UPDATE: Green MP Caroline Lucas was one of more than a dozen people arrested on August 19 after police broke an anti-fracking blockade of a West Sussex drilling site.
Snatch squads were seen dragging demonstrators from the front gates of energy giant Cuadrilla's Balcombe site after police declared the picket a breach of public order, alleging that it could potentially block emergency services from reaching the site.
The protest's organisers No Dash For Gas reported 19 arrests.
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Anti-fracking activists celebrated on August 16 after energy firm Cuadrilla announced it was scaling back drilling operations in West Sussex due to ongoing protests.
The firm was forced to suspend an exploratory oil drilling operation as the first of hundreds of activists began to descend on the outskirts of the village of Balcombe. Up to 1000 more campaigners were set to take part in a six-day Reclaim the Power Camp, starting on August 17, against fracking.
Some people fear Cuadrilla will go on to carry out fracking in the area after it has completed exploratory drilling.
Fracking involves high-pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas supplies. Opponents have highlighted concerns about potential water contamination and environmental damage, as well as the potential for it to trigger small-scale earthquakes.
The firm has said it is unlikely to turn the site into a fossil fuel production area. It confirmed on August 16 that it has scaled back its operation on the advice of Sussex Police amid fears of unrest.
Police Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs said: “We will continue to facilitate peaceful protest, but newcomers to the site should be aware that if they commit criminal offences, then we will collect the evidence and they will be arrested.”
The Reclaim the Power camp was scheduled to take place at West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire, but organisers switched its location to Balcombe. Already about 40 people have been arrested since the anti-fracking protests sprang up on the outskirts of the West Sussex village three weeks ago.
Friends of the Earth spokesperson Jane Thomas said: “The drills may be paused at Balcombe, but as long as the government gives frackers the green light, the huge threat to local communities and the environment remains.
“The benefits of fracking have been over-hyped. There's plenty of evidence it won't lead to a new era of cheap fuel, but it will pump more climate-changing pollution into our atmosphere.”
Meanwhile the Church of England has been forced to deny it was seeking to gain financially from fracking by using ancient land ownership laws to claim mineral rights.
The Land Registry has written to hundreds of thousands of landowners saying that the church wants to claim the mineral rights under their properties, according to reports. Several dioceses have spoken of concerns over the environmental effects linked to the controversial process.
But the church said it was simply carrying out a “registration and protection exercise to protect existing rights and interests” made vulnerable to changes in the law in the Land Registration Act 2002.
“There are no particular plans to mine under any property,” it said. “The focus is registration and protection.”
But in an updated statement on August 16, the church appeared to show tacit support for fracking.
The Church of England's mission and public affairs group chairperson Philip Fletcher said: “To preclude properly managed technical development is to risk denying ourselves more important, less polluting and less costly options than the energy sources on which we currently rely.”
[Reprinted from Morning Star.]