LAST week more than 150 high-profile names signed a letter calling for fracking to be suspended pending an "independent and thorough public debate."
Part of an initiative called Talk Fracking, the letter's signees included Professor Sir Harold Kroto FRS (Nobel Laureate in chemistry), Professor David Smythe (Emeritus professor of geophysics, Glasgow University), Dr Hugh Montgomery (Professor of intensive care, UCL) and the hydrogeologist, Graham D Warren, who chairs the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) Kent Environment Committee, of which I am a member.
The (national) Times newspaper chose to ignore the respected scientists whose names led the list and focused only on the fact that Paul McCartney and other celebrities had signed. The Daily Mirror redressed the balance by featuring the research findings of Professor Smythe that fracking poses a far greater risk of water contamination in Britain than the US due to differences in geology.
Ironically, that warning came on the same day that the Government made it easier for companies to drill beneath our homes without our permission.
The Government continually stresses how debate is needed to inform us about fracking but having attended last month's Gov Today Shale Gas conference in London, it was clear that the £500 including VAT cost of a ticket would preclude the attendance of many members of the public.
Advertised as a "delegate led" event, it proved impossible to tackle industry chief Andrew Austin of IGas with spontaneous questions from the floor and his plenary speech remains unavailable to the public on the Gov Today website due to "contractual" reasons. I can report, however, that Austin told the House of Lords that the barriers to his industry "are getting local acceptance where we are trying to drill… and it is the inability to manage that, that would rule out any particular area".
A few months ago, the campaign group East Kent Against Fracking held a meeting in Barham, not far from the village of Shepherdswell – one of three east Kent villages that successfully opposed drilling applications last year. A few weeks after EKAF's meeting, Lib Dem Mike Sole took the Barham ward from the Conservatives in a by-election.
Cllr Sole has now proposed a motion for Canterbury City Council to reject all forms of unconventional gas or oil exploration and development such as fracking while seeking a moratorium on shale gas exploration in the Canterbury district and supporting renewable energy sources such as solar, tidal and wind.
Cllr Sole told me: "I believe it is important to send a clear message to energy companies seeking to drill in our area that councillors share residents' concerns about the potential risks from shale and other forms of extreme energy." A council debate is scheduled for July in Canterbury and all our welcome.
Before then, Talk Fracking is addressing the lack of debate from our government, and the dearth of information from the media, by setting up five city debates with the London event on June 16 at Westminster to be chaired by Jon Snow from Channel 4 News. Tickets are free and available from the Talk Fracking website.
Go along. Talk fracking. Be heard.
For tickets to the Westminster debate visit www.talkfracking.org
Prof David's Smythe submission to House of Lords at www.barcombe.org
For more info and to join East Kent Against Fracking http://eastkentagainstfracking.blogspot.co.uk