UK
26/07/2013 17:20 BST | Updated 25/09/2013 10:12 BST

Fourteen Arrested In Protest Against Fracking In Balcombe, West Sussex

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Residents are worried about the environmental impact of the fracking technique

Fourteen protesters were arrested as a blockade at a rural site earmarked for exploratory drilling by a fracking company was cleared.

The arrests came as anti-fracking campaigners gathered for a second day in the village of Balcombe, West Sussex, where Cuadrilla is poised to start test drilling.

The village has become a focal point for campaigners who have highlighted fears linked to fracking, including the use of chemicals.

The controversial method of hydraulic fracturing involves using high-pressure liquid pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas.

In Balcombe, some protesters, who include a former page three girl, a "professional clown" and veteran eco-campaigners, have vowed to mount a 24-hour campaign of resistance against fracking.

Today Sussex Police said five people were held for allegedly causing a danger to road users, and nine for trying to stop drivers and other workers accessing the site under section 241 of the Trade Union Labour Relations Act.

A police spokesman said some had moved a tree across the entrance to the site, blocking access, but all arrests were made peacefully.

Some activists criticised the police response as "disproportionate". One critic, Ashley Williams, said: "The community are standing up for themselves against a company that is trying to poison them.

"As soon as regular people put their head above the parapet the state jumps in to defend the interests of a wealthy few."

Police said the arrests were made to "ensure public safety" and came after talks between activists and protest liaison officers failed.

Superintendent Steve Whitton said: "Sussex Police fully supports the right to demonstrate peacefully and within the law and also facilitate the contractors to carry out their business.

"Our aim is to provide a safe and secure environment for protesters, residents and the contractors, to minimise disruption to the community and to prevent crime and disorder."

Cuadrilla said obstacles blocking the road have now been removed and delivery of equipment has resumed. It hopes to start drilling "as soon as is reasonably possible".

It said in a statement: "To date, the vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful and good natured. We are disappointed by the actions of a minority of the protesters.

"The police have taken the action they feel is appropriate, which has resulted in some arrests. The obstacles blocking the road have been removed and delivery of the equipment has now resumed.

"Cuadrilla has followed all legal and regulatory procedures concerning its exploratory drilling plans and obtained the necessary approvals from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and West Sussex County Council."

Cuadrilla has said it intends only to conduct exploratory drilling in a temporary operation which will not include hydraulic fracturing.

West Sussex County Council granted Cuadrilla planning permission to undertake exploration work in 2010.

Cuadrilla has said that, if it finds any supplies, a series of extensive technical, environmental and public consultations would take place before any further decisions are made.

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East, described the protests in Balcombe as a fight between the "protectors of the land versus the protectors of private profit".

He said: "The battle lines are becoming clearer. What's plain is the Government support for fracking, despite the costs to people and their environment.

"But the authorities aren't right simply because they have power. If the Government isn't with the people, it's against them.

"The people arrested today deserve gratitude, not penalties. They are the current-day defenders of the land. Government should be supporting the people, not using bully-boy tactics to get their way."