Fracking firm scaling back operation at Balcombe

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood with campaigners in Balcombe Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood has joined campaigners at Balcombe
Protests at Balcombe Police expect an extra 1,000 campaigners at the protest site this weekend
Reclaim the Power camp Campaign group No Dash For Gas has organised a six-day camp at Balcombe
Test drilling equipment Cuadrilla said it was scaling back drilling during the event for safety reasons

Energy firm Cuadrilla has scaled back exploratory drilling in West Sussex on police advice, as more activists begin arriving at a nearby protest site.

The company has been looking for oil near the village of Balcombe, but has not ruled out using the controversial technique of fracking to release gas.

Police believe environmental activists at the site are about to begin a campaign of civil disobedience.

They expect about 1,000 extra people to join existing protesters this weekend.

The BBC's Angus Crawford said about 100 activists arrived by train at Balcombe railway station at about 13:00 BST before being escorted to the demonstration site by police.

Some of the protesters were waving anti-fracking banners and others were wearing Guy Fawkes masks, which have become a feature of demonstrations around the world.

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood also joined campaigners on Friday afternoon.

Fences erected

At the scene

A small number of protesters arrived at Balcombe station and were escorted towards the fracking site by police.

It's difficult to make an accurate estimate, but about 100 protesters were involved.

They were joined by the international fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

The protesters, who were quiet and orderly, were escorted by at least five police vehicles and between 30 and 40 officers on foot.

Cuadrilla's decision to scale back its drilling means exploration operations will be effectively at a standstill just two weeks after drilling got under way at Balcombe.

The number of workers on the site has been reduced and large reinforced fences are being erected.

Cuadrilla said in a statement: "After taking advice from Sussex Police, Cuadrilla is scaling back operations ahead of this weekend's No Dash For Gas event.

"During this time, our main concern is the safety of our staff, Balcombe's residents and the protesters following threats of direct action against the exploration site.

"We will resume full operations as soon as it is safe to do so."

Matt Lambert, a spokesman for the energy firm, said workers had faced intimidation during their time at the site in Balcombe.

'Tremendous provocation'

He added: "They're basically just oil men trying to go about their business, they're ordinary engineers, geologists and so forth, they're not used to this sort of thing and they've put up with it very stoically.

"It is quite unpleasant, people take photographs of you, take photographs of the number plate, we have to have police escorts out to get away from the site and of course it's unpleasant."

Campaigners welcomed Cuadrilla's decision to scale back its operations.

Start Quote

"Cuadrilla's announcement that they'll halt drilling is already a victory for us, but it's only a start”

End Quote Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson said: "Cuadrilla's announcement that they'll halt drilling is already a victory for us, but it's only a start.

"We would like to make sure they don't frack in Balcombe, or anywhere else at all."

Cuadrilla is drilling a 3,000ft (900m) vertical well and a 2,500ft (750m) horizontal bore but said fracking for shale gas would need fresh permission.

'Take back power'

Environmental campaigners have been camped at the site for the past three weeks, with about 40 people arrested in that time.

Sussex Police believe more people will arrive for a six-day camp organised by the No Dash For Gas group.

It warned it would engage in mass civil disobedience - last year members occupied West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire.

Jamie Kelsey Fry, from No Dash For Gas, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme said that the protesters would be doing "everything they can to make the country think twice" about fracking.

"It was exactly these kinds of actions hundreds of years ago that gave women the vote with the Suffragettes. It's absolutely no different," he said.

Mr Kelsey Fry added the protesters would be risking "their liberty and personal harm" to highlight awareness of the government's "disastrous choice" to pursue fracking.

"This is not fun. People aren't going down there for fun. It's not fun to see the heavy policing that I predict will be happening over this weekend," he added.

In an open letter, Balcombe Parish Council chairman Alison Stevenson called on the group not to break the law.

Fossil fuels

Start Quote

We are acutely aware of the impact that this is having on the residents of Balcombe and back their call to protesters not to engage in any criminal activity”

End Quote Supt Lawrence Hobbs

Supt Lawrence Hobbs, of Sussex Police, said: "We are acutely aware of the impact that this is having on the residents of Balcombe and back their call to protesters not to engage in any criminal activity in the pursuit of their aims.

"We will continue to facilitate peaceful protest but newcomers to the site should be aware that if they commit criminal offences then we will collect the evidence and they will be arrested."

Cuadrilla has said it is "unlikely" to use the site for the production of fossil fuels.

Both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have spoken out against the company's activities.

Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the UK to embrace fracking - short for "hydraulic fracturing" - as an important source of energy production.

But opponents of the technique claim it can cause water contamination and environmental damage and can also trigger small earth tremors.

Professor Peter Styles, who advises the government on fracking safety, told the Today programme there was a danger that opposition to the process would "perpetuate the use of coal-fired energy... which is by far the worst kind of energy rather than gas".

"Replacing coal with gas is the logical step to reducing the UK's carbon footprint and having stable gas prices," he said.

fracking graphic

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  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    @555 my argument as to why it should go on in the south-east.Opencast mining was OK to destroy the Northumberland countryside,now its the turn of the Southeast..NIMBY is the word.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    22.Shartora, are you aware that the largest removal of Radioactive rods are being removed from Fukishima? The biggest Nuclear disaster in Human history has been downplayed to you, as you are uninformed on the situation, 300 tonnes of Radiated water has been spilling into te sea for 2 and a half years.

    I do not agree with fracking, but this has nothing on what is currently happening at Fukushima.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    I support fracking, but only temporarily. Surely the best way to go about this is use the money gained from fracking and put it straight in to other types of energy production that isn't going to run out. Eventually when we can begin to support our own energy demand with new methods we can shut this down and also stop relying on foreign coal, gas oil etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Can I say a big thank you to all the protesters.

    You alone stand up for those of us who take the back seat and expect someone else to fight our battles. Me included sorry to say.

    If my work allowed me to be there, I would be.
    The Government must not be allowed to poison our environment to the detriment of the people, for profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    I would rather not have fracking taking place, but the only workable alternative to fossil fuels is nuclear which will bring out many more protestors.

    We need a coherent energy policy that will provide our energy needs and cut back pollution and CO2

    The answer is nuclear, but the anti nuclear lobby still stand in the way.

    Too much ideology and not enough science

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    People will protest about anything - an "Enough is enough" protest sign is a great one, it can be used at virtually all protest events! If you've done in-depth research about the science behind fracking and you still think it's dangerous by all means protest, but I suspect many of the protesters are just there following the crowd. Don't they have jobs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    There have clearly been some issues in the US but for the most part it has been a success. The issues have been due to poor regulation of unscrupulous companies.

    Here is will be regulated.

    The protesters are low on facts, some originally interviewed didn't even know what they were protesting against, they see it as one big party at tax and bill paying publics expense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    177.rb "balcombe sounds like a mans name spoken with a nasal impairment"

    Why don't you go down on Saturday (£8 day return from London Bridge) and find out.

    The village of 1700 people is on the High Weald with many excellent walks in the nearby countryside. (Take a good map as the paths are not well marked!)

    There is always the nearby Bluebell Line if wet.

    The village's pub had just re-opened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Fracking and drilling should be only done in large open spaces, not the South of England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    The problem here is that much of the damage will only manifest itself long after the fracking companies have left the site.

    The precedent is mining for coal where either the taxpayer has had to pick up the bills for subsidence repairs or "tough luck".

    Somebody needs to underwrite the cost of repairs and I don't see many privateers queuing up to volunteer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Fracking is another get-rich-quick scheme for the already rich. That's why Dave and George think it's great. Big money will be made, but not for the people who live in fracking areas. There'll be a few jobs for a short while. Then the frackers will move on. The same has happened with coal where fortunes were made, but you wouldn't know if you looked for evidence in, say, a South Wales Valley town.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    Good idea given the bad press they have been getting lately.
    Mind you I think it is in response to the Lord who thinks fracking should only take place in the desolate north rather than the beautiful south? I must admit I was a bit surprised by that as they could impact on the grouse moors but as he could not tell east from west perhaps he did not realise his shooting could be affected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Lets sort our nuclear power stations Dave and leave this goldmine for our next generation to use if they want to. Don't force this upon the nation just so your sponsors can strip more wealth from our nation.

    Stick with plan A for once in your life you grasping little ***.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    As you state the article refers to 'private wells'.

    The mains supply, on which most people in the UK depend, is purified and monitored extensively.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    These companies Lie through there teeth. They are lying to Politicians. And as for Professional I Have never protested in my Life. As many You tube videos etc will also tell you. DO YOUR RESEARCH.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    We need such protesters at every attempt to build on any green field site. Hopefully developers who build on green field sites would be driven out of business, oil companies are so strong they will survive, ripping our resources out for nothing. Government never takes notice of the public otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    As this group is so against the use of fossil fuels, can we assume they will all be walking, cycling, or riding horses to the event? Or will they turn up in petrol and diesel powered cars, vans and minibuses? Plus of course all the fuel used by the Police and the media circus. Doesn't sound very green to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    We need to stop this short term energy rush that will only make a few rich, if we had wanted to be energy independant we would have kept the north sea gas reserves for ourselves. If anybody believes fracking will reduce ytour bills you are sadly deluded. Biofuels generated from geneitically modified bacteria are the future. If fracking is so safe please put a well in your back garden Mr Cameron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Here we go again,giving in to the shouty middle class Gaurdianista anti libertarian biggots just as we've done over immigration,so called green issues,smoking etc.I wonder how loud these fools will be shouting when there is no energy/fuel to supply them with humous,to buy scented candles or to live in the expensive houses they frequent. Fracking is safe and it's essential,they need to grow up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    98. JasonEssex
    "Probably when electricity and gas prices go up again due to our insane devotion to wind power."

    Which could be added to other issues like fuel tax, train fares , the proliferation of food banks, politicians pay rises, when everyone else is expected to suck up a 5% cut in real terms.

    All in it together?



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