On the grass verge, with a backdrop of rolling hills, a plethora of wild flowers and dense trees, two people are putting up a tent.

Opposite the serene scene are not fellow campers – but the dusty entrance to a site which could hold precious reserves of oil and shale gas below the surface.

Large lorries rumble in and out through the gates, branded with a warning that fire arms are in use, entering with large pieces of rig on the back ready to be assembled into a 78ft high drill.

The two campers are not unfamiliar in Sussex – Simon ‘Sitting Bull’ Medhurst dug a tunnel in an attempt to stop a bypass being built from Bexhill to Hastings just months ago.

He is once again armed with his spade and will not rule out using it.

His companion is Natalie Hynde, daughter of The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde and The Kinks’ Ray Davies, who also joined the protesters in Combe Haven valley.

Now their attention has been pulled away from the trees and is focused on the drill, which on Saturday will start piercing the ground in the hunt for oil and gas.

“We didn’t want to spread ourselves too thinly,” explained Natalie.

“But our bail conditions after being arrested at Combe Haven mean we can’t even step foot on the land there.”

Yesterday afternoon the Environment Agency granted fracking and drilling company Cuadrilla a mining waste licence. The Government department said: “The company is not proposing to carry out any hydraulic fracturing (fracking) as part of this activity.”

Reassure The message could not be clearer – no fracking can take place on the land until a series of thorough permissions are gained.

“People who have looked into this and taken time to do it properly see this as a precursor for fracking,”

explains the Environment Agency’s environment manager for Sussex Chris Wick. “They want to stop it because they don’t want the subsequent application to come in. And the people who haven’t had the time to look at it properly are taken in by the whole anti-fracking message.

The Argus:

“There have been more than 200 boreholes drilled across Sussex, Hampshire and Kent since 1990.

“The only thing to makes this slightly different is they are drilling horizontally, which doesn’t represent an increase in risk.

“It’s a very common practice and we have many oil production wells in Sussex, which have been running for decades perfectly happily.

“It seems the concern is because it’s Cuadrilla and it’s frustrating because we’re trying so hard to reassure people and explain they can’t frack.”

The fear of what the future holds is still clear. Today the Great Gas Gala will take place. From 7am people will move towards the village.

The Argus:

Vehicles will park to block the roads, hoping to stop bits of the rig reaching the site.

Vigilante lollipop ladies will be stopping traffic with customised lollipop sticks.

The event invitation warns: “The event is planned to be a community-led carnival of antifracking revelry, with a very serious purpose. To stop Cuadrilla in their tracks.”

It is hoped village residents, old and young and everyone in between, will be mobilised.

The day aims to encourage people to exchange ideas about how to fight the drilling.

Natalie describes fracking as “expensive and dangerous”, adding: “I’ve got two nephews and I just want to fight for a better world for them.

“All this is insane, because there are lots of alternative forms of renewable energy.

“I sent my dad an email urging him to read the dangersoffracking.com and he wrote back: ‘I am shocked’.”

She cites Government backing for fracking – claims of tax breaks for big companies and allegations of plans to relinquish control of fracking projects from councils – as the impetus behind her fight.

She compares fracking to GM ‘Frankenstein’ foods.

The Argus:

Simon said: “We have to build it up to that level of awareness, so the man on the Clapham omnibus is talking about it.”

Simon adds: “We can slow this down, hopefully. If 100 people turned up willing to be arrested like we are then we could slow it down straight away.”

The current permission to drill an exploratory borehole runs out at the end of September – but Cuadrilla has applied to West Sussex County Council for a six month extension, which is currently being considered.

Less than half a mile north sits the village of Balcombe. The picturesque homes have anti-fracking signs printed in the windows. The more vehement have banners on their walls.

But some of those fighting against the site – which they claim is too close to homes and fear could cause earthquakes or pollute water supplies if fracking goes ahead – are already exhausted from the battle.

Faces drop and hearts sink when home-owners answer the door.

Their objections aren’t any weaker.

But their passion has been dampened and beliefs have been shattered from two years of thankless effort.

When the potential site was mooted nearly two years ago the reaction of most, including Vanessa Vines, who lives just outside Balcombe, was: “I just thought it couldn’t possibly”.

The Argus:

On Tuesday pieces of the rig which will start the first drill on Saturday started to rumble through the village on the back of large lorries. The next day an official Cuadrilla letter arrived through letterboxes – telling of the news which the rumour mill had beaten the company to tell.

“What can we do? We can’t fight it,” said Nancy Towers, who lives in the High Weald village – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“It’s just difficult getting on with normal life – campaigning against something like this is full on. Most of us are mums.

“We’re just normal people, we’re not activists. It’s not political and we’re not an organised group.

“I’m not a nimby. If they put a wind turbine on the hill I would welcome it. I can’t believe we are lowering ourselves to this – are there really no alternatives?

“I have lived in London, Brighton and NewYork and I wouldn’t want it to happen there or anywhere else.”

Tales of where Cuadrilla has drilled before fill residents with dread – about 82% of the village of about 600 homes are believed to be against the plans.

They find it hard to trust a company with possible links to causing earthquakes and being rapped for some claims made in information leaflets by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Cuadrilla is the only company in the UK to have attempted shale gas fracking.

The mothers come-campaigners have even found themselves in the line of criticism – branded luddites by some.

The Argus:

“I’m against it because I believe it isn’t safe,” said mum-of- three Sarah Hirst.

“What worries me is what safeguards are in place and how they are being regulated.

“873 responses went to the Environment Agency when Cuadrilla applied for its permit. Days after the consultation closed a temporary permit was issued. How have they got through that volume of responses so quickly?

“It doesn’t really matter what anyone says or what I feel like, we’re being ridden roughshod over this.”

She said a “heartbreaking”

divide has begun to form in the village.

“When it started there was 87% against – but because of the strength of feeling and upset some people have felt alienated.

“We’re told to stop standing in the way.”

Helen Savage is frantically running around her home, trying to occupy her children while a BBC reporter and cameraman set up in her garden for an interview about the drilling.

Friend Louisa Delpy had seven answerphone messages when she returned from the supermarket yesterday morning – media wanting quotes, residents in need of guidance and wanting to stay informed.

The Argus:

“I have spent my nights reading the mining waste directive trying to understand this process,” said Louise. “I almost had to become a legal expert.

“With two children under five it’s a serious undertaking.

Upsetting “I wrote up guidelines about responding to the Environment Agency permit and there were hundreds of responses, including from the school and the nursery.

“So for them to have turned around the permit so quickly is quite upsetting.”

Chris Wick, the Environment Agency’s environmental manager for Sussex, said: “We have a national permitting service and they have access to a lot of resources to look at this.

“We have been through every single one and looked at every single point that’s been raised.

“Unfortunately a huge number of the points relate to fracking, so a lot of comments weren’t relevant to the application, and there was a tremendous amount of duplication.

“For example, there were many comments about protecting ground water.

“It’s not quite the same as the planning process, where the weight of the number of comments makes a difference – this is a scientific evaluation."




The argument for...

Cuadrilla claims there are benefits at both a national and local level in favour of shale gas exploration.

A spokeswoman said: “The benefits for the UK at a high level are twofold: security of supply – an energy source that is produced in the United Kingdom meaning less reliance on foreign imports – and economic – producing oil in the UK means the UK benefits through the tax paid and avoids paying billions of pounds to import that gas.

“If Cuadrilla finds hydrocarbon reserves which are economically viable then any production phase would offer a number of benefits to the local community.

“These include employment opportunities, additional economic activity within the region, a community benefit scheme and, as in Lancashire, Cuadrilla would look to be a good neighbour and support local initiatives in the community.

“Cuadrilla is working to understand the potential resource in Sussex and whether it is economically viable to extract.”

.... and against

Arguments against the process include concerns about the large amounts of water which are needed to be injected into the ground – between one and eight million gallons.

This is combined with chemicals – believed to include lead, uranium and mercury – which protesters claim leaches out of the system into nearby groundwater, contaminating drinking water.

Earthquakes have also happened in areas where drilling has taken place – with the two believed to be linked.




Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release the natural gas inside.

Cuadrilla has not got permission to frack at the Balcombe site – but is drilling an exploratory borehole.

A spokeswoman for the company said: “The work taking place at the Balcombe site is for exploratory drilling.

“An exploration well is the primary way Cuadrilla gathers data on the sub-surface rock and extends its knowledge of oil and gas resources.

“At Balcombe Cuadrilla plans to take samples of the underground rock by drilling a vertical well.

“Rock cutting samples will be taken to the surface and examined to confirm the rock type being drilled through and to evaluate the presence of hydrocarbons.

“At Balcombe the target reservoir rock is chalk/limestone (not shale) and the expected fluid is oil and not gas.

“Cuadrilla has no intentions to hydraulically fracture this well as part of this exploration drilling activity.

“One of the objectives of the work is to test if oil production is feasible or commercially viable.

“There is a long history of oil exploration and production in Sussex, with over 50 exploration wells already drilled.”

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