From full article in the Socialist Voice, No 34, published soon.
Since Cuadrilla Resources started drilling for shale gas at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire in October this year there have been 37 minor earth quakes reported [i]. There has been widespread opposition from local people, as in many other parts of the country, because their democratic rights have been overturned by the Tory government.
Four people were arrested (with one released) at the Cuadrilla site, and nationally 300 protestors have been arrested at fracking sites in Lancashire, Surrey, Yorkshire, West Sussex and Nottinghamshire. The fight is on.
In 2015 the opposition to fracking made the Lancashire county council refuse permission for Cuadrilla. But changes to planning rules made by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government meant Cuadrilla made a successful appeal. In 2016, Sajid Javid, then Communities Minister, overturned the council’s decision. This July, the government gave final consent for Cuadrilla to begin.[ii]
Even with planning changes, Ineos, Cuadrilla and Third Energy having been thwarted by local councils. In the first three months of the 2018, seven of eight shale drilling plans were rejected by councils. In response the Tory government is changing the law so that planning permission is not required.
Fracking could become widespread in many parts of the UK, principally in England. Dart Energy (now owned by IGas) are attempting to drill Coal Bed Methane (CBM) exploration wells in Cheshire. IGas are also developing a new site at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire having drilled an exploratory site at Barton Moss, near Manchester, a year ago.
An additional threat in the north-west region comes from IGas plans for seismic surveys to gather 100 square kilometres of 3D data near Glazebury, Warrington, and Aurora Energy Resources intends to conduct a survey to acquire 51 square kilometres of data between Formby and Ormskirk.
The benefits of fracking are so poor that Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Germany have rejected it as a method for producing energy. Energy bills will not be reduced and there is a danger of pollution, leading to many health problems. A fully developed UK fracking industry would industrialise rural and city areas on a scale that few yet appreciate.
The hatred of fracking is so widespread that Tory MP Zac Goldsmith has warned ministers that their plans to fast-track it risk turning whole regions of the country against the Tories.
Rank and file trade unionists should join the social struggles in opposition to fracking. We need investment in renewable and green energies for jobs and the environment. Labour councils should put their money where their mouth is and oppose the Tory government’s fracking agenda.
Anti-frackers released from jail
On Wednesday 26 September 2018 Simon Roscoe Blevins, Richard Roberts, and Richard Loizou (hereafter referred to as The Anti-Fracking Three) were sentenced to prison terms of between 15 – 16 months at Preston Crown Court. Their ‘crime’? Opposing the controversial process of Hydraulic Fracking, or ‘fracking’ as it is more commonly known, through peaceful direct action, at the Preston New Road site near Blackpool, Lancashire. On Tuesday 27th July 2017, 8 lorries associated with the Caudrilla Resources oil and gas exploration company, carrying various forms of fracking equipment, sought to enter the New Preston Road site and were blocked by a mass gathering of people. When the lorries came to a stop, The Anti-Fracking Three climbed atop 3 of the lorries and remained there for times varying between 45 and 84 hours. Convicted of ‘causing a public nuisance’, The Anti-Fracking Three are the first people to be sent to prison in the UK for anti-fracking protest action, and, they are understood to be the first environmental activists jailed directly pertaining to the course of an act of protest since 1932 (although it should be noted that other environmental activists have received prison sentences for taking a political stand, not to pay fines for example). On Wednesday 17th October The Anti-Fracking Three were freed during their appeal process where the judge deemed their original sentences ‘manifestly excessive’ (Gayle et al., 2018).
Since the imprisonment of the Anti-Fracking Three, it was revealed, late in October 2018, by journalists for the Mirror Online that the presiding Judge over the case, Robert Altham had links to the oil and gas industry. Smith (2018: np) argues that ‘J.C. Altham and Sons is believed to be part of the supply chain for energy giant Centrica, which has invested tens of millions of pounds in fracking’. This once again calls into question the mutually reinforcing relationship between the State and the Corporation in the pursuit of capital gains.[iii]
What is Fracking?
Fracking is an extreme form of fossil fuel exploitation, targeting much less permeable rock formations than previous conventional oil and gas extraction. The term fracking refers to how the rock is fractured apart by the high-pressure mixture. It is characterised by the drilling of dense patterns of, usually horizontal, wells (up to 8 per square mile or more) as well as other more intense extraction processes such are hydraulic fracturing and de-watering. Different rock formations can be targeted, such as shale (Shale Gas & Oil) and coal (Coal Bed Methane), but the negative impacts on the environment and society are very similar.
A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is then pumped into the ground at extremely high pressures creating ‘fractures’ to release oil and gas. As well as earth tremor concerns, environmentalists say potentially carcinogenic chemicals may escape during drilling and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site.
Contamination of water sources has been explained in documentary Gasland (2010), and its sequel Gasland II (2013). They have shown footage of persons who live near fracking sites in the US as able to light their running tap water with a single match, due the entry of methane into the water supply – argued to be a direct result of the Fracking process. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that there is the risk of ‘spills or leaks’ at every stage of the fracking process including ‘during the transport, mixing and storage of the water and flowback’.
[i] As at 11 November, this year.