BBC News – Oil exploration on hold in Balcombe

Oil exploration will cease in a village at the centre of an anti-fracking campaign by the end of September after plans to extend work were withdrawn.

Protests were staged in Balcombe over fears test drilling for oil could lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The permit for activity was to run out on 28 September and, in July, the firm Cuadrilla applied for an extension.

It has now withdrawn the plans and will submit fresh proposals to be looked at by West Sussex County Council in 2014.

The original planning application, which was passed in 2010, was for Cuadrilla to carry out drilling and then horizontal well testing.

It meant the company could drill a 3,000ft (900m) vertical well and a 2,500ft (750m) horizontal bore south of the village in a search for oil.

Horizontal well

So far the firm has said it has not carried out the horizontal activity which is intended to see how oil flows.

A permit extension was submitted to the county council in July, solely for horizontal well testing, which was due to be considered by the authority on 19 September.

But on Tuesday Cuadrilla announced it had withdrawn those plans to “resolve any potential legal ambiguity around how the planning boundary should be drawn for a subsurface horizontal well”.

Sussex Police applied to the Home Office for extra funding to cope with the protests

Cuadrilla said it would now submit another application for a six-month extension for the work which will not go to the planning committee until 2014.

It said: “As this is a new planning application, the county council will consult with interested third parties and we will have the opportunity for further engagement with Balcombe residents about our well testing plans.”

‘Dog’s dinner’

Louisa Delpy, Balcombe resident and member of No Fracking in Balcombe Society (Nofibs) said: “This is a victory for our campaign and we thank everyone who raised objections but we know that the problem has not gone away.”

Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen said Cuadrilla’s plans were a “dog’s dinner”.

She added: “They only recently submitted an application to extend the drilling window, now they have already withdrawn it and admitted they are reassessing the programme.

“It is not clear if this is a shift in direction or if the company merely got its sums wrong.”

None of the applications by Cuadrilla so far include hydraulic fracturing.

Huge protests were staged outside the site of the drilling over fears the exploratory work could lead to fracking, which is the process of forcing water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock deposits underground.

Dozens of people were arrested throughout the summer, including Green MP Caroline Lucas.

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