Anti-fracking protests as Balcombe oil plans approved

Demonstrators outside West Sussex County Council Anti-fracking demonstrators protested outside the meeting of West Sussex County Council

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Plans for further oil and gas exploration at Balcombe in West Sussex have been approved.

Demonstrators, who fear the exploration will lead to fracking, interrupted the West Sussex County Council (WSCC) meeting discussing the application.

Oil company Cuadrilla carried out test-drilling in the village last summer, and now intends to carry out further tests before sealing off the well.

It said it welcomed the decision to allow it to complete exploratory work.

Protesters claimed most residents in the village opposed the plans.

Charles Metcalfe, from Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, said: "This is going to give the go-ahead for other companies all over Sussex [and] all over the Weald basin.

"We're talking Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire - it's going to really proliferate and change this part of the country."

Test oil supply

A report to WSCC said three parish councils and 889 third parties had opposed the plans, and the authority had received nine letters of support for the proposals.

Objections included concerns about possible water contamination, an increase in traffic, the impact of flares at the site, tankers of chemicals passing a school, and future reliance on fossil fuels.

Fracking protesters from around the country gathered at Balcombe last year amid fears Cuadrilla's test drilling for oil would lead to hydraulic fracturing - a method of extracting gas or oil from shale rock.

Cuadrilla has said it will not frack for oil at the site, but has said it still wants to test oil supply suitability using flow-testing, which is work to check the quantity and rate at which oil flows to the surface.

'Dirty fossil fuel'

Friends of the Earth South East campaigner Brenda Pollack said it was extremely disappointed that councillors had not listened to local people.

"This is an attempt by Cuadrilla to set the wheels in motion for dirty fossil fuel extraction," she said.

"We need the council and our government to push forward with clean energy solutions."

A company spokesman said: "Cuadrilla welcomes the decision of West Sussex County Council to approve our planning application to flow test the well and complete our exploratory works at Lower Stumble.

"Our next step will be to liaise with the council about the detailed conditions."

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