Francis Maude: resolute in stand against extremism

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Let me start by commenting on the despicable murder of soldier Lee Rigby last week. What happened in Woolwich was a sickening attack and my thoughts continue to be with him and his family.

The Security Service and the police are continuing to establish the full facts of the case, but there is obviously a strong indication that it was an act of terrorism. Let’s be clear about one thing – the Government and the whole country remain resolute in our stand against violent extremism and terror.

In the last few weeks, my postbag has been dominated by two issues. The first, housing development, has been covered in this column and this paper, with ‘letters to the editor’ showing just how sensitive the issue is. So, I thought I would share with readers a summary of my thoughts on the second issue – fracking.

As readers know, my Parliamentary constituency is rather large and it’s the people of the beautiful village of Balcombe that have contacted me in significant numbers, deeply worried about the possibility of fracking in their environment.

Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – is a method of releasing shale gas and oil from within layers of rock by blasting them with a pressurised liquid.

I met recently with Cuadrilla Resources, the company who plan to explore the Balcombe area, to learn more about their plans and the processes involved. I’ve also heard from the Environment Agency and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

I’ve been struck by two things – firstly, like housing development, this is a highly controversial and sensitive issue. Secondly, fracking is one of the most highly regulated activities I can think of.

There’s a lengthy process for companies like Cuadrilla and Celtique, in Wisborough Green, to go through – from exploratory drilling, exploratory fracking, right up to commercial fracking. DECC, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, West Sussex County Council, to name just a few organisations, will be monitoring every step of the way and it’s by no means certain that gas or oil will be found or that any fracking will actually take place. Monitoring agencies will be looking at many things including the impact on groundwater and the disposal of contaminated water; local populations will have to be consulted and WSCC will have to continue to grant planning permission. This is a complex matter but I will end by saying that oil and gas exploration is a promising new potential energy resource which could reduce our reliance on imported gas and help lower household energy bills. We’ll continue to monitor the issue nationally and I’ll be keeping a close eye on what’s planned locally.