After Balcombe: Where next for the anti-fracking movement?

Charlotte Wilson looks to the future of the fight against the frackers

September 26, 2013
5 min read

As the last remaining days of Cuadrilla’s current planning permission at Balcombe tick by, the question of where next for the anti-fracking movement is on many people’s minds (assuming that Cuadrilla do not continue working past the end of their permission – as they did in Lancashire). After all, there is no point camping outside a site where work may not restart again for several months and there are many other pressing threats across the country.

The perhaps surprising possible answer to the ‘where next’ question is Salford, where another fracking company, IGas Energy, has just announced imminent plans to start drilling on farmland at Barton Moss.

IGas’s predecessor, Nexen, gained the planning permission to explore for coal bed methane about three years ago, but IGas now intends to drill a much deeper well. This will pass through the coal, at a depth of about 4,500 feet, and continue down through the Bowland Shale to a total depth of about 10,000 feet. This is intended to allow IGas to test for both shale gas and coal bed methane with one well.

With IGas estimating that there could be 102 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas within their licence blocks in the North West, the threat is far from small. Assuming an ambitious 10 percent recovery factor, this would require around 10,000 wells to be drilled and fracked. Even with a more realistic 4 percent recovery factor that would still translate into around 4,000 wells. This is on top of the coal bed methane that they have already been targeting, which would require around 3,600 wells to extract the amount of gas they claim could be recovered. These wells would come with the associated pipelines, water contamination, air pollution, health impacts and accelerated climate change.

Coincidentally the drilling rig that is presently being used by Cuadrilla to drill the Balcombe well was bought by its owners, Meehan Drilling, to service their drilling contract with IGas. It therefore seems quite possible that once the rig has finished drilling the Balcombe well, they will be trying to move it up to Barton Moss to begin drilling the well there. There are a few other drilling rigs in the country that IGas could potentially use, but the Meehan rig presently in Balcombe is by far the most likely.

How effective?

Another valid question to ask is how effective the blockade of the Balcombe site has been. After all, Cuadrilla have largely been able to continue to drill thanks to large amounts of police repression. Obviously there have been secondary effects such as increased negative publicity, but this has been an annoyance for them rather than a major headache. One look at similar blockades in Australia, or the roads protests in the 1990s, shows that Balcombe should be judged as the beginning of a marathon not a sprint. The really important question is which side can sustain their effort in the long term.

A variety of estimates have been made of the policing costs associated with the blockade, but it seems that they are already over £2.5 million and could well top £4 million by the time all is said and done. Cuadrilla’s security costs are unknown but must be substantial, given that they have had guards at the site 24 hours a day since before the drilling began and installed large amounts of high security fencing. In comparison, if Balcombe was a tight oil production well it might be expected to produce around £8.5 million worth of oil, and the cost of drilling the well alone would be several million.

This is a clear example of how extreme energy is affecting our energy systems. Long gone are the days of extracting lots of fossil fuels for very little effort. Now most new sources take huge amounts of effort to extract and provide very marginal returns. This means that there is very little slack in the system for extra costs and even relatively small amounts of disruption to the extraction process can potentially make these projects unviable. Providing the levels of policing and security seen at Balcombe for every unconventional well drilled does not seem remotely feasible.

In the longer term the answer to the ‘where next’ question is ‘everywhere’. Across the country community groups are mobilising to fight the fracking threat. In the last two years the movement has grown from one community group to over 50. This is the real strength of the movement and the Achilles’ heel of the fracking companies. Since each well produces only a small amount of hydrocarbons, coating the vast areas of the countryside with thousands of wells is the only option to produce even moderate amounts. Each one of these wells would be near a community, which will be motivated to resist. Thousands of active and organised communities are what can halt fracking in its tracks.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.


43