Test drilling has begun at a controversial site after equipment finally passed protestors to bore a 3,000ft well.

Energy firm Cuadrilla tested their equipment yesterday morning and started its exploratory drilling operation at about 10:30am after safety checks were completed.

The first stage of the process will be to drill the 3,000ft well in search of oil and gas, which will be followed by 2,500ft (762m) horizontal bore at the site.

A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “Cuadrilla can confirm that it has commenced test drilling at the Balcombe site.

“We have full planning and regulatory approval for this work from the Department for Energy and Climate Change, West Sussex County Council, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

“The first stage involves drilling a 3,000ft vertical well. We will provide further updates as test drilling proceeds.”

Protesters have gathered at the site since last Thursday, when Cuadrilla started bringing their equipment in, and 25 arrests have been made so far.

It is understood drilling was scheduled to start on Wednesday (July 30), but protesters remain defiant in their battle against the energy firm, pledging to continue to campaign after drilling starts.

Daniel Lee, 28, a campaigner who has been leading meetings at the protesters camp, said: “From now on it’s just protest, protest, protest.

“Police were quite aggressive yesterday and again today by using some really provocative tactics.

“They seem to be getting tired and they’ve got Pride this weekend too so I think they trying to shift us because they are understaffed.

“We held another protest this morning and we had some guys at the front holding signs saying ‘Police Against Fracking’, and that made them a bit grumpy.

“Ten more tents arrived today and a couple of minibuses full of protesters so our camp is definitely growing not diminishing.

“So far we’ve been using obstruction as a main tactic, but now the majority of the equipment is in the site, there’ll be a switch in emphasis.

“We’ll be focussing on creative demonstrations to keep the media spectacle alive to raise awareness – like a mass bike ride we have planned which will see people from London and all over join us.”

Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs from Sussex Police said: "The joint demands of Pride and the protest at Balcombe are significant in policing resource terms, but we are a reasonably large force and have the resilience to meet those demands, while maintaining our usual day-to-day policing of Sussex.

"Police tactics have not changed over the last couple of days. However, we have recently seen the arrival of a small group of people whose protest techniques have moved away from civil disobedience to more confrontational activities and if necessary, we will adopt a flexible approach to tactics to meet this change."

There has been widespread fear over the effects potential fracking will have on the area, and Dr Walter Brasch, author of Fracking Pennsylvania, thinks the fears are justified.

He said: “The evidence that we have seen in the United States is that fracking has serious environmental and health problems.

“Many of the problems come not so much from the actual drilling--although we now see connections between that and earthquakes, but in the failure rate of the cement casings.

“Studies show that 7% of all casings will fail during the frack.

“Further, cement deteriorates so even though the drilling companies claim the process is safe, the cement protection will erode over time, often as early as 10 years.”

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