The government’s hopes for a new boom in shale gas ran into major opposition in a small West Sussex village last week.
Fracking firm Cuadrilla wants to build wells to explore for gas in the area. It is the same firm behind the fracking operation in Lancashire that has caused minor earthquakes in Blackpool.
But police had to break up a peaceful protest hundreds strong that had blocked the road in Balcombe to stop Cuadrilla’s equipment getting through.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves blasting gas out of underground shale rock with highly pressurised liquid. It carries serious risks of water contamination.
Fracking is now a huge industry in the US, and chancellor George Osborne is keen to develop it in Britain too.
So keen that he has given fracking firms the most generous tax breaks in the world of fossil fuel production.
But this won’t bring gas prices down for ordinary people. And it’s dreadful news for the climate.
There is an urgent need to reduce fossil fuel emissions to stop global warming before it is too late. But if Osborne’s gamble pays off then Britain’s shale could see more than a thousand trillion extra cubic feet of gas being burned instead.
Drilling any given shale requires a large number of rigs. Each rig requires a vast amount of water, so its extraction would entail effectively industrialising large tracts of the countryside.
That fear has driven protests in Balcombe throughout Cuadrilla’s consultation exercise, and led to the confrontation last week.
“We’ve written letters, we’ve signed petitions, we’ve done everything at our recourse and we don’t feel we’re being heard,” said Anna Jordan, who was attending the protest with her daughter.
“I’ve never even thought about direct action before today. But I just felt we had to act. So we dashed across the road and linked arms across the van”.
The protests there are set to continue as Cuadrilla’s exploration gets underway. And more than 50 people filled the village hall of Llanrhidian near Swansea for a No Fracking meeting last week.
Plans for Swansea Bay and the Loughor estuary could endanger the water supplies of some of Wales’ most densely populated areas.