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.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going