The Tories gave a huge boost to the Earth-wrecking fracking industry last week when they approved extraction to begin in Lancashire.
Shale gas firm Cuadrilla has been itching to start using its horizontal drill at the Preston New Road (PNR) site since it was given preliminary approval in October 2016.
But the company has been met with legal challenges and relentless campaigns from environmental activists, trade unionists and residents.
Katrina Lawrie has been at the “protection camp” set up at the PNR gates for 15 months. She told Socialist Worker the news is “really disappointing, but not a surprise”.
No fracking permits have been granted for seven years, since drilling triggered two minor earthquakes near Southport.
It’s been banned or suspended in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but in England the Tories are lining up with the fracking bosses to drive it through.
Fracking works by injecting high pressured water and chemicals into rock formations, which releases trapped oil or gas in the rock.
Lancashire has been targeted in particular because of the Bowland Shale—a rock formation deep underground that provides potential sources of shale gas.
The frackers don’t just have their sights on PNR. Two exploratory shale gas applications, at Mission in South Yorkshire and Tinker Lane in Nottinghamshire, have been approved.
One of the requirements before the PNR frack begins is that backer Spirit Energy proves its finances to the government. Spirit Energy is a joint venture between the Centrica energy company and Norweigan firm Bayerngas Norge. It will need to submit financial accounts for the last year or depot £557,000.
Even the Tories, who are devoted to privatisation and outsourcing, are worried private companies won’t decommission wells properly if they run out of money.
Fracking is expected to begin around the end of August and the frack should last four or five months. Cuadrilla already built a second and are set to apply for permission to use that one too.
Following last week’s announcement, energy minister Claire Perry said the frack would “maintain robust environmental standards and meet the expectations of local communities”.
But local communities are overwhelmingly opposed to fracking. And they have been organising against fracking bosses’ plans that are set to wreak havoc in their neighbourhoods.
Katrina said that the camp had the support of local residents, who help organise meals and washing for those staying at the camp on a longer-term basis.
“We’re part of a local community and we’re integrated, so it means we can stand together”, she said.
This public opposition contributed to Lancashire County Council’s decision in 2015 to reject Cuadrilla’s plans at PNR.
The Tories are so desperate to start large-scale operations that then-communities minister Sajid Javid overturned the local decision in 2016.
The threat fracking poses is huge, on both a global and localised scale.
Fracking is not the “natural gas” the energy fatcats like to pretend—it is fossil fuel, the same as conventional oil and gas.
Fossil fuels being used and burnt on a huge industrial scale is one of the main contributors to climate change, and will lead to environmental crisis.
Climate change doesn’t just mean a slightly warmer planet, but one more prone to extreme weather events such as tsunamis, hurricanes, or the heatwave currently sweeping much of the globe.
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University said, “The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle.
“We are seeing them play out in real time in the form of unprecedented heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires. And we’ve seen them all this summer.”
And Martin Empson from the Campaign Against Climate Change blasted the Tory government for its decision.
He said it was a “terrifying example of their commitment to fossil fuel capitalism”.
“There are only two definite consequences of fracking—
profits for the fossil fuel corporations, and more carbon dioxide spewing into the atmosphere,” he said.
Renewable energy—technology that harnesses the power of the sun, wind and tidal currents—offers a much more planet-friendly alternative.
But, the sector has been hit by Tories’ slashing of financial incentives for renewable energy installations.
Solar panels, wind farms and tidal lagoons should be properly funded, and viewed as a genuine option for a sustainable energy future.
The Tories have bulldozed through Cuadrilla’s destructive plans, despite advice from the National Infrastructure Commission.
Its report earlier this month said “the UK cannot achieve its emissions targets while relying on natural gas” and implored ministers to use a “golden opportunity” and start using green energy.
As well as the prospect of large-scale environmental destruction, Lancashire residents are looking at a complete transformation of their rural communities.
They face vastly increased noise and air pollution, the threat of contaminated water (see below) and the increased possibility of earthquakes.
Fracking won’t even be an efficient way to create energy. The Cardiff Business School produced a study that said England would need to build 6,100 wells to replace 50 percent of gas imports.
That would take more than 1,000 separate well pads for drilling equipment—each covering 3.5 hectares of land.
Drastic action is needed on a global scale to lessen the effects of climate change that are happening right now, not in the future.
Under the Paris Agreement from 2015, Britain committed to reducing its carbon emission by 80 percent by 2050.
But instead of working toward developing technologies that will decrease fossil fuel consumption, the Tories are forcing through laws that mean Britain will be more dependent on it.
Katrina says a “multi-pronged attack” is needed. “We’re organising a demonstration in London, and rallies in other cities,” she said. “It needs to be widened out. We’re pressuring the government, and speaking to local communities to see what the threat is.
“Although we’re disappointed, it’s not the end—it’s beginning of the next chapter.”
Injunctions and cops threaten protesters
In June, Cuadrilla extended a legal injunction in an attempt to ban protest at the Preston New Road (PNR) site.
The ruling specifically bans techniques used by activists, like walking slowly in front of trucks or “surfing” vehicles to disrupt activity at the site.
Another method is “lock-ons”, and six activists were locked together for seven hours last Tuesday, the day of the Tories’ Cuadrilla announcement.
They were arrested and charged with obstruction of a highway, obstruction of a police officer and breaking the trade union act.
Katrina is one of the activists facing £5,000 in fines or six months behind bars.
She told Socialist Worker, “It curtails our ability to protest legally, and it has impacts on lots of other parts of society.”
At least five other fracking firms have sought similar methods to allow operations to continue uninterrupted.
Ineos—controlled by Jim Ratcliffe, whose £21 billion hoard makes him Britain’s richest man—took out a sweeping injunction last year.
The fracking giant gave the court more than 3,000 pages of evidence, much of which was based on activists’ comments on social media—not direct action.
Ray Fellows, Ineos security consultant, said the firm was “becoming increasingly concerned at the risks posed by militant activists”.
And the police have even been egging on the fracking companies to pursue legal measures.
Fellows told the court, “The strongest advice coming from the police to prevent the unlawful activity was the use of injunctions through the civil courts.”
Kevin Blowe from campaign group Netpol argues that police and fracking bosses “appear to share the extremely narrow view that protest is only peaceful if it registers symbolic opposition but causes zero disruption”.
Katrina remains unbowed at the threats, and said the injunction “impacts on the working class more than anyone else”.
“We’ve always had to fight to gain our rights, and now we’re fighting to continue them,” she said.
There is no shortage of water for the frackers
Parts of England face water shortages and a hosepipe ban. At the same time, the Tories have given the go-ahead to an industry that fuels the climate crisis and requires millions of litres of water to power it.
Fracking relies on a highly-powered stream of water pumped thousands of feet below the ground.
Cuadrilla claims only 34,000 litres of water will be needed for the first fracking attempt at PNR.
But, it’s a hugely water-intensive method where the easiest-to-extract shale is mined first, and the harder-to-reach sources are targeted later.
So the process increases in intensity, but it will also require more water.
This trend can be seen in countries where fracking happens on an industrial scale.
Between 2000 and 2014 the average water used to drill a US horizontal shale well increased from 177,000 gallons to 5.1 million gallons per well.
The US Geological Survey study in 2015 said that fracking “uses more than 28 times the water it did 15 years ago, gulping up to 9.6 million gallons of water per well”.
And the report noted that this was “putting farming and drinking sources at risk in arid states, especially during drought”.
Once the initial frack is completed at PNR, Caudrilla is likely to build longer wells that require more water to function.
Fracking poses not just a threat to water shortages, but the water supply of surrounding areas.
The drinking water of Pavilion in Wyoming was found to be contaminated by a nearby fracking site.
Chemicals used in the fracking process seeped into the groundwater that flowed into the town’s wells.
Just one of these was methanol—a substance that can trigger permanent nerve damage and blindness.