A fifth day of protests at a controversial oil drilling operation is expected today.

Twelve people, including two teenage boys from Sussex, were charged at the weekend in connection with demonstrations at the Cuadrilla site in Balcombe, near Haywards Heath.

Protesters have been working to stop lorries from entering the site since Thursday and were joined by scores more campaigners over the weekend.

Two women were arrested on Saturday morning – one was a 49-year-old from East Grinstead for assaulting a police officer.

The other was taken into custody for vying to stop drivers and other workers from accessing the site under the Trade Union Labour Relations Act.

Those charged include a 15-year-old male from Rustington, a 17-year-old unemployed male from Brighton as well as adults from Brighton, Lewes and Worthing.

The village has become a focal point for campaigners, who have highlighted fears linked to fracking, including the use of chemicals.

Although there is currently no licence to frack – a process which injects pressurised fluid into the ground and crack rocks to release natural gas – campaigners fear the tests for oil and gas could pave the way for the controversial practice.

Cuadrilla has said it intends only to conduct exploratory drilling in a temporary operation which will not include hydraulic fracturing.

The firm, which carried out the first fracking operations in the UK in Lancashire, had obtained authority to extend their operating hours on Saturday from 1pm until 4pm.

But following representations from the protest groups and advice from police, the company agreed to stop bringing the vehicles into the site shortly after 2pm.

Superintendent Steve Whitton from Sussex police said: “We are trying to carefully balance the needs of everyone and we will continue to show a proportionate response to the challenge we are facing.”

Lorries are due to start arriving again today.

The Argus: Your interview: Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla Resources

Francis Egan, chief executive of fracking firm Cuadrilla, spoke to Argus reporter Bill Gardner about his controversial drilling platform

Are you happy that protesters have been arrested?

We have no issue with peaceful protesters but one of our trucks was sabotaged. They cut a line to the brakes which was quite dangerous.

Ultimately, we live in a democracy. As a company we have followed all the regulations and we can do no more.

We have a legal right to be here doing what we’re doing and we are sticking to the rules.

Some of these protesters are not. 

You claim your drill is nothing to do with fracking – yet you won’t rule it out in the future. This is all just smoke and
mirrors isn’t it?

Don’t be ridiculous. I object to your comment about smoke and mirrors because we have been very clear.

If we can recover enough oil without fracking then we will do that. If not then we will consider fracking, it’s that simple.

In order to do that we’d need to come back with a separate planning application.

Will your drill poison the water in Balcombe, as many villagers fear?

It’s simply not going to happen because this is a relatively small engineering operation. It’s all been approved by the Environment Agency and the nearest ground water is not within 3km.

The risk is negligible to zero.

So you accept there is a risk of poisoning the water, however small?

There’s a risk that a plane could land on your head as soon as you step out your front door. If I say there’s zero
risk, someone will come along and correct me. What I’m saying is that this will not happen.

Can you understand why so many people are angry about this?

Some of them object to all hydrocarbons because of climate change, although I happen to disagree.

Basically I think there’s a good degree of misinformation around. For instance I heard on Radio 4 that
Cuadrilla are due to start fracking on Saturday.

That’s simply not true. Some people are just scaremongerers.

So would you be happy if an energy firm arrived outside your front door and started drilling for oil?

We are not doing this outside anyone’s front door. If it was me I would listen and try to understand what’s going on. I would make my decision based on all the facts, not fiction.

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