to a local power station, is now used to generate enough electricity to power 21,000 homes every day.

And yet the environmental armageddon predicted so vocally by the anti-fracking brigade has failed spectacularly to appear.

Within the idyllic setting of the reserve stands a nodding donkey – proof that RSPB Beckingham Marshes lies inside the boundary of

an oil field that is being actively exploited. Visitors can gaze from the reserve over the flat landscape and see the tops of four more nodding donkeys, all no more than 32ft from the border of the nature reserve.

All four are pumping from oil wells where fracking has occurred. But wildlife is flourishing and people in the village of Beckingham seem bemused when questioned about the effect on the environment.

In the words of Andrew Austin, chief executive of IGas Energy, the British company running the oilfield: ‘Clearly, the world has not ended in Beckingham.’

A report last year by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering found that at about 200 of the 2,000 onshore wells drilled in the UK in the past 30 years, there had been fracking to improve yields of oil and natural gas.

The anti-fracking prophets of doom may also be surprised to learn that in the 13 square miles of the Gainsborough-Beckingham oil field in which the reserve lies, there have been at least 53 fracking operations.

‘There are 53 we know about,’ said Mr Austin, conceding there may have been more.

‘Most of the fracking was done in the late 1980s when the field was owned by BP.

‘I think the people protesting are sincere but they have chosen the wrong target. Fracking is standard oilfield practice.

‘All this stuff about it being new is nonsense.’ Fracking, said Mr Austin, had happened at depths of 3,000ft to 4,000ft in the field but the predicted evils – pollution and water poisoning – have not appeared.

And as for the ‘industrialisation of the countryside’, when you approach the small area – about one-50th of an acre – occupied by the well that has been fracked four times, the gentle hum of the 15ft-tall nodding donkey tends to be drowned out by the sound of birdsong.

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