Balcombe fracking protests: Activists rally in UK

Balcombe fracking protests have resulted in the suspension of drilling operations in a village in West Sussex, England. Amidst the furor, however, is the statement from Cuadrilla that there is no fracking in Balcombe. 

By , Guest blogger

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    Activists link arms to resist police officers who were trying clear the road outside the main entrance to the Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site in Balcombe, southeast England, as anti-fracking demonstrations continue Monday.
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[Editor's note: A previous version of this article misstated the geographical location of Balcombe.]

British energy company Cuadrilla Resources issued an apology last week to the residents of Balcombe, a village in West Sussex, England. Campaigners flocked to the region by the thousands and set up camp to protest against hydraulic fracturing. The company said it suspended its operations as a safety precaution on the advice from local police in light of the protest. British Prime Minister David Cameron came out in favor of fracking, saying the controversial practice was worth the risk. The only problem is that, so far, for all intents and purposes, fracking doesn't exist in Balcombe.

Cuadrilla issued an apology to Balcombe residents for causing a stir. Advocacy group No Dash for Gas set up camp during the weekend near the drilling site to protest the energy company's drilling campaign.

Recommended: Fracking. Tight oil. Do you know your energy vocabulary?

"Cuadrilla acknowledges and regrets the disruption and inconvenience Balcombe villagers will experience as a result of the No Dash for Gas action camp," the company said in a statement.

The company has endured nearly two weeks of campaigns against its operations but pledged local villagers would hardly notice the work. Green groups managed to stop freight trucks from getting to the drilling site, though the company managed to get enough work going to install its rig. Last week, the company said the site was good for exploration but might yet turn into a full production site. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron said amidst the uproar that hydraulic fracturing could help provide a major source of economic stimulus to his country. Last week, the state government in North Dakota doled out $6.85 million in grants to help schools cope with the massive population boom corresponding with its economic gains from fracking. The state gross domestic product last year was 29 percent higher than the national average and Cameron said that success may be duplicated at home. (Related article: Canada's Offshore Versus Shale Gas)

"If we don’t back this technology, we will miss a massive opportunity to help families with their bills and make our country more competitive," he said.

No Dash for Gas said last week Cuadrilla was up to no good in Balcombe. The company has a history of skirting the truth and residents of the village are already experiencing the impacts of Cuadrilla's fracking campaign, it said. The advocacy group said Cuadrilla in December said there were no plans to drill in Balcombe, but by May was already announcing plans for an exploration campaign. From heavy road traffic, to the disturbance to wildlife, campaigners say the energy company is clearly not wanted in Balcombe.

Cameron said he recognized the controversial drilling practice "has rightly drawn scrutiny." Campaigners worry it could lead to groundwater contamination. Fracking was suspended briefly in the country when Cuadrilla's campaign in 2011 caused minor tremors and now, with the shale revolution in full swing, the practice is creating even more of a stir. Even the Church of England stepped into the fray. (Related article: Gazprom Fiddles while America Fracks?)

Amidst the furor, however, is the statement from Cuadrilla that there is no fracking in Balcombe. The company said it would scale back drilling operations because of the protests.  Advocacy groups said that was a victory, but the company questioned just what they were rebelling against in the first place.

"Cuadrilla’s exploration work at Balcombe involves drilling a conventional oil well," said Cuadrilla’s CEO Francis Egan said. "External groups protesting against hydraulic fracturing at Balcombe do so without any work proposal from Cuadrilla to judge."

Original article: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/The-Battle-for-Balcombe.html

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