It's official. It's big. It's very exciting. Reclaim the Power, the kick-ass action camp that was to be held at West Burton power station from 16-21 August (ie next week!) is moving to Balcombe, the sleepy Sussex village currently finding itself at the centre of an anti-fracking shit-storm.
Cuadrilla, a Midlands-based fracking company targeted last week by Reclaim the Power activists, are currently muscling in their lorries, laden with drilling equipment, against the will of 85 per cent of the local community in order to begin 'exploratory drilling' for shale oil. If they find it, or shale gas, they will almost certainly start fracking. Local people, and many many more nationwide, are rightly seriously concerned about fracking, which could bring water contamination, earth tremors, and industrialisation to the picturesque rural area.
The decision was made on Sunday after much (much!) discussion, in response to calls for support from the community in Balcombe opposing fracking. I was in Balcombe myself on Saturday; the atmosphere was positive and fun, but people are getting desperate. Drilling has already started after the police helped Cuadrilla force their equipment in, to the dismay of locals. Every person I asked whether they wanted us to move the camp there had said 'YES!!' before I'd even finished my sentence. It won't be easy making such a huge change at such a late stage; we have many challenges to face in the next week, but I know that it's possible. The people involved in organising the camp are nothing short of super-heroes.
A challenge will be to keep fracking framed in the wider picture and avoid getting mired in a single-issue debate. Fracking is currently the most visible part of the 'dash for gas', the plans of the government and the 'big six' energy firms to build of up to 40 new gas-fired power stations to power the country over the next 30 years. Many power stations are reaching the end of their life and decisions are being made now about how to keep the lights on over the coming decades.
This fossil fuel fantasy - if allowed to play out - will crash our legally binding climate targets, push even more people into fuel poverty and keep our energy system dangerously in the hands of a few unaccountable, sociopathic corporations hell-bent on profit at all costs.
These gas-fired power stations will be pumped full of freshly fracked gas from our devastated countryside, leaving a trail of broken communities behind. But not for a while. The fracking industry is still at an exploratory stage at the moment, though inching ever closer to production as each day passes, as Osborne dishes out 50 per cent tax breaks and gushes maladroit rhetoric about shale gas bringing lower bills and job creation. Even the frackers themselves admit the notion of shale gas lowering bills is 'bullshit'. Their words. Honestly.
No, fracking isn't ready just yet. In the years it would take the industry to move to production (which will inevitably be lengthened by fierce resistance by NIMBYs and NOMPS everywhere it attempts to spread) we'll still be importing increasingly expensive gas from abroad - such as Egypt, the North Sea and elsewhere. And with business as usual the big energy companies will pass on the rising prices to customers, forcing more people to choose between heating or eating or resign themselves to go without either, while they rake in record profits.
Disenfranchisement and resistance
The situation in Balcombe demonstrates the bullying, undemocratic nature of the current fossil-fuel based energy system. With no social license whatever, the government and police are helping a corporation force themselves in against the a powerless community's wishes. Though the Tories have recently granted local communities a say in whether wind farms - clean energy production with infinitely less associated destruction - can be constructed in their area, those who oppose damaging local fossil fuel extraction are left disenfranchised and disempowered.
There is a better way. A democratically controlled, clean energy system is possible right now. Recent research has shown that the obstacles to achieving this are political, not technical.
We can stop this. We can reclaim our power. Local communities and wider society can be empowered and victorious in the fight against fracking and the dash for gas. We only need to come together in solidarity for action; small actions, mass action, superbad kick-ass awesome action that will stop fracking in its tracks and derail the undemocratic, corporate-controlled fossil fuel addiction.
Moving Reclaim the Power to Balcombe will bring mass action to the hotbed of resistance and make the camp accessible to hundreds more than West Burton was (though EDF are far from off the hook). The UK is currently having a serious debate about fossil fuels and climate change, for the first time in years. We can shape the debate. We can boot Cuadrilla out of Balcombe, boot fracking out of the UK and give the dash for gas the boot altogether. Join us.
For up to date info about the camp and the move to Balcombe, visit www.reclaimthepower.org.uk