03/08/2013 14:09 BST

Fracking Opponents 'Dancing In Street' As Protests Continue

Anti-fracking protests at an exploratory drilling site in the English countryside has taken on a festival atmosphere as the demonstration enters its 10th day.

Energy company Cuadrilla announced that it began operations at Balcombe, West Sussex, yesterday.

Protests continue over environmental concerns of fracking

Activists from across the UK have descended on the outskirts of the tiny village which has become a national focal point for the campaign against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Protests have caused delays to Cuadrilla's plans to drill a 3,000ft vertical well in a project lasting up to three months, and have led to confrontations with police and several arrests.

But the protest has taken on a party atmosphere today with about 260 people taking part.

And a survey carried out by Balcombe residents claims that 85% of local people are opposed to the Cuadrilla operation.

The survey was conducted by the resident's campaign group No Fracking in Balcombe Society (No FIBS) during a six-week period.

Katy Dunne, who lives in the village, said: "We spoke to every household in the village and the overwhelming majority of people who live in Balcombe don't want fracking.

"We've done petitions, over 800 of us responded to the Environment Agency's consultation, the parish council has come out against and now we can say with confidence that the residents don't want it."

She added: "This industry is being forced upon us. We've been backed into a corner and we now feel we have no option but to take matters into own own hands and protect our village. We have lost faith in national and local democracy and are putting our efforts into the ongoing protests at the site."

A march was held this morning from the village to the drilling site and the numbers of protesters are expected to swell as participants in protest cycle rides, known as Rig Rides, arrive from London and Brighton.

One of the protesters, who would only give his name as Daniel, said: "There are more people here than there have ever been.

"There's a festival-type atmosphere, people are dancing in the street, it's absolutely packed, it's really nice, there's a real unity of people who have been resident in the camp along with the residents of the village.

Protesters have attempted to disrupt drilling

"I would say there are about 260 people here today, there's no confrontation with the police today, it's been very peaceful."

Although the energy firm has said it has no plans to use the controversial method of fracking, villagers fear it will at some point in the future.

Fracking involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas supplies.

Opponents of the method have highlighted concerns about potential water contamination and environmental damage, as well as small-scale earthquakes.

But this week Cuadrilla's chief executive, Francis Egan, tried to soothe concerns by saying his firm has "no intention of ruining the countryside and won't ruin the countryside".

Although fracking was not part of the firm's plans near Balcombe, Mr Egan insisted it was safe and would not pose a threat to the public or people's drinking water.

A Cuadrilla spokesman said: "We have full planning and regulatory approval for this work from the Department for Energy and Climate Change, West Sussex County Council, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive."

More than 30 people have been arrested since last Friday at Balcombe, mainly on suspicion of obstructing deliveries, including Natalie Hynde, 30, the daughter of the Kinks' Ray Davies and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde.

Natalie Hynde's boyfriend, veteran eco-campaigner Simon "Sitting Bull" Medhurst, 55, was also held after the pair superglued their hands together around the gate for around two hours.

Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs, of Sussex Police, said: "My officers are there to allow protesters to safely and peacefully protest. We also need to uphold the right of the company to operate and bring their vehicles on to the site.

"The vast majority of the protesters feel very passionately about this issue and are protesting peacefully. If protesters do become violent they should understand that this is not acceptable and they will be arrested."