Cuadrilla submits plans to 'flow-test' at Balcombe site

Anti-fracking protesters block lorry at Balcombe on 12 September 2013
Image caption More than 1,000 activists set up camp at the height of the protests

Energy firm Cuadrilla has submitted plans to carry out "flow tests" at a West Sussex site which has been the focus of anti-fracking protests.

The firm has requested permission to test the rate of extraction at the Balcombe well after test drilling found hydrocarbons in rock samples.

The site saw protests over the summer amid fears of fracking in the future.

A Cuadrilla spokesman said the new application did not include a request to carry out fracking.

"Permission is being sought to flow-test the well to see if the hydrocarbons we identified can be extracted," a spokesman said.

Well closed

He said test drilling in August and September had detected hydrocarbons, meaning engineers had found oil in rock samples.

Permission for that work runs out on Saturday and the firm has been removing equipment from the site.

The spokesman said the firm had drilled a 3,000ft (900m) vertical well and a 2,500ft (750m) horizontal bore, but that the well had been closed off while it sought fresh planning permission.

He added that the flow tests would reveal both the volume of oil at the site and the rate at which it could be extracted.

A West Sussex County Council spokesman confirmed the application was submitted on Wednesday and that it would take 10 days for it to be published and appear on the authority's website.

He said there would then be a formal consultation.

'Focus departed'

Balcombe became the focus of anti-fracking protests and a major policing operation when Cuadrilla started test drilling for oil on 2 August.

More than 1,000 activists set up camp at the height of protests in August.

Campaigners feared test drilling could lead to fracking - hydraulic fracturing for shale gas - at the site.

Image caption Sussex Police arrested 125 people over 65 days during protests at Balcombe

Sussex Police said Cuadrilla was expected to be clear of the site by Friday evening.

Supt Lawrence Hobbs said the force would "maintain a few officers in the area, mostly to ensure road safety, but we don't expect protesters to remain in the area now that the focus of their protest has departed".

He said the final cost of the policing operation, which saw 125 people arrested over 65 days, would take some weeks to calculate but had reached £3.3m by Thursday.

The final overall cost has been estimated at about £4m, he said.

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne is applying to the Home Office for financial support to meet the additional cost.

Ewa Jasiewicz from No Dash for Gas, which has staged the Reclaim the Power camp at Balcombe, said further protests would be likely if Cuadrilla returned to the site.

"There is a strong anti-fracking public consensus and climate activist consensus, which means further action is highly likely," she said.

Responding to Cuadrilla's statement that the new application related to oil, she said the group believed "fossil fuels need to be left in the ground".

She added that "the villagers of Balcombe do not want Cuadrilla there and No Dash for Gas will be supporting them".

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