Sussex Police says public safety cannot be compromised to help fracking company Cuadrilla stick rigidly to its operating restrictions at Balcombe.
But while not bending over for the time restrictions that are part of Cuadrilla’s planning permission, the force says it may also allow the firm’s vehicles to exit or enter the site from directions other than from the north of the village.
By default this would mean the vehicles entering from the south via Brook Street and Witemans Green on the edge of Cuckfield.
This week Cuadrilla said it expects to have removed all its drilling equipment from Balcombe by the time its planning permission expires on Saturday (September 28).
But protesters and Sussex Police are on standby for a final flurry of activity.
“As you know we are making plans with your staff and Cuadrilla to facilitate the removal of the rig and equipment away from the Balcombe site.
“We appreciate that Cuadrilla are operating within the tight constraints of the current planning permission in place, which I believe restricts the movements of vehicles and times of operation.
“We will aim to enable Cuadrilla to operate within the planning permission and any other relevant permits, but public safety and preventing crime and disorder are our priorities.
“This may mean that in order to achieve this we are prepared to direct Cuadrilla lorries to enter or exit the site from different directions.
“Equally, we will not compromise public safety by sticking rigidly to the time constraints in place.
“This may mean that at times Cuadrilla are operating outside of their planning permission, for which we would take responsibility on that occasion and for the reasons as stated above and we have informed Cuadrilla of our position on this.”
Yesterday (Monday) morning the B2036 was closed again while police removed a van that protesters had parked diagonally across the road with a woman handcuffed to it.
And yesterday evening at least 30 police vehicles, mainly riot vans, were stationed in the village, most of them beside the B2036 where the anti-fracking protesters’ camp has been embedded for the past three months.
As another lorry left the site escorted by a cordon of police, drivers were again delayed in a scene that repeats itself daily.
In a statement, Cuadrilla confirmed yesterday that it had drilled a vertical exploration well to an approximate depth of 2,700ft, collecting 294ft of rock “ core” samples on the way.
It also carried out a set of advanced petrophysical logs to get data about the characteristics of the underground rock and the fluids they contain.
Cores from the vertical well have been shared with the British Geological Survey, who maintain a record of all UK drilling.
In addition, Cuadrilla says a horizontal well was drilled through the middle Kimmeridge Micrite, which is a band of limestone rock within the Kimmeridge Clay formation.
A distance of 1,700ft was achieved horizontally, in a direction of just south of due west under the Balcombe estate. Cuadrilla said that by using geo-steering technology, the entire 1700ft was successfully drilled within the target limestone.
It has confirmed the presence of “hydrocarbons” but further testing was necessary to determine flow rates.
Exploration Director Andrew Quarles said “the well was a success and we are very encouraged by the findings so far.”
CEO Francis Egan added: “The well is now closed off for the coming months as Cuadrilla applies for planning permission to come back and test flow rates.
“We appreciate that the Balcombe community has had to bear the strain of protest, as have our on-site and support team and contractors.
“We commend West Sussex County Council and police for both facilitating peaceful protest and preserving order.”
A meeting next month for Balcombe residents to meet representatives of the Environment Agency has now been fully subscribed with all tickets allocated.
The meeting is being held at St Mary’s Church - the building in the village with the largest capacity - and is restricted to Balcombe residents with a maximum of two tickets per household.
The event is being chaired by veteran environmental correspondent Geoffrey Lean.