LONDON (AP) – Energy company Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. said Friday it has temporarily suspended drilling at an exploration site in southern England amid protests from residents and environmentalists opposed to shale gas extraction.
The company said it had stopped work on police advice, but would resume “as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Demonstrators are planning to expand a protest camp Friday near the village of Balcombe.
“I’m quite worried about safety on the site,” Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan told ITV News. “We have a group who are relocating a camp to the site, who have said publicly that they will be taking direct action against the site.”
Cuadrilla is leading work in Britain on the extraction of gas by hydraulic fracturing, a process known as fracking.
The company says its operation at Balcombe involves exploratory drilling for oil and will not include fracking — though it has not ruled it out in future.
The British government says tapping underground gas reserves could transform Britain’s energy supply, but critics say it risks despoiling the countryside.
A Conservative party politician was criticized when he said recently that fracking should take place in the “desolate” north of England rather than the south. Balcombe, 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of London, is in an affluent area and has become a focus for anti-fracking protesters.
“Cuadrilla’s announcement that they’ll halt drilling is already a victory for us, but it’s only a start,” said one of the demonstrators, Luke Johnson. “We would like to make sure they don’t frack in Balcombe, or anywhere else at all.”