Anti-fracking protesters have halted a controversial shale gas operation in the home counties, chaining arms to prevent the arrival of essential drill parts.
The energy giant Cuadrilla was stopped early on Thursday morning from bringing equipment on to the rural site near the village of Balcombe.
A group of around a dozen protesters succeeded in blocking the lorry. They wrapped yellow and black crime scene tape around the equipment and hung on it a banner that read “no more dirty energy”.
The action comes a week after the chancellor, George Osborne, announced major tax breaks for companies extracting shale gas. The rate will be lowered to 30% on profits from the controversial operations compared with more than 60% on North Sea oil.
The Balcombe anti-fracking group has been campaigning against the possibility of fracking in the area for well over a year. They fear pollution from gas flaring, disruption from lorries carrying fracturing liquids through the village and the possible pollution of local water courses.
Cuadrilla, which is headed by the former BP chief Lord Browne, has been bringing drill parts to the site since Tuesday and is due to start operations on Monday following the granting of an Environment Agency licence this week.
Protesters, some dressed as druids, others as Edwardian gentlemen, told officers from Sussex police they believed the licences to drill were not lawful.
The group includes many locals from the village and environmental activists from nearby Brighton.
In a statement, the energy company said: “Cuadrilla plans to drill and take samples of the underground rock in a vertical well drilled to approximately 3,000 feet, with a possible horizontal leg of 2,500 feet. The delivery over the four days is of the rig and other supporting equipment such as drill collars, steel casing, cementing equipment.”
Brenda Pollack, the Friends of the Earth south-east regional campaigner, said: “Drilling in the home counties brings the threat of fracking geographically and politically closer to Westminster.
“Government plans to give drilling firms tax breaks and a virtual planning carte blanche highlights its determination to push ahead. Ministers must now be prepared for real resistance from their own heartlands.”