The Balcombe drilling protest occurred when test drilling and possible fracking for petroleum were proposed in 2012 near Balcombe, a village in West Sussex, local residents protested and anti-fracking environmentalists in the UK made it a focus of attention. The drill pad is located in a wooded area known as Lower Stumble Wood.
After the initial announcement of plans to drill a local protest group was formed and a picnic was held. There was considerable opposition to exploration plans with a poll conducted by the Balcombe Parish Council showing that 82% of local residents were opposed. Cuadrilla Resources, the company that proposes to drill the well, engaged in public relations efforts attempting to convince villagers that the project was both useful and safe. Previous exploration by Conoco in the same area in 1986 was abandoned due to low volume of production. As of June 2013 Balcombe had emerged as a focus of opposition to fracking in the Weald Basin of southeast England.
In July 2013 a license to drill the well was granted by the Environment Agency and Cuadrilla began transporting equipment and supplies to the test site. The well would be 3,000 feet (910 m) deep with a possible 2,500 feet (760 m) horizontal leg.
On 25 July 2013 colourfully dressed protestors blocked the gates to the site and prevented passage of a lorry with drilling equipment. On July 26 there was a heavy police presence at the gates and about a dozen protestors were arrested and charged with violation of section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 which governs picketing. Protests continued on July 27 and additional protestors were arrested. Frack Off protestors from outside the immediate area have proven to be aggressive and creative. After receiving intelligence developed by the local police of credible threats of direct action the company suspended drilling on 16 August. Up to 1,000 protesters were expected for a six-day "Reclaim the Power" camp at the annual meeting of the No Dash for Gas environmental action movement. Workshops in skills-sharing in campaign building and direct action were planned. The height of the security fence around the site was doubled and razor wire installed.
No Dash for Gas camp
Hundreds of protesters from throughout the UK gathered at the No Dash for Gas "Reclaim the Power" camp during the weekend of August 17-18 about a mile from the drilling pad in a field west of Cherry Lane near the intersection with London Road (B2036). Facilities such as kitchens and toilets were built to support hundreds of expected participants. 38 Degrees, a not-for-profit political-activism organisation reported raising £50,000 with £30,000 budgeted to support local groups, £10,000 for training, and £10,000 on development of internet sites and infrastructure. 2,000 marched in Balcombe on held Sunday with direct action scheduled to commence on Monday.
On August 19th activists engaged in direct actions at Cuadrilla headquarters in Lichfield, Staffordshire and at the London offices of Bell Pottinger, which conducts its public relations. A few protesters gained entry to Cuadrilla's building and posted banners reading "Reclaim the Power" and "Power to the People," and, at Bell Pottinger, several protesters super glued themselves to the entrance, posting a banner over its entrance reading "Bell Pottinger Fracking Liars." The entrance to the drilling site was also blocked by protesters who were locked together. There was a heavy police presence. As the day progressed the protesters where pushed to the side; dozens of arrests were made including Caroline Lucas the only Green Party MP. There were also direct actions at the homes of Lord Howell and Francis Maude, the Conservative MP who represents Balcombe.
According to Fiona Harvey of The Guardian the Balcombe protests coincide with movement of the issue of hydraulic fracturing to the front of the public agenda in the United Kingdom. The initial permits to drill near Balcombe were issued routinely as were permits in other parts of the UK such as Lancashire where fracking operations are believed to have resulted in two small earthquakes. As of August 2013 public opinion was evenly divided with about 40% of the public for and 40% against. The Balcombe protests occurred against a background of political and public relations blunders such as this remark by the government energy minister Michael Fallon:
The beauty of that - please don't write this down - is that of course [the oil and gas resources of the Weald Basin] are underneath the commentariat. All these people writing leaders saying, `Why don't they get on with shale?' We are going to see how thick their rectory walls are, whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive.
There is growing public awareness of the potential impacts of industrial scale exploitation of shale gas.
Notes and references
- Stanley Reed. "Goals Collide in Drilling Protests", 7 August 2013. Retrieved on 8 August 2013.
- Balcombe Residents against Fracking?. Balcombe Parish Council. URL accessed on 17 August 2013.
- Stanley Reed. "British Villagers, Fearing Fracking, Protest Plan for Drilling", May 24, 2013. Retrieved on May 25, 2013.
- Jan Goodey. "The UK's anti fracking movement is growing", Undated, but July, 2013. Retrieved on July 29, 2013.
- Geoffrey Lean. "Fracking faces tough foes in leafy Sussex Shale gas and oil may hold the key to Britain’s energy troubles – but not if grassroots protesters have their way", June 28, 2013. Retrieved on June 29, 2013.
- Robert Booth. "Anti-fracking protesters halt Sussex shale gas operation: Activists in Balcombe block lorry carrying equipment for drilling operation that is due to start next week", July 25 2013. Retrieved on July 25 2013.
- Robert Booth. "Anti-fracking activists arrested at West Sussex drilling site: Police remove protesters blockading Balcombe site where energy company Cuadrilla is looking for shale oil", July 26, 2013. Retrieved on July 26, 2013.
- "Fracking Demo: Police Arrest 18 Protesters: A dozen people have been charged after scuffles at an anti-fracking protest in the village of Balcombe, West Sussex.", July 27, 2013. Retrieved on July 27, 2013.
- Jon Henley. "Fracking protest: who's who in the battle of Balcombe?: The campaigners lining up against the exploratory shale-gas well in West Sussex are a surprisingly disparate bunch, including a pop star's daughter and a former page 3 model", July 30, 2013. Retrieved on August 1, 2013.
- Peter Walker. "Frack Off protesters bring a little fire engine trouble to Balcombe oil site: Fracking firm's work at West Sussex drilling site brought to a halt after activists locked themselves to vehicle parked outside gates", August 1, 2013. Retrieved on August 1, 2013.
- Stanley Reed. "Shale Gas Company Suspends Drilling in Southern England", 16 August 2013. Retrieved on 16 August 2013.
- "Fracking protesters gather for six-day camp as Balcombe drilling suspended: Cuadrilla scales back operation on advice of police, with up to 1,000 more campaigners expected in West Sussex", 16 August 2013. Retrieved on 16 August 2013. Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "Guardian81613" defined multiple times with different content
- Paul Bignell. "Balcombe fracking protest widens: Second campsite opens as activists prepare to step up their campaign against shale gas exploration in Sussex", 18 August 2013. Retrieved on 19 August 2013.
- Mark Townsend. "Middle England and the eco-warriors say victory is theirs in the battle for Balcombe: Campaign of 'civil disobedience' hopes to build on early gains against energy company Cuadrilla", 17 August 2013. Retrieved on 18 August 2013.
- LOCATION OF PROTEST CAMP. Balcombe Parish Council. URL accessed on 17 August 2013.
- Fiona Harvey. "Anti-fracking campaigners target Cuadrilla HQ: Activists target energy company's headquarters and its PR firm Bell Pottinger in protest at plans to drill for shale gas", 19 August 2013. Retrieved on 19 August 2013.
- Fiona Harvey. "Caroline Lucas among dozens arrested in Balcombe anti-fracking protest: UK's only Green party MP is arrested along with dozens of anti-fracking protesters in a 'day of action' across the UK", 19 August 2013. Retrieved on 19 August 2013.
- Michael Quinion. Commentariat. World Wide Words. URL accessed on 19 August 2013.
- "Michael Fallon defends fracking comments: Energy minister Michael Fallon has defended comments about fracking, in which he appeared to suggest the process would affect those living near gas drilling sites.", 4 August 2013. Retrieved on 19 August 2013.
- Fiona Harvey. "Anti-fracking protests in Balcombe signal major shift in public awareness: Cuadrilla demonstrations show how fracking has gone from largely ignored to hotly debated, both publicly and politically", 19 August 2013. Retrieved on 19 August 2013.
- Fracking Report prepared by the Balcombe Parish Council and published May 2012
- "Lucy Mangan: fracking idiots: 'Governments should never support something that has a name so semantically suggestive'"
- "Fracking: a botch on the landscape: Britain's nascent shale gas industry is in danger of being doused by inept PR and poor practice"
- Respect our village poster
- Guardian Live Blog August 19
- Live feed Bell Pottinger protest
- "Balcombe anti-fracking protest – in pictures"
- "Balcombe residents divided over fracking - audio slideshow"
- "A day on the anti-fracking frontline in Balcombe - video"
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