Balcombe protesters to be evicted as Ed Davey contradicts David Cameron’s claim that fracking boom can bring down energy bills

Six-week protest outside a potential fracking site in West Sussex village dealt a blow as eviction order is served

Environment Editor

A A A

More than 100 protesters against fracking company Cuadrilla’s exploratory drilling programme in Balcombe must vacate the area by nine o’clock on Tuesday morning after being served with an eviction order this afternoon.

The six-week protest outside a potential fracking site in the West Sussex village was dealt a blow as a representative of the county council, flanked by bailiffs, visited the camp along the grass verges of the London Road with the order.

“You must cease your occupation of the land before 9am Tuesday 10 September. If you do not comply with this Notice the Council will institute proceedings against you for possession of the said land without further notice,” the order read.

The protesters were due to meet last night to determine how to respond. Balcombe village resident Kathryn McWhirter said: 'We are horrified at the treatment of these dedicated people who have been here with our blessing for weeks now, helping us to protect our countryside, our health, our water, our air. The council is not acting today on behalf of the majority of residents of our village.'

Keith Taylor, the Green Party MEP for the South East, said: “It’s astounding that the same West Sussex County Council which gave test permits to fracking firm Cuadrilla has now served an eviction notice on peaceful protesters….It makes you wonder who WSCC is really representing.”

A spokesman for the council confirmed it is “to remove people, roadside tents, canopies and caravans on the B2036 London Road”.

“Our action is designed to protect all road users including the public on the verges and passing motorists. It is purely and simply about road safety and also keeping the public highway open,” he said.

“This is not about removing the right to peaceful protest. The Council and Police are establishing a defined area where peaceful protest will be facilitated,” he added.

However, locals said they were puzzled that the council waited six weeks before deciding that the roadside protest  posed a health risk. They speculated that it was motivated by concerns that the protesters could make it very difficult for Cuadrilla to remove its equipment from the site when it ceases the first stage of its exploration programme towards the end of the month.

The latest development at Balcombe came as a rift over shale gas was exposed at the heart of the Coalition as the Energy Secretary flatly contradicted David Cameron’s recent claim that fracking would reduce energy prices in the UK.

In a speech to the Royal Society, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey sought to overturn a number of myths he said had grown around shale gas. These included claims that UK production had the potential to drive down energy bills because that has been the experience in the US.

“It’s far from clear that UK shale gas production could ever replicate the price effects seen in the US. The situation is different here,” Mr Davey said, arguing that geology, population, environmental regulations and planning laws all favoured production in the US over the UK.

But the main reason gas prices in the UK are unlikely to follow those in the US - where a fracking boom has driven them down to well below British levels – comes down to the laws of supply and demand, Mr Davey explained.

“The US has a closed gas market – massive increases in supply naturally affect prices. We are part of the European market. We source energy from far and wide. And we compete against others for the supply. And gas produced in the UK is sold into this market,” he said.

“When UK gas production in the North Sea was at its highest earlier this decade, UK and continental gas prices were still closely linked and fairly similar. North Sea didn’t significantly move UK prices – so we don’t expect UK shale production alone to have any effect,” Mr Davey added.

His comments directly addressed and undermined claims by the prime minister that shale gas could drive down energy prices in the UK as it had done in the US.

“Even if we only see a fraction of the impact shale gas has had in America, we can expect to see lower energy prices in this country,” Mr Cameron wrote in the Daily Telegraph last month.

Separately last month, the prime minister said: “I think we would be making a big mistake if we did not think hard about how to encourage fracking and cheaper prices right here in the UK. If you look at what’s happening in American with the advent of shale gas and fracking…their gas prices are half the level of ours.”

In questions after his speech today, Mr Davey insisted that he and the prime minister shared the same opinion on all aspects of fracking, including its potential impact on price. “I’ve been clear that if there is extra supply it puts downward pressure on prices,” Mr Davey said.

However, while Mr Davey said in his speech that “we might see downward pressures on gas prices strong enough to offset fast rising demand”, the scenario he was outlining was contingent on “huge Europe-wide shale gas production boosting supply”. By contrast, Mr Cameron’s vision of falling prices is achieved solely through UK production.

Asked if there were any differences of opinion between the Energy Secretary and the Prime Minister over fracking, Mr Davey replied: “There isn’t any.”

Mr Davey’s comments echo those made last week by Lord Stern, author of the hugely influential Stern review on the financial implications of climate change. He called Mr Cameron’s claim that fracking will bring down energy prices as “baseless”.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a highly controversial practice in which oil and gas is released from shale by blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the rock. It has been linked to a host of environmental hazards, including water pollution and earth tremors.

Despite casting doubt on potential price implications, Mr Davey said shale gas had tremendous potential to boost the British economy by creating jobs and tax revenues, to improve the country’s energy security and, being the cleanest of the fossil fuels, could provide “a bridge in our transition to a green future, especially in our move away from coal”.

He said that “with the right safeguards in place the net effect on national emission from UK shale gas production will be relatively small when compared to the use of other sources of gas.”

“UK shale gas can be developed sensibly and safely, protecting the local environment, with the right regulation.”

However, he warned that “shale gas is no quick fix and no silver bullet….we can’t bank on shale gas to solve all our energy challenges, today or in this decade. And in the next decade, shale, by itself, will not come close to solving even our basic energy resource security challenge,” Mr Davey said.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory