Is Balcombe fracking's first stumble in the South?


We spent several hours just trying to find a vantage point to film Cuadrilla's rig through the trees.

The steeply sloped piece of woodland near the Sussex village of Balcombe is called Lower Stumble.

It seems an apt name as we carry camera and tripod along public footpaths and across the main railway line.

Could this small clearing ringed by fences and guards from security firm G4S be the point where fracking company Cuadrilla are tripped up in their dash for cheaper gas?

Test drilling equipment Cuadrilla is drilling using a 78ft high rig

Or could the stumble come from the protesters flooding in from all over the country, if their cry that the environment is at risk fails to win backing from the public?

The drilling rig itself stands 78ft tall, according to the plans submitted to The Environment Agency.

It also details a laboratory, canteen and a flare stack with a possible flame rising above the surrounding trees.

All this for just 40 days and nights of exploratory drilling.

Cuadrilla's licence is to look for oil and gas by conventional means, but the company has said they would apply for licences to use the chemical fracturing technique if the rock 2,000ft below fails to deliver.

Chief executive Francis Egan told BBC South Today: "If it's not commercial then we would look at whether fracking would improve the rate of flow.

"We'll make an assessment of that, and if it would and we wanted to do it, then we would have to go through a separate planning process."

'Soft policing'

The F word is what stirs up protest. Fear of fracking is what unites locals and the more hardened protesters moving to Balcombe from anti-roads encampments and commuting in on the specially chartered eco-friendly bus from Brighton.

Balcombe protest Police have made a series of arrests under laws to prevent Trade Union blockades

In a survey by Balcombe Parish Council the locals main gripe was the possibility of disruption on the roads. Environmental concerns came third after possible effect on water supplies.

Now the disruption comes from the protesters, some of whom make clear their wider agenda with placards against changes to tax and benefits.

But the direct action of trying to prevent lorries entering the site has attracted the media in a way the careful local campaign never managed to.

After a day of soft policing where an officer was seen congratulating demonstrators on slowing the process and "achieving a positive result" stronger tactics were employed to force the lorries through.

Cuadrilla wants to explore for oil near Balcombe, near Haywards Heath

Five van loads of police arrived. Arrests were made under legislation to prevent Trade Union action, and it was alleged by some protesters that officers used pressure points, detailed in this video, to inflict pain on people who were passively resisting.

The "Battle for Balcombe" is in the headlines.

The drilling has been delayed, but only for a few days.

West Sussex is left counting a rapidly growing security bill.

And when the lorries return to take the rig apart in September, Cuadrilla will assess its own costs and benefits.

Some experts claim a discovery of oil alone under the Sussex countryside could bring in £6bn revenue to the government.

They have had their first taste of protest away from north-west England. And if they find the oil or gas they are looking for they will then have to weigh up whether fracking is necessary, or worthwhile.

Peter Henley Article written by Peter Henley Peter Henley Political editor, South of England

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  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Christine @many. is very vocal but seems ill informed. Firstly they are not fracking at Balcombe and they will need further permissions before they can and secondly the entire drilling exploration process is far more tightly regulated here than the USA which she quotes regularly. She implores us to "Check out the Facts", well as they say in the USA "right back at ya".

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    The Balcombe P.C. 2012 report on fracking seems well balanced, and further to my #46, our West Sussex village oil well is still working, still no problems. Running since the late 1990s.
    Absolutely no connection to the industry or anyone involved in it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    @66 I agree, but I did hear the reporter state to BJ that Cuadrilla stated this was a test hole and no fracking was going to go on at this time, she "stumbled" to answer and continued with the gas diatribe.

    I'd love to know how the protesters pay for travel etc, if they are on benefits then they should be cut as they are not available for work/housing, if they work how do they hold down a job?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Not sure on the BBC impartiality on the reporting of this. When the BBC interviewed Bianca Jagger the other day she repeated the lie about gas coming out of faucets, not a single wimper from the interviewer to produce the evidence for that, and therefore allowing the lie to continue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    So Southern Balcombe Nimbys protest at having to put up with the sort of industry that the North has had to put up with for centuries.?
    Why not impose an energy tax on these protestors and use that to reduce everyone elses energy bills?
    It all looks and sounds like some form of eco social hysteria.


Comments 5 of 69



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