By Peter Walker / The Guardian
Protests at a planned drilling site of a fracking company took an innovative turn on Thursday after activists stopped work by parking an antique fire engine outside the gates of the facility and locked themselves to the vehicle.
The campaign group Frack Off said the fire engine, bought by some of the protesters involved, arrived at the site near Balcombe, West Sussex – where the energy company Cuadrilla plans to drill wells in the hope of releasing oil from the rocks – at about 7am.
Two protesters climbed on the top of the vehicle, unfurled a banner and locked their ankles to the fire engine’s ladder. Four others used other locks to attach themselves to the cab.
“Nothing can get into or out of the site while the fire engine is there,” a Frack Off spokeswoman said. “The protesters are saying they won’t move till Cuadrilla say they will end fracking operations. So they might be there for some time.”
A Sussex police spokesman confirmed that the fire engine was blocking the entrance and that officers at the site were seeking to negotiate with the protesters.
A total of 25 protesters have been arrested since activists arrived at the site, in countryside a few miles outside Balcombe, a week ago.
On Wednesday, two people were arrested after they glued themselves together at the gates to stop machinery from being brought through. There were 75 police at the site that day.
Despite activists’ efforts, on Wednesday afternoon police escorted a lorry bearing pipes through to the site, the first successful delivery of equipment since the protest began.
Cuadrilla has Environment Agency permits for exploratory drilling. The company has said it does not intend yet to use hydraulic fracturing but may resort to the method if the oil is not otherwise accessible.
The issue has been pushed into the spotlight further after a former government energy policy adviser suggested fracking should take place in “desolate” areas of the north-east.
Lord Howell, who was an adviser on energy policy until April, attempted to clarify his remarks by saying he meant “unloved” areas of the country such as parts of the north-west, for example off the Lancashire coast.