Protesters in a tiny North Yorkshire village have vowed to put their lives on the line to prevent the first fracking operation in six years from taking place this week.
Two campaigners had to be rescued from an 18-metre (60ft) rig on Sunday after scaling the structure and waving flares – leading police to warn them of “the serious risk created by open flames and sparks on a live gas site”
The invasion of the gas exploration site in Kirby Misperton came as campaigners said they had seen a letter sent on behalf of the energy company Third Energy stating that fracking would begin “on or after Thursday”.
The village, near the Flamingo Land theme park between Malton and Pickering, has found itself at the forefront of the war over Britain’s future energy needs since Third Energy had its fracking application approved in May 2016.
The drill would be the first to take place in the UK since 2011, when minor earthquakes occurred in Lancashire after tests near Blackpool.
Protesters have been at Kirby Misperton for more than a year and in recent weeks increased efforts to prevent vehicles entering the site, which Third Energy planned to begin fracking by the end of the year.
Campaigners said they planned to step up their direct action this week after seeing a letter to North Yorkshire county council, purportedly from Third Energy’s fracking contractor Zetland Group, stating that the firm would “commence the hydraulic fracture stimulation and testing, at the KMA wellsite, on or after 26 October 2017”.
Leigh Coghill, a campaigner at the site, said it was a “seminal moment” and that protesters were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent the start of fracking this week.
She said: “People are willing to put their lives on the line. People’s lives are already on hold, their health is under threat, their livelihoods are under threat. When you look at it from that perspective, what is laying in the road or jumping on a lorry, or climbing a rig?”
Coghill, who lives 30 miles away but travels to the site every day, said she did not know what direct action protesters planned but that “nothing would surprise me”.
She added: “If this well is fracked, and a message is sent to the industry and investors that people are willing to be fracked, then it calls upon the anti-fracking campaign to send such a great message back that we are not going to allow this to happen. We are not going to allow our homes to be turned into a gas field.”
North Yorkshire police said three protesters had been arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass and criminal damage for scaling the rig at 3am on Saturday. Two had to be rescued with harnesses and abseiled to safety on Sunday after spending more than 30 hours on the structure in violent winds caused by Storm Brian.
Four others were arrested during the weekend, including a 72-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman after being cut out of devices outside the fracking site, taking the total number of protesters arrested in September and October to 48.
Eddie Thornton, a Pickering resident whose family owns a tourism business, said the scaling of the rig was to send a message to the industry and government that “we’re not going to take this laying down and we’ll always respond with ingenuity and chaos whenever they try and bring fracking on our communities”.
Alan Linn, director of Third Energy, condemned the protest and said it had put both the demonstrators and workers on the site at risk. He added: “Setting off an emergency flare on a live gas site – essentially an open flame – was exceptionally reckless.
“However, I am pleased that we were able to ensure their safety overnight by providing them with proper harnesses and also hot drinks.”
Supt Mike Walker, of North Yorkshire police, said: “This incident has thankfully been brought to a safe conclusion. From the outset, the safety and welfare of the individuals who had climbed the rig was of paramount importance.
“We work with all those involved to make sure any protest activity is as safe and peaceful as possible, however, we have a duty to take appropriate action if this activity poses any danger.”