Image: Protests at Preston New Road fracking site this summer, Reclaim the Power.
This summer in Lancashire a vibrant grassroots resistance movement has been fighting back against a crazed dash for shale gas. Anti-fracking protectors now form the largest direct action based UK movement since the anti-roads resistance of the 1990s.
Additional support is now needed to sustain and grow the struggle at Preston New Road into Autumn. Maple Farm and New Hope Community camps welcome those who want to join the #OngoingResistance.
In January, six years after two tremors caused by fracking at nearby Preese Hall, Cuadrilla started construction on a super-sized fracking pad at Preston New Road alongside the A583. The plan is for a four well frack site, drilling to a depth of 3.5km, then outwards 3km horizontally with multiple sidetracks. It threatens to initiate a trail of destruction across England’s rural heartlands.
Despite approval from Westminster, Cuadrilla have never had a social license to frack at the site. This summer Reclaim the Power set up camp at Maple Farm and coordinated a month of daily direct actions to support the local struggle. Our promise of ‘fierce opposition’ during the Rolling Resistance has been fulfilled. Disobedient protestors have delayed the construction by four months so far.
Losing the battle at Preston New Road would ripple outwards across the Fylde, with many wells drilled back-to-back, just kilometres apart. Pipelines and compressor stations would complete a very dystopian picture.
We felt that we were left with no choice but to take direct action. We need to confront Cuadrilla and multinationals like INEOS wherever they attempt to drill and at all points in their supply chain. Why?
1. No-one wants to live in an industrialised gasfield
If operations scale-up at Little Plumpton on Preston New Road, there will be increased traffic, noise, gas flaring, air pollution and eventual contamination of the water and soil. Fracking displaces radionuclides and heavy metals as well as the desired methane/ethane that is locked in the substrata. The produced water is even worse than the toxic brew that’s initially pumped into the ground and is virtually untreatable. Cuadrilla have not disclosed a plan for what they will do with this waste water.
The industry boast that the Fylde will become like Texas, yet what unfolded there was a catastrophe, as Josh Fox documented in the film Gasland 2. There is scientific consensus that earthquakes can be caused by induced seismicity following re-injection of waste water and there’s growing concern about the threat of using old fracking wells and boreholes as nuclear waste dumping places, a practice that was inflicted on First Nations people in the USA. After amending the planning permission recently, the process will now include acidisation to prepare wells once drilled. This will only increase the pollution that unconventional hydrocarbon extraction guarantees.
The UK should instead be a world leader in renewables. We have a huge capacity for wind and tidal energy and fracking for gas is known to be worse than coal in carbon terms.
2. Theft of agricultural land by the energy industry fuels land inequality
The UK is now second only to Brazil in land inequality terms, with 60% of the land owned by just 0.6% of the population. The roots go deep - between 1604 and 1914, over 5,000 Land Enclosure Acts were passed in the UK, reducing common land and increasing land poverty, where the elite own and control most land use. The Infrastructure Act 2015 must be seen in this historic context. The 2015 act changed land rights, allows fracking without consent at depths of over 300m and states that the economic recovery of the countries onshore petroleum reserves would be maximised. Farmers are now waking up to the fact that they only own the land at the surface which can be farmed. What lies beneath has been sold on to the shale energy industry. We demand land justice, yet we won’t get that with fracking.
On Friday 21st of July, farmers, permaculturists and agroecologists assembled to shut-down the Little Plumpton site with a clear message that food should not be grown on contaminated land. Alan Schofield, who runs a successful local organic food business spoke for many when he said: “I want my granddaughter to grow up in a world at least as beautiful as the one I grew up in”.
The Community Food Growers Network sent a message of support stating that “fracking is incompatible with our vision of a low impact, just society" made from "self-reliant, empowered communities”. Remarkably the cows in the fields surrounding the fracking site are still being milked and activists are now attempting to determine where it’s entering the market.
3. The vicious circle of climate change
Destroying countryside to get at remaining oil and gas reserves is a false prospect. Removing forests which act as carbon sinks reduces the earth’s capacity to counteract the effects of human-driven climate change. A warming planet pushes species outside their ecological ranges and drives extinction to the point that people now talk of ‘the sixth extinction’ being upon us, driven by greed for resources. The UK is one of the most ecologically degraded countries in Europe and should be aiming to protect and expand its remaining biodiversity.
4. Climate Injustice is an issue that we should all prioritise
Greenhouse gases that are emitted in the UK have disproportionate effects on communities who live in the Global South, whose rural and coastal lives are more affected by climate chaos. This climate injustice intensifies damage inflicted by extractive industries, who plunder fossil fuels, metals, minerals and other commodities from these same communities.
Barrister Polly Higgins talks of making ecocide a crime against peace, to rank alongside crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and crimes of aggression. These universal laws supersede all others. Ecocide is a crime against future generations. By putting a price on hydrocarbon reserves, we have prioritised their extraction over the survival of our species. If ecocide was a crime, then fracking would not be a viable proposition.
5. Fracking is just one component in a toxic, broken system.
Supporters of the technology of hydraulic fracturing claim that it can be regulated safely. But the unconventional energy industry has corrupted the planning process. Over 90% of respondents opposed planning permission for Preston New Road. Fylde residents said ‘No’, and so did Fylde Borough Council and Lancashire County Council (twice). But central government overturned the decision and instead the companies have been promised subsidies and tax perks to drill. Policing has also been contentious, with the right to protest threatened. All this suggests that the extreme energy industry has significant influence at Westminster.
6. Protecting the planet for the next seven generations
Climate change has accelerated the need to move outside our comfort zones and confront the fossil fuel industry wherever it threatens us. I took action to help ensure that the world that my 3 nieces and nephew will inherit will be free of fracking, but we need to look further and consider how our decisions will affect those in seven generations. This principle is taught by Native Americans, who live in harmony with the world around them. Indigenous resistance at Standing Rock, North Dakota was a huge inspiration to Reclaim the Power.
Protectors have built real counter-power on the frontlines since Cuadrilla began drilling in 2010. What happens next is up to us. Together we can rise up and defeat the fracking industry!