Protesters score first blood in fracking battle as site closes down

Police move in to a climate camp in 2009. Authorities have warned of a campaign for civil disobedience over fracking.
Police move in to a climate camp in 2009. Authorities have warned of a campaign for civil disobedience over fracking.
Ian Dunt By

Energy firm Cuadrilla has temporarily closed an exploration site in West Sussex, after police warned that anti-fracking protests could pose a danger to its staff.

The development is a major victory for anti-fracking protestors, who were planning a weekend campaign of civil disobedience in a bid to prevent fracking near the village of Balcombe

"After taking advice from Sussex Police, Cuadrilla is scaling back operations ahead of this weekend's No Dash For Gas event," a company spokesperson said.

"During this time, our main concern is the safety of our staff, Balcombe's residents and the protesters following threats of direct action against the exploration site.

"We will resume full operations as soon as it is safe to do so."

Cuadrilla is currently conducting exploratory drilling in an old oil well abandoned by Conoco in the 1980s, to see whether the site can be made economically viable.

Even if oil can be produced at the location at viable rates, the firm would probably look for sites in the surrounding area further away from the village.

It would then need new permits from planning authorities and the Environment Agency and then need to get fresh permission for fracking.

About 1,000 extra protestors are planning on joining the existing camp over the weekend as they try to pressure the firm into vacating the site.

Around 40 people have been encamped at the site over the past three weeks, mostly for minor offences.

A worker told the Independent: "I've had verbal abuse on a daily basis, but not physical. It's intimidating for staff, absolutely.

"I've never seen anything like this. The last three or four days have been better, the first week was pretty awful. There were people shouting stuff through megaphones.

"Discussing how bad the industry is, how it's going to kill everybody, how could you work for such a company. All we're doing is drilling a hole."

A Guardian poll this weekend found public opinion split down the middle, with 44% of voters saying they support fracking and 30% opposed, although opposition leaps to 40% if asked whether they would support it in their local area.


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