Energy company Cuadrilla, which has found itself at the centre of an anti-shale gas protest against fracking in Balcombe, has reacted to the highly-publicised protests at its headquarters in Lichfield, Staffordshire.
Protesters broke into our Lichfield office, harassed our staff and chained themselves to filing cabinets. The police are on site dealing with this. We condemn all illegal direct actions against our people and operations.
Despite the stresses, the morale of our people in Lichfield, Balcombe and elsewhere is fine. Our people, and the teams that support us are doing a magnificent job. They know that what we are doing is legal, approved, and safe, and that shale gas is essential to improve our energy security, heat our homes, and create jobs and growth.
Cuadrilla is rightly held accountable for complying with multiple planning and environmental permits and conditions, which we have met and will continue to meet. Clearly we are held to one set of legally enforceable standards while some protesters believe that they can set out and follow their own.
Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas, who sat with the protesters, told the BBC:
They've stopped their exploratory drilling but as soon as we've gone they'll start again. This isn't just about Balcombe, important though that is, it's about a whole new government policy to do with getting more and more fossil fuels out of the ground. The government is not listening so I think there are times when peaceful direct action can be legitimate.
All the media coverage of the protest is likely to be a thorn in Cuadrilla's side. Commenting on today's events, Stuart Wortley, property litigation expert at Pinsent Masons, said:
Unless the protestors commit public order offences, the police are only likely to make arrests if they obstruct the highway or they get access to the Cuadrilla site and succeed in obstructing or disrupting business activities....
While court action to remove the protestors at Balcombe could be taken quickly, the police may not welcome this because it could simply move the protest to property owned by someone else nearby. The inevitable media attention may actually result in an escalation of the protest. Furthermore, court proceedings would give the protestors a platform for their “anti-fracking” arguments raising the profile of activists who ultimately want their voice to be heard by as wide an audience as possible.
From today's City A.M.: