The energy company Cuadrilla has begun test drilling in Balcombe, West Sussex, some 40 miles from London. Anti-fracking protests at the site entering their ninth day managed to delay the project.
A 78-feet rig has been erected on the site and the drill is expected to take weeks to reach its target depth of around 3,000 feet. The drilling waste will then be washed out with an acid solution and then a sensor will be sent down to explore for oil and gas.
“Cuadrilla can confirm that it has commenced test drilling at the Balcome site. We have full planning and regulatory approval for this work from the department for Enregy and Climate Change, West Sussex County Council, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive,” a spokesman told the Telegraph on Friday.
If Cuadrilla finds oil and gas then fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, will begin. Locals and campaigners fear that it will pollute the table water and destroy the local environment.
“We are horrified. The village is gobsmacked. We feel bullied by the oil and gas industry and government at all levels from parish council right up to cabinet office,” said Kathryn McWhirter, a Balcombe resident.
More than 30 people have been arrested since last Friday, mainly for allegedly stopping the delivery of equipment. A tent camp has been erected at the place as the protest continues.
But Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, insists that Fracking is safe and that it will not pose a threat to people’s drinking water.
“[We have] no intention of ruining the countryside and won’t ruin the countryside,” he said earlier this week.
Egan has said that significant amounts of cheap oil and gas could be made available through fracking, a view endorsed by many Tory members of the government, including the chancellor George Osbourne. Some members of the UK government are hoping to emulate the fracking revolution in the US, which has led to a surge in domestic oil and gas production.
Earlier this week the former energy advisor, Lord Howell, sparked uproar by saying that fracking could be carried out in the “desolate” north east of England without impacting the surrounding environment. The Tory peer then dug himself further into a hole by trying to clarify his comments and saying that in fact he meant “unloved” areas of the country like Lancashire in the North West.
Downing Street said on Tuesday that Lord Howell did not speak for the government, but Nick Clegg the deputy Prime Minster urged him to be quiet and said that the conservatives were getting “over excited” about the potential benefits of fracking.
The campaign group Frack Off insist that shale gas is not cheap energy, as it costs more to extract than it can be sold for. The majority of shale gas companies in the US are making a loss from their fracking operations and in Britain, which does not have the landmass of the US, there is simply not the infrastructure to make it viable.
"Even if we could 10% of trillions of cubic feet the fracking industry is alleging is available it would require 10s of thousands of wells to get it out and still only last a decade or so. The infrastructure simply doesn't exist to drill the number of wells the industry needs to keep production level or increase it. This is effectively a ponzi scheme relying on hype to bring in investment," Alex Forbes a campaigner at Frack Off, told RT.