A number of small but significant victories for anti-fracking groups recently show the potential to push fracking back.
In the last month four councils in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire have voted against bosses’ plans to frack. And in Ireland last week, the left wing People Before Profit group passed a bill through the Irish parliament that bans fossil fuel exploration.
Notorious fracking company Ineos has suffered two big blows. Last month Rotherham council opposed its planning application to drill on the Harthill site in South Yorkshire.
And just 11 days later Derbyshire council opposed its planning application for the Marsh Lane site.
Councillors voted to reject the advice from their own planning officers to allow Ineos to do an exploratory frack.
Over 3,000 residents from Marsh Lane and nearby Eckington registered objections to the plans.
David Kevesten from Eckington Against Fracking (EAF) told Socialist Worker the vote was “very moving because we were expecting to lose”.
“All the experts, such as Friends of the Earth, said it was great we’d taken on this fight but we were going to lose,” he said.
The next phase of the campaign is a public inquiry—but Monday’s vote suggests the council will argue against Ineos.
David explained the campaign will “have to learn how to win a public inquiry”. “We’re going to have a demonstration and run a political campaign,” he said.
He knows that if EAF wins a public inquiry, the decision could be overturned by central government later on (see below).
But he believes that “protesters shining a light on the situation” coupled with the “government being in such a state” would make it harder for the Tories to intervene.
Fracking company Cuadrilla also suffered a blow last month.
Lancashire county council opposed its plans to frack at their Roseacre Wood site, on the basis of unsafe traffic proposals.
Chair of Roseacre Awareness Group Barbara Richardson said, “It is time Cuadrilla accepted defeat and stop trying to override the democratic decision.
“They seem to disregard the safety of our residents in their pursuit of profit. Enough is enough.”
And in a further blow against fracking, Cheshire West and Chester Council voted down proposals for company IGas to test for shale gas in Ellesmere Port.
Councillors voted to refuse the application—again siding with campaigners against the advice of planning officers. The votes seen in the last month are partly as a result by residents who have organised high profile campaigns.
There is widespread opposition to frackers’ plans. But with the Tories committed to extending fracking, more action is needed to take on the bosses.
Campaign against climate change conference. Central London, 10 March.
Could Third Energy be quitting Kirby Misperton site?
Fracking company Third Energy was spotted removing key equipment from its KM8 well in Kirby Misperton where it intends to frack.
Third Energy bosses were given permission to frack in 2016 and hoped to start before the end of last year.
They moved equipment there in September.
There has been a camp at the gates of KM8 and a determined campaign from local group Frack Free Ryedale.
But last Monday equipment was seen being driven out of the site for the KM8 well.
Campaigners say it was too expensive for bosses to keep equipment there when it wasn’t being used.
That’s on top of the wider issues Third Energy is already facing (see right).
Steve Parker is an environmental consultant and activist with Frack Free Scarborough.
He told Socialist Worker that the removal of equipment from the camp was “massively encouraging”.
“We’ve had a major impact on slowing equipment from getting into the site,” he said.
When Steve got involved in the fight he thought campaigners “could persuade the fracking companies that there would be more benefit to leaving fossil fuels in the ground.”
But now he thinks that gentle persuasion won’t work.
“The whole industry is political dogma backed up by private investors hoping to make money in the future,” said Steve.
Why are frackers troubled?
There are a number of problems facing the fracking industry. Anti-fracking campaigns have disrupted their operations.
Linked to this is opposition from councils. In the past the Tory government has even intervened on behalf of fracking companies against council votes.
In 2016 Sajid Javid, then minister for communities, overturned Lancashire county council’s rejection of a fracking site for Cuadrilla.
It’s not hard to guess why the council might be reluctant to give them the go-ahead.
The first site to have been fracked onshore was Preece Hall in Lancashire where fracking by Cuadrilla caused two earthquakes.
But political pressure isn’t the only reason why fracking companies might be reluctant to build expensive new rigs.
Oil prices have consistently dropped for years which has lessened some of the pressure to look for new ways to extract energy.
Now even the Tories are getting the jitters.
Third Energy is waiting for the green light from the government to begin fracking.
Tory business secretary Greg Clark said he wanted to further investigate the “financial resilience” of Third Energy before signing off on the final plans.