Sarah Todd: A Ryedale resident's down-to-earth perspective on fracking and what it really means

HAVING just looked up the dictionary definition of a Nimby (not in my back yard), it's time to make an admission.

Fracking protests last year when police tried to evict tea lady Jackie Brookes from her table if she didn't move.
Fracking protests last year when police tried to evict tea lady Jackie Brookes from her table if she didn't move.

If we lived at the site of the proposed fracking in Kirby Misperton – rather than another corner of Ryedale – yours truly would be like a dog with a bone.

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Both red-headed barrels would be given.

But, as it is, no objections have been raised.

This is textbook Nimby behaviour.

Normal middle-aged friends have been down to the protection camp.

In spite of this, the prevailing image of the campaigners, for this correspondent at least, is one of young men from outside the area with dreadlocks and hairy jumpers chaining themselves to railings and vehicles.

I’ve read – there seems to be very little other news covered in the local newspapers these days – that about half the people at the camp “have experience of environmental protests in other parts of the country” and this, to be frank, puts me off finding out more.

Everybody who has visited the camp seems to say there is nothing to be intimidated about; always adding they get a fantastic welcome from the seasoned protesters.

But as a “normal” working mother, the protest camp and locals’ tales of disruption and rubbish has been a barrier to finding out more about the subject of fracking.

Without them, it’s true, drilling might already have started, so they are to be congratulated.

But although only 20 minutes’ drive away in the car, their world seems a million miles away from mine.

It’s really ignorant, but with deadlines to meet, tea to cook and animals to feed, the reality is that sitting down and actually understanding the pros and cons of fracking is never going to happen.

The children have tried, after geography lessons on the subject, to explain the ins and outs of it but it goes in one ear and out the other. Is it just me who is thick?

Just as the long-haired protesters put me off, there is another type (mostly retired and very academic) that makes me feel lacking in the brainpower needed to grasp the nettle and get to grips with the technicalities of the fracking procedure.

Some of the letters they write to newspapers, including The Yorkshire Post, turn me right off the whole debate.

The one and only leaflet on the subject of fracking that’s been read from beginning to end in this house was targeted at Ryedale’s farmers.

It came through the letterbox and was written in an easy-to-understand format and got this Nimby, for the first time, interested in the debate.

It highlighted a study into links between fracking and sickness in farm animals, with incidents across six US states where livestock on farms adjacent to drilling sites died or suffered illness, including reproductive and neurological problems, following exposure to fracking chemicals.

It also quoted a soil and crop science expert as saying fracking is like a “death sentence” for soil, with dangers from waste water spills and leaks, as well as emissions from drilling pads and other equipment.

It talked of a “gas field haze” containing very high levels of ozones, resulting in weaker, stunted plants, inferior crop quality and greatly decreased yields of up to 30 per cent.

It also referred to concerns raised by level-headed sensible British organisations such as the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

Unable to understand the actual process of fracking – the name is short for hydraulic fracturing, which is a drilling process designed to release gas or oil from layers of rock that lie thousands of feet underground – the potential plight of animals and farmland used to grow crops that we eat was much easier to relate to.

The bottom line for me, as a Ryedale resident, is that we don’t know enough about fracking.

Until more is known about the long-term implications, the proposed drilling at Kirby Misperton should be put on hold.

The campaigners are right not to be bamboozled by big business and crafty politicians and stand up for these very real concerns.

It makes me proud to be from Ryedale, hearing about locals popping into the camp to drop off the likes of food and blankets. Huge respect also to the geri-activists, those from the older generation who have rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in. They put me (with those prejudices about the alternative-looking protesters from outside the district) to shame.

However, the phenomenal costs of policing the protests will continue to make my blood boil. Will our council tax go up as a result? How can a county like North Yorkshire – where already there aren’t enough police officers on the beat – cope with such expense?

One final thought. The camp is situated just off the road leading to Yorkshire’s most visited paid-for attraction, Flamingo Land. How many families treating themselves to a day out here could give a flying fig about fracking? That lack of engagement among the wider general public – yes, my Nimbyism – is surely the biggest hurdle that has to be faced...

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.

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