The frontlines in the fight against fracking have moved to just outside the village of Little Plumpton, near Blackpool.
One lane of Preston New Road has been closed off for fracking firm Cuadrilla to bring in equipment for a shale gas well. On the opposite verge, protesters from the surrounding towns and villages are taking a stand against the damage to the environment.
Miranda Cox told Socialist Worker, “The Tories say this is about energy security for us, but it’s about financial security for their friends.” Julie Daniels added, “We don’t need more gas—we already have more than we can burn if we’re going stick to the targets on climate change.”
The police and the company have enshrined protesters’ right to disrupt construction by walking in front of trucks. The declaration hangs, laminated, on the site fence.
This climbdown is partly because, unlike the US, shale gas deposits in Britain are generally in populated areas or on agriculture land. Preston New Road is a major transport artery and the authorities are terrified of closing it completely.
Getting big construction vehicles in is a challenge—and protesters are collecting evidence that Cuadrilla is violating its planning permission to do it. But the other site Cuadrilla wanted to frack would probably have meant building a new road across farmland.
It also testifies to the breadth and depth of local opposition. Protester Ian Roberts said, “Instead of spending my retirement with the allotment and the grandkids I’ve ended up spending it like this, because this is a crucial point in history.”
Noreen Lawrence was elected as an anti-fracking parish councillor in nearby Freckleton. “We had a meeting in the village hall and more people came along than there was room for,” she said.
Bosses and politicians have tried to paint shale gas as a way of bringing jobs to a depressed region. But Ian said, “The people I was talking to at renewable energy companies 18 months ago are out of a job now because their subsidies were cut and their planning applications turned down.
“The Campaign against Climate Change trade union group has produced a report for a million climate jobs—that’s the future, not fracking.”
The Tories say this is about energy security for us, but it’s about financial security for their friends
Where councils have voted against fracking, the Tories have overturned them.
“We can’t stop it democratically now, that’s been taken out of our hands. The only way is to cripple the industry,” said Noreen.
Localised opposition has frustrated the fracking firms, but the government policy behind them won’t be beaten well by well.
Julie said, “That’s how they get this through, putting each decision into a box on its own. They narrowed the decision here to be about exploratory drilling at one well—not about when thousands of wells are in production.”
Audrey Glover, president of Lancaster NUT teachers’ union, said “We’re not going to stop fracking on our own, we need to get together.”
Miranda agreed. “We need more than just local anti-fracking groups supporting each other, like the demonstration a few months ago when thousands of people marched in Manchester,” she said.
Anti-frackers gained a surprise win last week when North Lincolnshire County Council refused planning permission for a form of fracking that uses acid to eat into sandstone.
Councillors voted against the advice of their own planning officers and were particularly critical of the Environment Agency whom they said they did not trust to monitor and regulate the site.
Among the speeches was a statement from Martin Foster, Unite union convenor at British Steel’s Scunthorpe site.
Foster was particularly worried by the use of hydrofluoric acid, which is so hazardous the steelworks stopped using it. “If this is pumped into the ground, it will eventually find its way into the aquifers and eventually into the steelworks’ water supply,’ he said.
Protestors enjoyed a brief day of celebration before steeling themselves to further build the campaign if the government overturns the decision.
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