Hundreds of activists blockaded the Balcombe oil drilling site in Sussex owned by the fracking company Cuadrilla, as well as its Lichfield headquarters and the offices of its PR firm in London. Demonstrators hung banners at the country home of the Conservative Lord Howells, who stirred controversy by suggesting the “desolate” north should be fracked, and attempted to put up a small wind turbine at the home of Tory MP Francis Maude, whose constituency includes Balcombe.
Amid accusations of “heavy-handed” policing, protesters at Balcombe blocked part of the site road but were driven back by police. Sussex police did not comment, or confirm the number of arrests.
Lucas said she joined the protest to make up for the “democratic deficit” that was allowing corporate oil and gas interests to trump the concerns of ordinary people. A Guardian poll last week found 40% of people opposed fracking in their area, with 40% in support.
The MP for Brighton Pavilion said: “Along with everyone else who took action today, I’m trying to stop a process which could cause enormous damage for decades to come. People today, myself included, took peaceful non-violent direct action only after exhausting every other means of protest available to us. Despite the opposition to fracking being abundantly clear, the government has completely ignored the views of those they are supposed to represent. When the democratic deficit is so enormous, people are left with very little option but to take peaceful, non-violent direct action.”
The Department of Energy and Climate Change did not respond to requests for comment on the protests.
Cuadrilla said: “We condemn all illegal direct actions against our people and operations. What we are doing is legal, approved, and safe, and shale gas is essential to improve our energy security, heat our homes, and create jobs and growth. Cuadrilla is rightly held accountable for complying with multiple planning and environmental permits and conditions, which we have met and will continue to meet.”
With thousands of people descending on the Reclaim the Power camp at Balcombe, which started yesterday, this is by far the biggest anti-fracking demonstration ever to take place in the UK, and one of the biggest environmental demonstrations for years.
At one point in mid-afternoon, after a fairly long stand-off, police moved the protesters to just a small section of the road, arresting a number of people in the process. Local officers in high-visibility vests started the push, followed by black-clad Metropolitan police squads, who grabbed a series of people blocking the road. Accompanied by boos, those held were taken away and handcuffed. One young man was held face down on the road by three officers. He shouted: “I’m not resisting, please get off me.”
After about 15 minutes of jostling the activists left were corralled into a small side area of the road and prevented from leaving. Twenty-five were arrested.
Activists also blockaded the gate to the site by lying down in a group, their arms locked into tubes. Others, including people from the Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) group have locked themselves to a man’s wheelchair.
The user of the wheelchair, 38-year-old Paddy Murphy from north London, said there was a connection between Dpac and anti-fracking activities. He said many disabled people were living in fuel poverty: “We want an energy policy devoted to the needs of people, not the needs of corporations. Fracking is all about profits.”
No Dash for Gas, one of the key groups at Balcombe, criticised the policing. Ewa Jasiewicz, who was part of the group’s occupation of a Nottinghamshire gas power plant last year, said: “This an outrageously aggressive response to a day of principled civil disobedience. All of our actions have safety, dignity and respect at their core. Cuadrilla and the government were desperate to discredit fracking opponents. We offered them no aggression so they are creating it themselves.”
At the London headquarters of Bell Pottinger, Cuadrilla’s public relations firm, a group glued itself to the entrance.
One of the protesters, Laura O’Shea, from Dublin, said she had been camping at the Balcombe site before starting a science degree in the autumn.
She said: “The whole protest is hugely positive and a lot of local people support us. The issue seems to be energising a lot of young people. It’s great to see so many 18-year-olds getting furious and involved with something like this.”