Cuadrilla's oil exploration activities in Balcombe triggered forceful protests last summer

Cuadrila returns to look for oil at fracking protest site

Energy company Cuadrila will return to Balcome, the site of a massive anti-fracking protest last summer, to carry out further oil and gas exploration.

Under a six-month permission granted by the West Sussex City Council, Cuadrila will look for hydro-carbons using the existing borehole.

The company said it will carry out "flow-testing" by pumping fluids from the well into tanks on the site and flaring any gas. The well will then be shut for pressure monitoring for 60 days before being sealed, secured and the site later restored.

Last year Cuadrilla drilled horizontally for some 1,700ft through micrite formation, a type of limestone, at a depth of around 2,350ft below ground level. However, the company’s chief executive Francis Egan said the rock underneath the drill site was already naturally fractured, and the company had no intention of fracking there.

The decision to grant Cuadrila an exploration permission has provoked new protests – some 900 people objected to Cuadrilla returning to flow test at the Lower Stumble exploration site with more than 100 people attending the planning meeting in Horsham.

"We are extremely disappointed that councillors have not listened to local people,” said Brenda Pollack, Friends of the Earth's South East campaigner. "This is an attempt by Cuadrilla to set the wheels in motion for dirty fossil fuel extraction. We need the council and our Government to push forward with clean energy solutions”

The planning committee, chaired by Heidi Brunsdon concluded the conditions of the approval, including 24-hour light monitoring near the site to protect wildlife, were "proportionate and fair". The committee further said the number of vehicles involved in the project was not concerning and emissions would be controlled to ensure water quality would not be compromised.

"Members gave all the issues a good airing and the further conditions we agreed might not go as far as some would have wanted,” said Brunsdon. "But we feel they were proportionate and fair in addressing the issues that members of the committee had surrounding this application."

Hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release oil or gas resources.

Some fear the technique could trigger small-scale earthquakes and pollute water resources. Objectors have warned that exploitation of new gas reserves will turn the focus away from efforts to develop a low-carbon economy to tackle climate change.

More than 1,000 people joined the anti-fracking protest against Cuadrilla’s exploration at the Balcombe site last summer. The cost of policing the protests reached nearly £4m, prompting Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne to seek financial aid from the Home Office.

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