Cuadrilla has paused its oil-drilling operations in West Sussex in anticipation of anti-fracking protests in what the police have described as “a sensible move”.
The company has been operating an exploratory site in the area and following discussions with local police doubled its security fences and installed razor wire. It also halted drilling until further notice.
A spokesman said this was due to concerns “for the health and safety of employees and protesters”.
‘No Dash for Gas’
Tomorrow hundreds of people from the No Dash for Gas campaign group are expected to descend on the site, joining the activists and local people already there.
No Dash for Gas is made up of protesters against fossil fuels from around the UK, who have demonstrated at power stations in the past. However, this year the group is setting up its yearly camp at Balcombe in order to take a stand against fracking.
Cuadrilla has said it has no immediate intention to frack at Balcombe and is currently carrying out exploratory drilling on an old oil well which was abandoned by Conoco in the 1980s. It is thought that if standard drilling does not produce oil then the company may turn to fracking.
Protests have been taking place at the site for around three weeks and have delayed drilling. However this is the first time the operation has had to be called off due to the threat of direct action.
A spokesman for Cuadrilla commented: “After taking advice from Sussex Police, Cuadrilla is scaling back operations ahead of this weekend’s No Dash For Gas event”.
Drilling stopped ‘for safety reasons’
“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.”
However, protesters at the site have remained sceptical of the company’s motives, questioning how long the drilling would be stopped for.
One village resident said: “They are saying they are stopping, but it’s just temporary so what does that mean?
“They are not going away. They are just waiting to see what happens.”
He added that local residents are generally supportive of the demonstrators coming into the area.
A Guardian poll this week indicated that public opinion is generally split down the middle when it comes to fracking.