Peaceful, leafy Balcombe in West Sussex is anything but peaceful these days, ever since the Great Fracking Debate came to town and settled in. Since the US company Quadrilla made their exploratory moves, obtaining permission to drill test holes in the ever-more-desperate search for that old black gold, Balcombe is simply no longer the town it was.
Quadrilla’s initial testing involved drilling a 2720-foot vertical hole and taking almost 300 rock samples over a period of two months; the conclusion was that there are sufficient hydrocarbons present to warrant further testing and potential development of a fracking operation in the immediate vicinity.
Protests from locals and organised environmental groups have been going on since the testing began, with anti-fracking sentiment running high in the town and countryside. However the peaceful protesting has also been less than peaceful, with dozens of arrests so far. Last month Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green Party MP, was arrested along with several other protestors, and it has just been reported that she will be prosecuted on charges of breaching a police order and obstructing a highway.
Though most of the protests are coming from outside left-wing groups, polls have shown at least 85% of Balcombe’s residents are also against the idea of industrialising the land that has always been known – and advertised – as an area of outstanding natural beauty. The owner of this land, which is part of an ancient estate, is the current laird Simon Greenwood, and it was his application to allow testing that got through the Balcombe Parish Council.
As of last week, Quadrilla was withdrawing its apparatus and operations temporarily, and a lot of the protestors went home, but now they’re coming back. The company reported that more testing will be done at the site, to determine ‘flow rates’ in the shale oil beneath the Weald, since the first tests were “encouraging”. The next step is to get planning permission for further tests, and that’s where the protestors will have their next battle in this fracking war.