Sussex Police arrest Balcombe oil drill protesters

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Media captionCuadrilla wants to explore for oil near Balcombe, near Haywards Heath

Sixteen people have been arrested by police at the site of an exploratory oil drilling operation in West Sussex.

It was the second day campaigners had blockaded the site outside the village of Balcombe.

Cuadrilla has been given permission to drill test wells and is expected to start operations on Saturday.

Protesters fear the firm could also carry out hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Cuadrilla said any further activity would need fresh permission.

About 75 police officers were involved in the operation to make arrests on Friday, BBC reporter Mark Sanders said.

The blockade started on Thursday with about 100 protesters at the site.

One of them, Natalie Hynde, said about 25 people formed a chain through the night.

'Wealthy few'

Sussex Police said earlier on Friday that five people had been held for allegedly causing a danger to road users, and nine for trying to stop drivers and other workers accessing the site.

A police spokesman said some protesters had moved a tree across the entrance to the site, blocking access, but all arrests were made peacefully.

Some activists criticised the police response as "disproportionate".

Image caption Up to 10 protesters were arrested after blocking the site entrance

Ashley Williams, said: "The community are standing up for themselves against a company that is trying to poison them.

"As soon as regular people put their head above the parapet the state jumps in to defend the interests of a wealthy few."

Police said the arrests were made to "ensure public safety" and came after talks between activists and protest liaison officers failed.

Supt Steve Whitton said: "Sussex Police fully supports the right to demonstrate peacefully and within the law and also facilitate the contractors to carry out their business.

"Our aim is to provide a safe and secure environment for protesters, residents and the contractors, to minimise disruption to the community and to prevent crime and disorder."

Cuadrilla has permission to drill a 3,000ft (914m) well and 2,500ft (762m) horizontal bore at the site.

The firm said obstacles blocking the road had been removed and delivery of equipment had resumed. It hopes to start drilling "as soon as is reasonably possible".

It said in a statement: "To date, the vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful and good natured.

"We are disappointed by the actions of a minority of the protesters.

"Cuadrilla has followed all legal and regulatory procedures concerning its exploratory drilling plans and obtained the necessary approvals from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and West Sussex County Council."

Cuadrilla has said it intends only to conduct exploratory drilling in a temporary operation which will not include hydraulic fracturing.

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