Northern Ireland

Fracking: Police 'prepared for Fermanagh protests'

Anti-fracking protesters
Image caption Protesters have been staging a round-the-clock vigil at the site near Belcoo

Police in County Fermanagh have said they have plans in place to deal with protests against fracking.

Since Monday, work has been taking place to secure a quarry near Belcoo where a gas exploration company wants to begin drilling to take rock samples.

Protesters against the controversial technique have been keeping a 24-hour vigil at the entrance to the site.

A police spokeswoman said their role was to facilitate both lawful activity by the firm and peaceful protest.

Image caption Police have been maintaining a low-key presence at the site

Tamboran Resources intends to drill an exploratory borehole starting next month, and if the samples show commercially viable levels of gas, it plans to begin a process that could lead to fracking.

About 300 protesters gathered on Monday after Tamboran brought its equipment to the site.

Several protesters briefly forced open a security fence, and tensions were running high for a time, but organisers helped to restore order and they say they want a peaceful protest.

A small number of protesters are maintaining a permanent presence that they have called the Belcoo Community Protection Camp.

There are several caravans and a toilet on the narrow country road outside the quarry.

About 100 people - including families, children, and local farmers - had gathered there on Thursday evening.

Image caption A private security firm is guarding the site, which is protected with razor wire and metal fences

About half a dozen police officers wearing bibs emblazoned with "liaison officer" were also there.

The site itself is protected by metal fences and razor wire, and is guarded by a private security company.

A PSNI spokeswoman said they were "conscious of a strong sense of feeling emanating from parts of the community in relation to the proposed test drill".

"We're also aware that any protest may have an impact on the local community - accordingly we will work with all those involved or affected to minimise any impact.

"The PSNI have spoken to interested parties and are listening to their concerns.

"The role of the police is to facilitate lawful activity by Tamboran and their agents, facilitate peaceful protest and minimise the potential for disorder."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Energy firm Cuadrilla's exploration drilling site in Balcombe faced large protests

Last summer, the village of Balcombe in West Sussex was the scene of large anti-fracking demonstrations, with more than 1,000 people setting up camp at the height of the protests.

The PSNI said that as part of their plans, they have looked at similar policing operations.

The real test will be if Tamboran gets the go-ahead for their planned borehole from the Department of Environment, as the company would have to bring its drilling equipment to the site amid a likely escalation of the protests.

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