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UK Politics

No fracking at Balcombe, says energy company Cuadrilla


No fracking will take place at a site in West Sussex which was at the centre of large-scale protests last year, energy company Cuadrilla has told residents.

Hundreds of anti-fracking activists set up camp last summer after Cuadrilla started exploratory drilling on the outskirts of Balcombe.

Protesters concerned about potential environmental damage feared that the company would eventually go on to hydraulically fracture - or frack - at the site.

Fracking involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release oil or gas supplies.

Fears have been raised over the potential for small-scale earthquakes and water pollution, and that a drive to exploit new gas reserves will turn the focus away from efforts to develop a low-carbon economy to tackle climate change.

In a letter to Balcombe residents from Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan, he said the rock underneath the drill site, at Lower Stumble, was already naturally fractured, and the company had no intention of fracking there.

He wrote: "The presence of these natural fractures and the nature of the rock means that we do not intend to hydraulically fracture the exploration well at Lower Stumble now or in the future."

However, although Mr Egan ruled out fracking at the site, Cuadrilla's association with Balcombe is by no means at an end.

In his letter, published by Balcombe Parish Council, Mr Egan said Cuadrilla had submitted a new planning application to West Sussex County Council to complete flow testing of oil from the exploration well.

Over the summer, the firm drilled horizontally for some 1,700ft through Micrite formation, a type of limestone, at a depth of around 2,350ft below ground level.

Mr Egan wrote: "We were expecting to and did indeed find oil in the Micrite. However, without testing we cannot be sure at what rate the oil may flow to the surface."

The proposed flow testing operations would be "significantly smaller in scope" than the drilling operations conducted previously, he said.

The main testing operations would last for up to five weeks, after which the well would be closed in and monitored for up to 60 days.

Balcombe still remains a focal point for anti-fracking protesters, months after the encampment which gained headlines worldwide moved on.

On Sunday, more than 400 protesters gathered at a rally there attended by French MEP Jose Bove, a key campaigner from the French anti-fracking lobby.

This week it was revealed that the cost to taxpayers of policing the lengthy anti-fracking protests at Balcombe was nearly £4 million.

Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne said the bill placed pressure on the police budget when savings were having to be made.

As she revealed the final sum for the policing operation, Ms Bourne said she had submitted an application to the Home Office to recover the cost.