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Cuadrilla scales back Sussex operations after protest

19 August 2013

UK shale gas and oil driller Cuadrilla Resources has scaled back its exploratory drilling operations at Balcombe in West Sussex on police advice after a major protest blocked access to the site. Up to 1,000 activists joined protest camps near the drilling site, which have divided locals in the village of Balcombe.

The Balcombe drilling pad - Photo: Cuadrilla
The Balcombe drilling pad - Photo: Cuadrilla

Critics said the company had caved in to mob rule after activists threatened direct action to disrupt operations on the site, and the police came under heavy criticism.

Pressure group The Taxpayers' Alliance said: "The police are paid to uphold the rule of law and that includes protecting legal exploration for important natural resources from the activist mob trying to shut the operation down."

Sussex Police said policing the site had cost it nearly £750,000 and asked the Government to defray its mounting costs. 

The protesters say they are opposing the use of fracking, which involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas. They say they are concerned about potential water contamination and environmental damage, as well as small-scale earthquakes.

On August 17, further opposition to the extraction method was voiced by the UK’s largest wildlife charity, the RSPB, which said it had concerns about potential fracking operations in Lancashire where rare geese and swans could be affected.

Cuadrilla says the Sussex site will be drilled conventionally and is designed to gauge potential oil reserves in that part of the Weald Basin. Any subsequent decision to use fracking, the company says, would only proceed after it had applied for and been granted approval to use the process by the Environment Agency.

The UK Government is keen to develop UK onshore oil and gas potential, and has introduced legislation to speed up approvals on a national and local basis.

Update: On August 22, Cuadrilla resumed drilling at Balcombe. The firm intends to drill a 3,000-foot deep, six-inch well with a 72-foot tall land rig, and has permission to drill until September 28 from West Sussex County Council.

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