Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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.
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.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya