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Meet Barbara Richardson - a woman on the fracking front line

PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 August 2014

Barbara Richardson

Barbara Richardson

Archant

Barbara Richardson was looking forward to a quiet life in the country until the frackers arrived. This is her story

I am 57 and the only other group I joined was a badminton club – 40 years ago. I was all ready to settle down and retire peacefully after moving three years ago with my husband, John, from the outskirts of Preston to Roseacre, an idyllic spot in the Fylde countryside.

Apart from the odd car or tractor, the only sounds are from birds. The area is very popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders and the nearest village is Elswick, winner of the Fylde in Bloom several times. As a child, my father used to bring the family here to savour the delicious Bonds ice cream.

So imagine my shock in February when Cuadrilla suddenly announced plans to drill, hydraulically fracture (frack) and test flow shale gas from up to four exploratory wells just 500m from my home. We are not even allowed to put up a satellite dish because it is not in keeping with a rural area!

This was the start of my journey from totally ignorant to activist in just four months.

First I was determined to find out more. I dutifully attended Cuadrilla’s public information days, read all their material and started to research on the internet. I was confused by conflicting stories and huge amounts of information. I wrote to my MP, county, borough, parish councillors, scientists, anti-fracking groups and Cuadrilla themselves in a bid to find out more.

One day someone from the village put a note through my door we set up the Roseacre Awareness Group (RAG) to raise awareness and knowledge about the shale gas industry and fracking. At this point I was still fairly neutral and not anti-fracking at all.

However, the more I researched the more concerned I became - not just on us in Roseacre (and a second site at Little Plumpton) but potentially on everyone in the UK. Up to 60% of the country is up for license to drill for shale gas, coal bed methane and oil.

Thousands of wells would be required in some of our most beautiful countryside. If this exploration phase in Lancashire is successful, it will set a precedent and many energy-hungry companies will quickly move in and large areas of our countryside will become industrialised.

I was now at the informed stage. The search for unconventional onshore gas (which includes shale gas) involves drilling 24/7, hydraulically fracturing the shale (using millions of gallons of water and chemicals), extracting the gas (methane) which is then burned off into the atmosphere until connected to the gas mains. They can do it under your house without your permission if new proposals become law.

The hazardous waste and toxic flowback fluids have to be taken away in HGVs for treatment causing disruption on our narrow country roads. I started to read about growing health issues in the USA and Australia and I discovered many countries have banned the process, or have at least announced a moratorium.

I also found out high volume intensive fracking has only been done once before in the UK. This was just over two years ago at Preese Hall, Weeton just 6km from where I live but it caused two earthquakes!

This caused Cuadrilla to suspend operations for over two years. I also found out that the UK is highly faulted and there were concerns from geologists about this especially as the UK is densely populated.

I had turned. I was now most definitely anti-fracking. Our awareness group is growing daily and now has over 80 members as people are becoming informed. There are now 16 anti-fracking groups in Lancashire, including the Residents Action Against Fylde Fracking, Ribble Estuary, Garstang, Longridge, Preston, Singleton and, all united under the Frack Free Lancashire banner. Still more groups are setting up in East Lancashire and there are many more.

This depth of feeling should be ringing alarm bells. Why are so many ordinary people showing such fierce opposition?

Cuadrilla has now submitted planning applications for both Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road, at Little Plumpton thrusting us into the national limelight. I have become a media spokesperson, fundraiser, public speaker, campaigner and so it goes on. I rarely get a minute these days without emails or phone calls from concerned residents or national and local media.

The transformation is complete. Suddenly I realise I am now an activist. My mother would be horrified but I feel passionately and I am determined to do all I can to stop this in its tracks. I am doing all I can, together with some very wonderful people, to make others aware of the devastating impact this industry will have on our wonderful county.

All I ask of people is to not accept what the energy companies and the government are telling you. They are set to make a lot of money. Listen to people’s concerns, do the research like I did and ask questions.

I hope Lancashire County Council listens to all sides, not just the industry, before making a life changing decision for many. They should seriously consider not just these first two sites, but the longer term impact of this industry and whether they really want turn Lancashire into one large gas field!

So why am I telling my story? Well, because it could be your area next. This is just the beginning. Don’t be ignorant and indifferent like I was. Take notice and protect everything that is special about our county.

Oh, and by the way, we don’t even have mains gas here in Roseacre. What irony!

Do you share Barbara’s concerns? Write to letters@lancashirelife.co.uk

Barbara’s early years were spent in Preston, and she attended Fulwood High School before going on to work for British Aerospace (BAC as it was then) as a commercial apprentice - the only girl among many boys. She was a project manager in IT and worked for Fine Art Developments and BT. She is now a part-time teaching assistant at Strike Lane Primary School in Freckleton.

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