Sixteen protestors have been arrested at a protest against exploratory drilling at Balcombe in West Sussex by Caudrilla Resources, currently the only company involved in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the UK. The company was granted a permit to cary out drilling at the site by West Sussex County Council and began operations on Thursday 25 July 2013, leading to protests by around 250 local residents and environmental activists. The protests continued through the night and following day, leading to complaints from Caudrilla that the protestors were inhibiting access to the site and causing alarm to workers. Around a hundred officers from Sussex Police moved in on the protestors at about 3.20 pm on Friday 26 July, arresting sixteen and moving others from the site.
A protestor being arrested at the Balcombe protest. Protestors and local witnesses have stated that none of those arrested resisted the police, which Sussex Police have not contested. Frack Free Sussex.
Caudrilla have stated that the operation will involve the drilling of a 914 m well and 762 m horizontal borehole, and will not involve any fracking, which would require additional permission from West Sussex County Council. They have also stated that they are following all regulations put in place by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and West Sussex County Council.
However protestors have expressed doubts that the group would be drilling exploratory wells without the intention of further operations, and have suggested that the current legal structure around such drilling operations favors wealthy companies over local communities. Many have also complained that the policing operation was disproportionate, and that they are a symptom of the state intervening to protect a 'wealthy few' against a local community standing up for itself.
Sussex Police have stated that they support the right to protest, but also have a duty to facilitate contractors carrying out their business.
The approximate location of the Balcombe drilling site and protests. Google Maps.
Fracking, or Hydraulic Fracturing, is a process by which water, sand and chemicals are forced into buried sediments in order to shock them into releasing trapped hydrocarbons, which can then be extracted for commercial use. This has proved highly controversial with environmentalists, who accuse the process of causing Earthquakes, polluting groundwater, and using large amounts of fresh water. The process uses high pressure blasts in order to produce shock waves, which will hopefully cause the release of hydrocarbons. Shock waves in buried strata are, in layman's terms, Earthquakes, so an increase in Earthquakes in areas where Fracking is being practiced is not surprising. Environmentalists have also raised concerns that making large amounts of new hydrocarbons available will lead to further rises in atmospheric CO₂, with consequences for the global climate.
See also The British Geological Survey reports on Shale Gasses in the Bowland-Hodder Unit, Geological Society of London to host a public meeting on Shale Gas extraction, Report recommends Fracking should be allowed to continue in the UK and Fracking linked to earthquakes in Lancashire, northeast England.
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