Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Cracking fracking

Charlotte Johnson describes key developments in the UK anti-fracking struggle

August 1, 2014
4 min read

Anti-fracking protesters march on the Cuadrilla drilling site in Balcome, August 2013. Photo: Frack Off

Following protests at Balcombe last summer, anti-fracking activists are preparing to set up camp at another active drilling site this August. They’ll run educational workshops, build links between social movements and train for a national day of action against the unconventional gas and oil industry. The location for the 2014 Reclaim the Power camp had not yet been disclosed when Red Pepper went to press.

Secrecy is a tactic that the anti-fracking movement has wielded successfully. Last year’s Reclaim the Power camp was originally going to be held at West Burton, but at the last minute organisers moved it to Cuadrilla’s drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex. This allowed participants to join up with another event, the Great Gas Gala, called by the Frack Off network of local campaigning groups. More than a thousand people took part in the protests, which resulted in considerable delays to Cuadrilla’s drilling, increased security costs and a drop in national support for fracking.

Since Balcombe, resistance has grown, causing the industry and government to resort to more desperate tactics.

In the past year, the fight against fracking saw protest camps at Barton Moss near Manchester, Daneshill near Nottingham, Farndon in Cheshire and Crawberry Hill and West Newton in Chester. While these did not attract the same media attention as leafy Balcombe, they did feature ongoing direct action and likely contributed to the drop in public support for fracking. According to a University of Nottingham survey in May, less than half of people in the UK supported fracking, down from a high of 58.2 per cent in July 2013.

Several sites have been squatted before the industry has even had the chance to prepare them for drilling. So companies find themselves with costly and lengthy eviction processes before any work can begin.

As the resistance has ramped up, so has the police response. The Barton Moss camp in particular saw some of the most aggressive policing yet at any site of anti-fracking protests. Reports of police violence came in every day: from a pregnant women being violently thrown to the ground, to a legal observer having his eye socket broken and a man being thrown from his wheelchair, shattering his kneecap. The heavy-handed tactics of the Greater Manchester police was in stark contrast to the hands‑off approach that was taken at Balcombe.

There have also been changes in the ways the industry operates sites. Unlike the drilling at Balcombe, which lasted for several months, companies are now operating within a six to eight week window. This reduces the time in which camps can establish themselves and grow to the numbers seen at Balcombe.

Activists in turn have demonstrated their ability to adapt and change tactics. At Balcombe, where the local council approved Cuadrilla’s application to start flowback tests despite 899 objections, Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association is launching a legal challenge. Community members are also at work building alternatives through Repower Balcombe, a renewable energy co-operative aiming to meet the village’s energy needs.

In January, campaigners scored a victory when the village of Fernhurst, just up the road from Balcombe, with the help of Greenpeace’s Wrong Move campaign, surrounded a drilling site with a legal blockade. The blockade uses current trespass laws that require companies to obtain permission before drilling under a homeowner’s land. Celtique Energie, the drilling operator in the area, had to temporarily withdraw and consider lodging a legal challenge to the blockade, which would be costly and take years to resolve. If used successfully across the country, the tactic would make it almost impossible for the unconventional oil and gas industry to operate. Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan admits the law would have to be changed to enable large-scale fracking.

In the Queen’s Speech in June, the government proposed doing just that: changing the trespass law so that fracking companies can drill under a homeowner’s property without obtaining prior permission. A poll taken after the announcement revealed that 74 per cent of the public are against the proposal. It is currently at the consultation phase, and people have until 15 August to respond, or can write their MP to voice concerns.

With public support for the industry below 50 per cent, and anti-fracking becoming the fastest growing environmental movement in Britain, the pro-fracking lobby faces an uphill battle. Using a combination of legal challenges, opposition to planning applications and direct action, the movement can win.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

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

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase