IGas' drilling site near Salford appears to be the latest front in the fracking debate

No fracking at Balcombe says Cuadrilla

Fracking will not take place at a site in West Sussex that was at the centre of large-scale protests last year.

Hundreds of anti-fracking activists set up camp last summer after Cuadrilla started exploratory drilling on the outskirts of Balcombe as protesters were concerned the company would eventually go on to hydraulically fracture – or frack – at the site.

The firm had previously said that fracking was unlikely at the site, but in a letter to Balcombe residents Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan has confirmed that 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."

But in his letter, published by Balcombe Parish Council, 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 520m through Micrite formation, a type of limestone, at a depth of around 715m below ground level.

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.

Elsewhere, Greater Manchester Police has revealed that 82 people have been arrested at a long-running protest at a drilling site in Barton Moss on the outskirts of Salford, 62 of which are from outside the Greater Manchester area and many of which are from the south of England.

The majority of people arriving at anti-fracking protest are there to "disrupt and intimidate" the local community and "antagonise police", Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts has said. Roberts said the force had recorded offences of assault, damage, harassment of residents and workers, a flare fired at the police helicopter and threats to kill.

Since November about 60 tents and caravans have sprung up along the farm track leading to the site, between Barton Aerodrome and the M62, where energy company IGas was granted permission for exploratory gas drilling. The firm said it is seeking methane and shale gas but has no plans for fracking.

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