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Protesters to begin direct action at controversial Balcombe drilling site
8:10am Monday 19th August 2013 in News
Anti-fracking activists will begin two days of direct action today, triggering a huge security operation again in the West Sussex countryside.
Details about what form the "mass civil disobedience" will take have not been revealed but the aim will be to pile further pressure on energy company Cuadrilla.
As part of the preparation, protesters were given a "matchmaking form" to help link people up into ''action teams'' based on their preferred tactics and interests.
The form asks to what extent each person is willing to risk arrest, how mobile they are and what activities they are most interested in, such as climbing, getting over fences or looking after people.
The plans for direct action come a day after more than 1,000 people marched to the exploratory drilling site at the centre of the protests.
Cuadrilla, which has been conducting exploratory oil drilling at the site near Balcombe, temporarily suspended its operation after taking advice from Sussex Police amid fears of unrest during the six-day Reclaim the Power camp, which began on Friday.
At last year's Reclaim the Power camp, organised by No Dash for Gas, West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire was shut down and 21 people were arrested.
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.
Balcombe resident Douglas Wragg said: "Because we have here a travesty of democracy and we've tried every democratic path to use, the only choice we have left is direct action.
"I've been living here for 20 years and I would never have imagined myself being involved in protest. But you either lie down and let Cuadrilla ride roughshod over you, or take direct action."
Protester Emma Hughes said, "I'm here in solidarity with the community of Balcombe, and I'm here because we can't afford to extract new fossil fuels when climate change is already killing hundreds of thousands of people."
More than 45 arrests have been made since the protests first sprang up on the outskirts of Balcombe three weeks ago.
Of those, more than 30 have been charged with a range of offences, including Natalie Hynde, 30, the daughter of the Pretenders' singer Chrissie Hynde.
Police officers from 10 other forces have been drafted in as a large daily security operation has been thrown up to keep the peace.
On Friday, Sussex Police disclosed that the policing bill had almost reached £750,000, and that Home Office help was being sought to help with the cost.
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.
Lord Browne, Cuadrilla's chairman and the former chief executive of BP, said the controversial extraction method should be pursued if it can be done safely.
He stressed that as much domestic resource should be explored as possible, saying it was more environmentally friendly than importing gas.
Lord Browne told the Sunday Telegraph: "This is about getting domestic resources. Domestic gas is more green than imported gas, and we need to explore as much domestic resource as we can.
"We need to be patient and very clear about what we want to do. It's a national purpose, it's right for our energy security, and, if done safely, we should pursue it."
David Cameron has insisted the whole country should accept fracking, claiming it will attract "real public support" when the benefits are explained, such as potentially cutting energy bills.
The Prime Minister said the process would not damage the countryside and cause only "very minor change to the landscape".
The Church of England has said it had no official policy in favour or against fracking but appeared to show tacit support by warning against "blanket opposition" to it.
The Anglican church said fuel poverty, the creation of jobs, energy self-sufficiency and the development of technology that could cut the impact of more polluting fuels such as coal needed to be taken into account when assessing shale gas exploration.
The debate over the benefits for and against fracking comes as activists continued to pour into the Reclaim the Power camp, about a mile from Cuadrilla's exploratory oil drilling site.
This weekend workshops were held on fracking, climate change and fuel poverty, and tents, marquees and solar-powered equipment were set up.
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