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Community Uprising Puts Fracking Company on Its Heels in the UK

'No Dash for Gas' and direct action by local residents prove powerful force as they try to drive frackers out of West Sussex

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Anti-fracking protest in Balcombe, August 14, 2013 (Source: The Independent / Rex) What does it take to drive an unwanted gas drilling operation out a town?

Whether it's ultimately successful or not, campaigners and residents in one village in the UK are coursing a path towards victory and showing others what it might look like.

On Friday, over 1,000 anti-fracking campaigners are expected to join a protest camp near one of the U.K.'s most hotly-contested proposed fracking sites, promising more direct actions in an ongoing battle in a small West Sussex town.

These campaigners are cautiously celebrating a recent announcement by energy firm Cuadrilla that they have suspended exploratory drilling operations in the town of Balcombe due to the loud public backlash against the operation.

Cuadrilla said it had paused its operations following the advice of Sussex police who cited local outrage as a growing concern. Protesters, however, say their campiagn against Cuadrilla's drillling efforts in the area will continue.

Thursday was not the first time Cuadrilla has been forced to halt operations in the town of Balcombe. The site has seen ongoing protests since its first day of exploratory operations earlier this summer, when over 200 anti-fracking activists and community members in Balcombe blockaded the company's trucks containing the initial fracking equipment from entering the town.

Cuadrilla recently took several of the activists to court over the protests. Those charged in the suit have pleaded not guilty to charges of "disruption." Roughly 40 people have been arrested since the protests began.

No Dash for Gas, the group organizing this week's six-day "Reclaim the Power" camp, promised there be would "direct actions" in the coming days. In addition the camp will host other activities, including skills-sharing, campaign-building and direct action workshops.

"Cuadrilla's announcement that they'll halt drilling is already a victory for us," said activist Luke Johnson, but added that there was still more to be done. "We would like to make sure they don't frack in Balcombe, or anywhere else at all."

A protest march is also expected on Sunday.

"We are expecting quite a few more people to arrive from London," said campaigner James Basin, "and obviously we will be visiting the site to see what a mess Cuadrilla has made of it."

What seems to be clear, at least so far, is that the stream of community and activist opposition has taken its toll on the gas company.

“The public pressure is clearly getting to Cuadrilla," said Leila Deen, an energy campaigner for Greenpeace Energy Campaigner who said the residents of Balcombe and surrounding communities deserve clarity about the drilling plans. "If the company is not going to extract shale there," she said, "it owes local residents an assurance and should give details of when it will leave the village, where it’s clearly not wanted.”

Follow tweets from the protest camp below:

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