Fracking protest divides Balcombe village

By Nick Tarver
BBC News

Image caption,
The protesters have been trying to block access to the test drilling site

For this sleepy village a summer of protest beckons.

Balcombe, in West Sussex, has found itself at the heart of a debate over hydraulic fracturing - known as fracking.

Test drilling is due to begin for oil exploration by energy company Caudrilla, however, there are worries locally this will lead to the search for shale gas.

Protesters, police and journalists have descended in their hundreds as lorries drive in and out of the site delivering equipment.

So how have the villagers responded to the test drilling? And do the protests, which could last through August and into September, have the support of the village?

'Standing up against it'

Balcombe has 2,000 residents, one village store, a pub and several small shops.

It is also now home to a drilling company and a large group of impassioned protesters.

This was not always the case.

Three weeks ago Balcombe resident Louisa Delpy stood alone with two others outside the gates of the site.

She said: "We couldn't imagine the protest would be like this now - I thought I was an individual standing up against it."

Speaking at the camp outside the drilling site, which is a 15-minute walk from the village, she said the village was "united" against the drilling but added that Balcombe was "very conservative".


Unsurprisingly, support for the protest is unanimous down at the camp.

Image caption,
Protesters have set up a camp outside the gates of the site

However, up in the village, despite it being festooned with placards and posters protesting against the drilling, there is also opposition to the protest.

Michael Dutton, who has lived in the village since 1948, said: "It's all 'nimbyism' along with professional protesters - they're very disruptive.

"I would prefer we get our oil from Balcombe than the Middle East or Russia."

And Balcombe resident Jacky Hall said the protesters were "primarily outsiders".

"They're not fracking - why don't they [the protesters] wait until they've done the exploratory drilling?

"People used to drive through the village and say, 'oh it's a lovely village'. Now they talk about the protesters."

'Don't like outsiders'

So far there have been dozens of arrests since police started to move protesters away from the gates.

Cuadrilla, which had hoped to begin drilling last week but has been thwarted by the protesters, would need fresh permission from the Environment Agency to carry out shale gas exploration.

Image caption,
Kathryn McWhirter said some villagers do not like the "fuss being made"

Kathryn McWhirter, who is from the village and an active member of the protest camp, said she believes support for the drilling among villagers is minimal.

"It's a very conservative village and there's a small element who are against the protests," she said.

"They don't like outsiders and they don't like a fuss being made."

However, with permission to drill currently due to end on 28 September, it is likely protest camp will remain over the summer with the "fuss" set to continue.

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