Balcombe Villagers Sign Pro-Fracking Letter Amid Ongoing Protests

Sixty villagers whose community has been at the centre of anti-fracking protests have said Britain's shale gas and oil reserves should be exploited by developers.

The villagers believe that despite the "relentless propaganda", exploratory drilling or properly-regulated exploitation will not "unduly damage" the environment.

Residents in Balcombe, West Sussex, put their names to a letter voicing their views as campaigners opposed to fracking continue to mount daily protests.

A 'Frack Off' sign sits in window in Balcombe, close to a Fracking site operated by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd

Their letter states: "Having regard to the outlook for energy prices, energy security, and importance to the national economy, we believe that we, in common with other communities, should accept and facilitate this 'new' technology."

Anti-fracking campaigners who have disrupted the exploratory oil drilling operation by energy firm Cuadrilla and set up camp on the outskirts of Balcombe were criticised.

"We deplore the abuse suffered by employees of the drilling company, and the police, extended trespass, and the establishment of a semi-permanent 'protest camp' on hitherto beautiful road verges, actions which add up to an abuse of the undoubted right to peaceful protest," the villagers said.

In their letter, they questioned the decision to advise Cuadrilla to suspend its operations temporarily amid concerns of unrest between police and activists during the six-day Reclaim the Power camp earlier this month.

The letter stated: "We acknowledge the exemplary service provided by the police at the protest site and in the village but we respectfully question the decision to advise the drillers to suspend operations for over a week, thus allowing a self-appointed group to dictate to a legitimate business."

It added: "Let other communities be warned that our hitherto friendly village has suffered not only from the protesting crowds but prior to that from the intemperance of self-appointed 'activists', unfair abuse of our parish council, politicisation of the village fete, unsightly banners and, above all, spreading of unwarranted fear."

Clearer information on the rationale behind developing Britain's shale oil and gas industry needs to come from Government, local authorities and the industry to encourage a more reasoned attitude, they said.

Rodney Jago, one of the organisers of the letter, said it was time for the protesters to move on from their roadside camp outside the drilling entrance.

He said: "It seriously delays people getting to work, and the policing costs are quite ridiculous. Every time a lorry tries to make a delivery, the people come out with their drums."

But those views were not shared by others, including villager Vanessa Vine, of Frack Free Sussex, who said the vast majority in Balcombe supported the campaigners in their community.

On the people behind the letter, she said: "They are the extreme minority, and could be fewer than 30 households.

"We would suggest that if they looked behind the Government and industry propaganda and looked at what is going on in places like Pennsylvania, they would not be saying this.

"The vast majority of people in Balcombe are utterly opposed to this, and support the cavalry of people who have come from all over the country.

"That's because they know that fracking would lead to lower energy bills is a myth. This is by definition an unregulatable industry."

Although Cuadrilla is not conducting fracking near Balcombe, and would need to apply for permission, protesters fear the energy firm will go on to do so.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release oil or gas supplies.

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

It was revealed last week that the cost of the policing operation in West Sussex has soared to £2.3 million. It could hit around £3.7 million, Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne said.

Since the protests sprang up at the end of July, some 80 people have been arrested, including former Green Party leader and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas.