Anti-fracking activists and police scuffle as test drilling starts in UK
Scuffles broke out between anti-fracking protesters and police after an energy company finally started exploratory drilling for oil in the English countryside on Friday.
Two people, a 19-year-old woman and a man, were arrested on suspicion of assaulting police as tensions ran high near Balcombe in West Sussex.
Around 200 campaigners demonstrated for a second day against planned test drilling by British firm Cuadrilla, which specialises in hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, the controversial technique known as "fracking".
Campaigners fear the test drilling could lead to fracking at the site.
The company has been forced to delay its plans to drill a 3,000 foot (915-metre) vertical well in a project lasting up to three months, but work finally began on Friday.
A spokesman said: "Cuadrilla can confirm that it has commenced test drilling at the Balcombe site."
The protesters held a minute's silence when they learned that drilling had begun.
One of the leaders of the protest, a 52-year-old man who has changed his name to Gayzer Frackman, told AFP: "It's a sad day for Balcombe but we will win."
Up to 70 police officers were patrolling in the area and a police helicopter observed from overhead.
Fracking involves using huge amounts of pressurised water mixed with chemicals to crack open shale -- sedimentary rock containing hydrocarbons -- to release natural gas.
The protest has attracted celebrity protesters, including the daughter of Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde and Kinks frontman Ray Davies. Natalie Hynde, 30, glued herself to her boyfriend at the site entrance on Wednesday.
Britain's finance minister last month proposed tax breaks for fracking companies to create the world's "most generous" regime for shale gas extraction.
George Osborne revealed plans to slash the tax on a proportion of production profits from 62 percent to 30 percent in a bid to encourage shale exploration.
Fracking has led to an energy bonanza in the United States, but has yet to begin in Britain.
The technique was temporarily banned after it was blamed for two earth tremors in Blackpool, northwest England, in 2011.
A government report in June 2012 concluded fracking was safe if it was properly monitored.
Cuadrilla's chief executive, Francis Egan, tried to soothe concerns this week by saying his firm has "no intention of ruining the countryside and won't ruin the countryside".
The British government believes fracking could increase Britain's energy security, create thousands of jobs and boost tax revenues.
© 2013 AFP