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Anti-fracking protesters stand firm in Balcombe despite rain
1:50pm Tuesday 30th July 2013 in News
Heavy rain failed to deter anti-fracking protesters from turning out for a sixth day at a rural site earmarked for exploratory oil drilling.
Several lorries loaded with equipment were met with shouts of "Shame on you" as they made deliveries on the outskirts of Balcombe in West Sussex.
Police outnumbered the campaigners this morning, with officers forming a human shield to enable the lorries to pass into the site unhindered by the 50-strong group of protesters.
Some passing motorists beeped their horns in solidarity with the campaigners who fear any oil exploration could lead on to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The controversial method of fracking involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas supplies.
One campaigner, Carmen Dolz, from Sussex Extreme Energy Resistance, said: "This is raising awareness about how extremely dangerous fracking is. People should be concerned.
"The fact is it could pollute the area by contaminating the water supplies. I think there is enough evidence of that."
Matthew Jones, 24, from Cambridge, said: "In the news reports it is said that fracking is controversial but the only people who disagree work for the oil companies or are involved in fracking.
"There are several peer-reviewed studies showing that fracking is very dangerous."
Father of three Steve Jackson, 56, from Chichester, said: "My main concern is what they could put down the well. They could put other toxic waste down there."
After the lorries passed through, the mood lightened at the site, with campaigners, including some with young children, breaking into song and dance outside the entrance as police looked on.
The campaigners have been donated food, including apples, gooseberries, organic milk and rolls, by members of the local community.
Energy company Cuadrilla has said it plans to start drilling as soon as possible but that it only plans to conduct exploratory drilling for oil in a temporary operation which will not include fracking.
The company has said it has followed all legal and regulatory procedures concerning its exploratory drilling plans and obtained relevant approvals.
The protesters who have gathered at the site over the past few days have included former model and the ex-wife of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, and former Page 3 model and ex-mayor Marina Pepper.
Others have included veterans of past eco battles, such as Simon "Sitting Bull" Medhurst who hit the headlines when he burrowed himself into the ground at the site of the planned Hastings to Bexhill link road earlier this year.
Last night Sussex Police said 23 people had been arrested at Balcombe and the force admitted policing the protest has placed a strain on resources.
Superintendent Steve Whitton said his officers were doing their best to strike a balance between people's right to protest alongside Cuadrilla's right to operate.
Protesters jostled with police as another small lorry passed through to the site. One campaigner shouted repeatedly: "No social licence, no social licence".
Officers formed a ring to shield the truck from coming into contact with activists, some of whom were pushed along by police as they tried to stand in front of it.
As the lorry went inside the plant and the rain continued to lash down, activists stood around under umbrellas or inside one of the dozen or so tents set up outside the entrance.
Beside a makeshift camp-fire stood a placard which read: "Someone needs to explain why wanting clean water makes you an activist + why proposing to destroy water with chemicals doesn't make a corporation a terrorist."
Meanwhile, food donations continued to trickle in to the makeshift kitchen where lunch was being prepared, while some campaigners passed the time by singing songs at the protest, dubbed the Great Gas Gala.
Mother-of-two Nikki Sanger, a college lecturer from nearby Hurstpierpoint, said: "We just hope people are getting the message that the Government has gone too far.
"They think they can just bulldoze the environment. We hope people are getting the message that the Government is putting money above the environment with this process."
Ms Sanger voiced fears about the impact any fracking could have on the nearby Ardingly Reservoir or on local homes and a primary school within a mile of the site.
"There is no way that they can frack safely," she said.
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