25 Jul 2013

West Sussex fracking site blocked by protesters

More than 200 protesters block access to a drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex, to campaign against “fracking” used in shale gas exploration.

After six hours of protest, police said Cuadrilla Resources would not be making any further attempts to access its drilling site in Balcombe on Thursday.

Josie Wiltshire, who took part in the blockade, said: “The response from people has been unbelievable. There were well over 200 people here today and the feeling of success at having held them off for a day is overwhelming”.

Hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – retrieves gas and oil trapped in tight layered rock formations by injecting high-pressure water, sand and chemicals. The licence the company was granted today allows the company to drill an exploratory well for oil and gas on the site. Any fracking procedure would require another licence from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Britain is thought to have major shale reserves which could help reverse a rising dependency on energy imports, but the industry is having to tread carefully in order to reassure a sceptical public and vocal environmental lobby.

Earlier this month, Chancellor George Osborne unveiled tax breaks for fracking in a bid to create the “most generous” regime for shale gas in the world.

The move was branded a “disgrace” by Friends of the Earth.

Ms Wiltshire said the size of Thursday’s blockade “goes to show people feel the need to protect themselves”. She said the protesters would “definitely” return on Friday.

Read more: Fracking - the key questions
Fracking protest (Image supplied)

Anti-fracking protests

Cuadrilla Resources is preparing a site to drill a well near the village of Balcombe in West Sussex.

The well is a conventional one that will not use fracking, but Cuadrilla has fracked elsewhere, and is one of a handful of companies with access to shale acreage that might be fracked in future, and so its activities have become a target for anti-fracking protests.

A spokesman for the privately-owned company said that protesters had stopped vehicles from accessing the site.

The protest has been organised by campaign group Frack Off. They fear that Cuadrilla, the only company to have fracked a well exploring for shale gas in Britain at its Lancashire site, could seek to frack in Sussex at a later date.

“We have tried other methods. We now have no choice but to take matters into our own hands and protect ourselves from the threat fracking poses to our health and environment,” said protester Alex Griffiths in an email from Frack Off.

Small earthquakes

Drilling and fracking wells will in the next few years be critical to establish whether shale gas can be commercially produced in Britain, where fracking is controversial. It was banned for a year in 2011 after triggering small earthquakes, and concerns remain amongst environmental groups that chemicals used could reach water supplies.

The Cuadrilla spokesman said that the company hoped to begin drilling at the site early next week and that the vehicles were carrying parts for the drilling rig.

UK utility Centrica recently bought a quarter stake in Cuadrilla’s northern England shale licences. French oil company Total has also said it would like to explore for shale gas in Britain.