Aug 16 2013
Energy company Cuadrilla is scaling back its exploratory oil drilling operation as up to 1,000 extra protesters prepare to hold anti-fracking protests.
The firm said it was acting on police advice to wind down its work near Balcombe, West Sussex, as campaigners behind the Reclaim the Power camp move in to the area for six days.
As barbed wire and security fences went up around the drilling site, camp organisers No Dash for Gas warned there will be "direct action" - prompting fears of clashes between protesters and police. Already around 40 people have been arrested since the anti-fracking protests sprang up on the outskirts of the West Sussex village three weeks ago.
Sussex Police have thrown up a daily security operation and relied on help from outside forces as activists set up a round-the-clock camp outside the main entrance to the drilling operation.
A Cuadrilla statement said: "After taking advice from Sussex Police, Cuadrilla is scaling back operations ahead of this weekend's No Dash for Gas event. 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."
The Reclaim the Power camp was due to be held at West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire which last year led to it being shut down and 21 people being arrested. But organisers switched this year's camp to Balcombe, with No Dash for Gas saying it will attract a coalition of climate, anti-austerity and fuel poverty activists.
The group said the camp will see skills shared in campaign building and direct action, as well as talks, assemblies and workshops.
No Dash for Gas said: "There are two stories that could emerge from Balcombe this summer. It could be the place that paved the way for a dirty and dangerous method of fuel extraction to tear up the country, or it could be the place where a group of ordinary people inspired the world by taking back the power. We are here, together with dedicated people from Balcombe, to make sure that it's the latter."
Concerns about the camp coming to West Sussex led the chairman of Balcombe Parish Council, Alison Stevenson, to urge people planning to break the law to stay away. In an open letter, Ms Stevenson said the village strongly opposed anyone planning to take part in illegal activity. No Dash for Gas said that although people planned to take part in direct action, there was no intention to break the law or cause violence.
Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs, of Sussex Police, said: "We are acutely aware of the impact that this is having on the residents of Balcombe and back their call to protesters not to engage in any criminal activity in the pursuit of their aims. Indeed, our engagement with Balcombe people who are protesting at the site and the vast majority of those who have travelled from further afield has been mutually rewarding and we have been able to facilitate their right to assemble and protest."