‘Battle for Balcombe’: English village becomes hub for fracking debate

• July 31, 2013
‘Battle for Balcombe’

Local residents and environmentalists have joined together to oppose fracking in Balcombe, West Sussex. Courtesy of: Frack Off UK, 2013

Campaigners are continuing to protest against plans for exploratory drilling in West Sussex, as the standoff that has become known as the ‘Battle for Balcombe’ reaches its seventh day.

Drilling – delayed over the weekend due to the protests – was meant to get underway today, but has been halted again as two protesters super glued themselves together, locked around the gate into the site and barring access.

More than 20 campaigners have been arrested over the seven-day protest.

Arriving last Thursday, the campaigners– made up of a mix of local residents and environmentalists from across the country – have been waging war with oil company Cuadrilla over plans to drill near the Village of Balcombe, which could lead to the controversial process of fracking.

Caudrilla, Britain’s largest shale player, wants to start test drilling on the site and says it will apply for a fracking license if conventional drilling reveals a need for the technique.

In a survey by Balcombe parish council last year, 82% of those questioned were opposed to fracking, fearing possible side-effects such as groundwater contamination, subsidence and earth tremors, as well as the more immediate threat of noisy trucks rumbling through the village.

Over the past week, ‘Frack Off’ signs have been plastered across houses in the village, and dozens of people have been lining the gates on the site, chanting, singing and trying to halt the arriving trucks.

‘Battle for Balcombe’ 2

Families from Balcombe have been joining the protest. Courtesy of: Frack Off UK, 2013

But the protest has also become the centrepiece of the wider debate around fracking in the UK, with activists, celebrities and the media all descending on the village.

Bianca Jagger and Natalie Hynde (daughter of the Kinks’ Ray Davies and the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde) both joined the protests last week, while former journalist, local councillor and Page 3 model, Marine Pepper was escorted off the site by police.

The local residents have also been joined by environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, anti-shale groups, including Frack Off UK and members of the UK’s Occupy movement.

Shale gas and fracking is still relatively new to Europe but concerns over its impact on freshwater resources, chemical contamination and increased greenhouse gas emissions have put the process at the heart of a fierce debate.

In the UK, fears have also focused on the possibility that the process could cause earthquakes. In 2011, exploratory fracking by Cuadrilla in Lancashire caused two earth tremors measuring 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale.

Unlike the US, the UK, and countries across Europe are densely populated, and many countries are concerned that drilling will almost always be near a community. Some, namely France and Bulgaria, have outright banned the process.

This week, Conservative Peer, Lord Howell – a former senior energy advisor to the UK government and supporter of shale gas – caused outrage when he argued fracking in the country should be focused on the “desolate and uninhabited” North East.

Friends of the Earth said the comments were “jaw dropping” while Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen urged Lord Howell to take a trip to the North East and speak to the people living there “who don’t regard their countryside as a disposable resource.”

Howell has apologised but many believe his comments could have helped mobilise further opposition to proposed shale gas projects.

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