The Church of England is “out of touch” with local communities and some of its own dioceses over the issue of fracking, according to activists in the UK.
The Anglican church has said it had no official policy in favour or against the controversial extraction method but appeared to show tacit support for fracking by warning against “blanket opposition” to it.
It said fuel poverty, the creation of jobs, energy self-sufficiency and the development of technology that could cut the impact of more polluting fuels such as coal needed to be taken into account when assessing shale gas exploration.
Several dioceses in areas potentially ripe for fracking have spoken of concerns over the environmental impacts linked to the process, with the latest being Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner.
But the Church’s apparent backing for hydraulic fracturing has been condemned by activists camped near Balcombe, West Sussex.
The village has become a focal point for anti-fracking activists since energy firm Cuadrilla announced it was to conduct exploratory drilling there, prompting many to fear it will lead on to fracking.
Reacting to the church’s statement, Ewa Jasciewicz, of No Dash for Gas, one of the organisers of the six-day Reclaim the Power camp, said: “There is a lot of grass-roots church opposition to fracking.
“It seems like the Church of England has serious concerns about fuel poverty and it is a concern that we share. But there is no evidence that fracking will actually bring down bills.
“Contrary to what has been said about fracking, it is actually renewables that’s going to bring down bills and put power back into the hands of consumers and communities.
“I would say that the top (of the CofE) seems quite out of touch with the realities on the ground and what some of their own dioceses are coming out with.”
Luke Johnson, of Reclaim the Power, said: “The Church of England has massive money troubles and they are trying to deal with it the best way they can.
“It’s a shame that they have chosen to support fracking.”
The debate over the benefits for and against fracking comes as activists continue to arrive at the Reclaim the Power camp near Balcombe, about a mile from Cuadrilla’s drilling site.
Today workshops on fracking, climate change and fuel poverty were being held, and skills were being shared amid peaceful scenes.
Children played in a makeshift swimming pool as activists cooked for their fellow campaigners and erected toilets and running water supplies.
Tents, marquees and solar-powered equipment were being set up as a number of campaigners manned the gate to vet people coming on to the site.
A small number of police officers kept watch on the protesters from outside the gate of the land which is being used without the owner’s permission.
The Reclaim the Power camp was due to be held at West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire, where it led to a shutdown and 21 people being arrested last year.
But organisers switched this year’s camp to Balcombe, with No Dash for Gas saying it is attracting a coalition of climate, anti-austerity and fuel poverty activists.
On site, father of three Nigel Askew made himself a cup of tea from inside his 1967 green double-decker bus which was transformed from a 75-seat vehicle into a mobile home.
He said: “This is luxury. We’ve got everything on board, including growing lettuces, toilets and a kitchen. We used to feed the homeless on board here in Trafalgar Square for about two years.
“It’s completely eco-friendly.”
Elsewhere, outside the main entrance to Cuadrilla’s exploratory site, further police resources were deployed but the atmosphere remained calm, despite fears of clashes amid warnings of “direct action”.
People sat around outside their tents around makeshift fires chatting as flags and banners highlighting their opposition to fracking fluttered beneath grey skies.
Cuadrilla has temporarily suspended its operation during the six-day camp following advice from Sussex Police but it has vowed to restart as soon as it is safe.
It has emerged that almost £750,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent on the policing operation of the protests so far, with the bill set to rise as campaigners continue indefinitely.
The protests have drawn criticism from the UK Onshore Operators Group which said single issue pressure groups should not be allowed to “subvert the rule of law” and prevent Cuadrilla staff from carrying out their lawful work.
It said that the UK has benefited from an onshore oil and gas industry for over a century, with more than 2,000 wells drilled, many involving hydraulic fracturing.