Cllr Brian Robinson, leader of the Conservative Group on Forest of Dean District Council and incompetent ignoramus
Every day I wake up full of wonder and amazement… or incredulity, if you like, that sufficient idiots vote for and believe in the legitimacy of politicians and their capacity to make decisions on behalf of communities. Or maybe the majority of us realise they are all motivated by self-interest in a political game of snakes and ladders, but… well what else is there? (My response might be, please research Rojava or the Mexican village which has banned politicians, but I digress)…
Our local politicians deserve all the ridicule we can bestow upon them – they are, after all, charged with making decisions or at least enabling decisions made from Westminster, the City or their local masonic chums. For this particular example, I contacted three different councillors from three different parties to take this up in full council, but I was ignored. I understand – from watching the latest council meeting, they spent a great portion of it discussing themselves and to what extent each of them were bringing their council into disrepute, and scoring petty political points, than getting to grips with a blatant example of MISINFORMATION.
I refer to the response by the Conservative group leader, Cllr Brian Robinson, to a letter that was sent out by Forest of Dean Green Party to all councillors, with the support of Frack Off Our Forest. It was calling on councillors to give their support to an open letter to Mark Harper calling on him to oppose the government proposal to make planning permission unnecessary for exploratory drilling – in other words, allowing a site to be concreted over, and primed for fracking with the first stage of drilling with no need to ask permission, the complete removal of any council scrutiny or decision-making.
It is not surprising, given the centralised way the Tory party works, that the only response from Tory councillors was from Cllr Robinson, and that seemed to be a copy and paste job of Government pro-fracking propaganda. The basic premise of the response was to say, “the Government wants fracking… but don’t worry it can’t happen in your backyard”. This is what needs correcting, and it’s the same line our MP has been peddling ever since the licencing round opened in 2014, with about one-third of Britain under consideration. He maintained that it was simply routine that the Forest was licenced, and it didn’t mean there was any shale gas there. In fact, Mr Harper variously asserted there was no shale gas, or even shale rock, under the Forest, but there may be methane/ natural gas in the coal.
This is demonstrably wrong: First, no methane has ever been recorded in the Forest of Dean coalfield. Miners freely used naked lights without explosion, their main enemy was water, not gas.
Second – is there shale gas beneath the Forest? I had a few lengthy phone chats and email exchanges with the BGS people in Cardiff regarding whether there was shale gas underneath the Forest of Dean. Their response was they couldn’t say either way. But while I would doubt there would be sufficient shale gas to be economically viable if there was any, there is most certainly shale ROCK beneath the Forest.
Brian Robinson, councillor for Mitcheldean, has now repeated Harper’s bad research to make this case. I doubt whether he would condescend to read this, but anyone who knows him, please encourage him to visit Stenders Quarry, a nature reserve just off the Stenders Road on the outskirts of Mitcheldean. It’ll only take a few minutes walk and stop and examine the exposed rock and to read the interpretative sign that shows the LOWER LIMESTONE SHALES, aka Avon Group formation, and how it lies underneath the coalfield, outcropping on the western side of the Forest, notably at Yat Rock. He has this shale on full display, with a sign, in his own council ward, yet he insists there is no shale!
I have endeavoured to explain to Mr Harper, or his office, with plenty of sources provided from the British Geological Survey who he is misrepresenting with this misinformation. I’m not sure whether it got to him personally but as it had no effect in correcting his misinformation I’ll have to repeat it (whether to any avail I don’t know but it is now here as a record).
Had Harper and Cllr Robinson stated “there is no Namurian shale in or under the Forest” they would have been correct (at least, none has been discovered), as the map they keep touting (see below) only shows Namurian shale outcrops and subcrops, but no other Carboniferous-era rock formations. The Forest of Dean, unlike the north of England, South Wales and Bristol/ Somerset, lacks this formation of rock (shown here by its archaic name, Millstone Grit), which is being promoted by the Government as most prospective for gas extraction.
However, the pimping “manual” produced by the Government to whore large sections of the country to the fracking industry, did also consider the Lower Limestone Shales/ Avon Group to be prospective. See page 18 of the prospectus, https://www.ogauthority.co.uk/media/1693/shalegas_uk.pdf , under the heading “Shale Gas Prospectivity – UK Carboniferous to Triassic shale formations”… where it states: “Tournaisian Lower Limestone Shale (now Avon Group)… The earliest Carboniferous Lower Limestone Shale may have some shale gas potential.”
Hence South Western Energy revealed to us in the three-way meeting we had with them and Gloucestershire Police, they were interested in exploring for gas or oil in three different layers – the coalfield, the Lower limestone shale (beneath it), and the old red sandstone (beneath and around both other target layers). This two-bit company is still licensed to explore in the same Lower limestone shales formation close to the Somerset coast (near Weston-super-Mare). This layer of rock is highly porous, with water creating a labyrinth of sinkholes and karst pathways, and considered a geohazard for the speed, unpredictable direction and distances at how water and hazardous substances can spread.
This map (also from the BGS) shows the Forest of Dean is part of the same limestone aquifers system (groundwater layers) as Somerset and South Wales (where fracking was suspended by the Welsh Assembly)
After the fight we put up, we ensured the drillers handed the licence they’d been offered back to the Government in September 2016. The Forest of Dean remains unlicenced – but as the Government confirmed to us in writing when the licences were not issued/ withdrawn, they would consider any request from an operator to reissue them at any time. Given that Gerwyn and South Western Energy don’t seem to have mustered up enough capital to make any moves in Somerset or Dorset (where they also have licences), it may seem unnecessary to worry too much about our own backyard.
The best-case scenario is that Cuadrilla is forced – by regulatory or political power – to cease fracking in Lancashire, and that this also prevents the richest man in Britain, INEOS’s Jim Ratcliffe, getting his way in the Midlands and Yorkshire, where the firm is already set to start drilling in two locations, to produce shale gas to make plastic (rather than any pretence at helping with energy security), and every other fracker is given the bum’s rush. Jeremy Corbyn has promised to end fracking and ban it immediately if a Labour government comes to power (as would the Greens and Lib Dems).
The worst-case scenario is that the fracking industry actually gets going in England, as it will need, by the latest research estimate, more than 6,000 well pads to operate economically. To support fracking, as Harper and Robinson (and by their silence/ complicity all the other Tory councillors) have stated they do, ultimately means accepting this reality. Robinson does not oppose the principle of councillors or planners having no say or way of scrutinising sites set up for drilling, or the drilling process itself.
Even if he and Harper were right about the rock formations, Robinson would still be happy to not have any say in a firm drilling 1,000 metres below his feet, through faults and a high-pressure water-filled honeycomb left by the legacy of deep mining. Or maybe they deny that reality as well?
Perhaps it would be a waste of time debating fracking in the council chamber – despite it having actually begun this month, albeit 200 miles away. Councils elsewhere in the country, including Tory councils in Cheshire, have confirmed their opposition to the proposals to relax planning consent. If the Forest was to be licenced again for fracking, the interested parties would – as they have everywhere else in the country – a massive fight on their hands. Who knows what the future holds? I trust they won’t try it on and in time fracking will be proven an impossibility on this island (after sufficient people have made their fast bucks from the Ponzi scheme of pointless drilling and environmental destruction, I guess).
So continuing vigilance is important and the last thing anyone should expect is these people looking out for them. That is down to us: we are not NIMBYs either, we – unlike these dipshit politicians – seem to have an understanding of the ground beneath our feet and how a big earthquake can be felt for quite some distance, not to mention giving a shit for our fellow human beings, whether they live local or up north.
During his last election campaign, Mark Harper said the Forest was never under threat of fracking, and that we had run a campaign purely based on scaremongering. The Tory party faithful all clapped along with this blatant lie, although they themselves (including Robinson) had heard South Western Energy explain their intention to frack in a closed council meeting. There is also a mineral/ coal area between Lightmoor and Mallard’s Pike owned by one of their prominent supporters, who is a friend and financial adviser to South Western Energy’s main man, Gerwyn Williams. The then-energy minister, who we had met with in Parliament, confirmed to us in writing that the Forestry Commission and Coal Authority, i.e. the Deputy Gaveller, was ready to allocate site(s) within the Forest of Dean for exploration for gas or oil.
The reason it didn’t happen is because a/ we scared them off, b/ they couldn’t raise the money. Meanwhile those who should be aware of the potential or otherwise of the Forest of Dean as a future fracking area, are continuing to hoodwink with their misinformation. Who will tackle them on this?
Here’s the letter sent and the disappointing response below that. For the record, here’s a list of those councillors who DID sign:
Signed by: Chris McFarling – Newland & St Briavels, Green, Portfolio holder for Environment, Wildlife, Heritage and Culture
Paul Hiett – Bream, Forest First, Portfolio holder for Communities & Parish and Town Councils & Community Safety
Alan Grant – Pillowell, UKIP, Portfolio holder for Planning Policy, Health & Wellbeing
Sid Phelps – Lydbrook & Ruardean, Green
Douglas Scott – Mitcheldean & Drybrook, Labour
Di Martin – Cinderford East, Labour (& on behalf of the Labour Group)
Jackie Fraser – Mitcheldean & Drybrook, Labour
Simon Phelps – Newnham & Westbury, Independent
Julia Gooch – Newent Central, Independent
Roger James, Coleford East, Forest First
Tim Gwilliam – Berry Hill, Forest First
David East – Blaisdon & Longhope, Independent
Robinson’s email response (on 10/10/18):
“Thank you for your email about planning practice on shale development.
“First, to be clear on the position locally, according to information provided by the British Geological Survey [the map shown above of selective shales], there are no shale deposits in or around the Forest of Dean, therefore, the question of hydraulic fracturing locally simply doesn’t arise. However, as many will know given the mining heritage of the Forest, there are coal deposits in the area which may contain natural gas.
The Government has always been clear that before any type of activity can occur, it will have needed to have secured proper planning permission from our local Minerals Planning Authority (Gloucestershire County Council [NB: Robinson is also a county councillor], be certified as safe by the Health and Safety Executive, and receive confirmation that any work will not have an adverse effect on the local environment from the Environment Agency.
Shale development has the potential to deliver substantial economic benefits to the UK economy and for local communities where supplies are located. I am glad that the Government remains committed to protecting the environment and ensuring that shale exploration happens safely.
Second, as you are aware, a consultation has been launched to consider whether the early stages of shale exploration should be treated as permitted development, and in particular the circumstances where this might be appropriate. This would allow early exploratory work to proceed without requiring planning applications, although planning applications would still be required for fracking, in the way I outlined above…
… I do not support the Forest of Dean Green Party’s suggestion of sending an open letter to Mark Harper MP, requesting that he writes to the Energy Minister, as I do not believe this would be necessary. The process for responding to the consultation is very clear and is set out on the page I have linked to. This is the best way to ensure your views are considered.”
The consultation ends tomorrow (25 October). It may have carried more weight than an individual had Forest of Dean District Council made a representation, but que sera sera… if it hadn’t been for Bruce Hogan taking up about an hour of last week’s meeting with a motion about himself, that he actually ended up getting his Labour group to vote against, there may have been time to make a stand against fracking… and expose the Tories for the charlatans and confidence-tricksters and blatant liars that they are on this important issue. Having had ample experiences of consultations and the majority view expressed within them being ignored wholesale, Robinson is once again talking shit when he says the most effective way to be heard is as a person rather than a layer of local government. He is not fit to be your representative both at district and county level, Mitcheldeaners!