The battle over fracking in Britain shifted a gear on Thursday of last week. Fracking company Third Energy claimed to be ready to frack at any moment in Ryedale, North Yorkshire.
Bosses said they could begin the first of several planned fracks at the “KM8” well near the village of Kirby Misperton “on or after” Thursday.
Initially exploratory fracking will test if shale gas is even there. It could lead to the first gas production through fracking to take place in Britain for six years.
Cuadrilla is also carrying out exploratory fracking in Preston New Road, Lancashire, though protests and direct action have pushed it months behind schedule.
Fracking is dangerous and environmentally destructive, and persistent protests have helped stop it rolling out in Britain.
Ryedale is no exception. For more than two years there have been meetings, petitions and protests against Third Energy’s plans.
Protesters rallied at the isolated KM8 site on Thursday in a show of determination to keep up the fight.
Frack Free Ryedale activist Di Keal told Socialist Worker, “We’ve got a huge turnout of people here today but we need people every single day. We need to keep making our voices heard.”
Direct action has slowed construction of the rig, meaning Third Energy has only been able to proceed thanks to state intervention. Police spent £100,000 dealing with protesters in September—not counting the wages of officers involved.
Before Thursday’s protest around 50 campaigners rallied outside York Magistrates Court where several people were appearing on charges related to the protests.
Defendants said they were uplifted to be greeted by a lively protest they could hear from around the corner. Court officials sent police outside to ask the protesters to quieten down.
Ann from Frack Free Scarborough, said, “It’s not protesters that should be in the dock—it’s Third Energy.”
Court hearings have been an opportunity to show the wider support behind the protesters encamped at Kirby Misperton. Trade unionists brought solidarity messages.
Steven Byford, York area Unite rep and trades council executive member, said, “Protest and solidarity are important in getting the message across to both our supporters and our opponents in government and corporations.
“It is important it is recognised that there is mass opposition.”
A trade union solidarity demonstration is planned in Kirby Misperton on Saturday 4 November.
Activists from anti-fracking campaigns across Britain are set to meet in Leeds on Saturday of this week to discuss future actions.
The fight against fracking cannot be won well by well or village by village, but for now protesters in Kirby Misperton are in the front line and need all the support they can get.
Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, which means using high pressure to blast gas or oil out of rocks that conventional drilling won’t reach.
It started as a method of squeezing a few extra drops from wells that had run dry—by dropping a probe packed with dynamite down the shaft.
Its moment came with the development of machines that could drill horizontally, and the depletion of easier-to-reach oil wells.
Fracking today means blasting water, along with chemicals and abrasive sand, deep under the ground into shale rock formations.
It creates staggering amounts of contaminated waste water.
And the potential for leaks that affect the local environment and water supply is huge. Companies downplay this by emphasising the casings they put on wells.
But these thin tubes going several miles underground are subject to enormous pressure. Fracking can even sometimes cause earthquakes. These can crack the tubes and cause leaks.
The returns for a single well are limited, and extended production would mean building arrays of them, increasing the damage and the risk.
Supporters of fracking say shale gas is a relatively low-carbon fuel compared to others such as coal.
But this doesn’t take account of the greenhouse effect of methane it produces. And fracking doesn’t stop consumption of other fossil fuels, it just adds to the total—driving climate change faster.
The other recurring claim is that fracking creates jobs.
But the truth is it’s not many. There can be as few as fifteen workers at KM8 on a given day.
Of course there are also contractors and suppliers. But their services—mainly used in the construction phase—would be just as vital in building solar panels or wind farms.
Fracking is a capital-intensive industry, not a labour-intensive one. Far more jobs could be produced spending that money on almost anything else.
Villagers in Kirby Misperton complained about a very strong egg smell on Tuesday of last week
Claire Head told the Drill or Drop website she and her family suffered “burning throat, nausea and headache”.
When she contacted Third Energy, Head says she was told to shut the windows for a few hours while they cleaned their water tanks.
She was later told there had been a spike in the levels of hydrogen sulphide—a chemical that can trigger such symptoms.
Third Energy says there was no safety breach. But this isn’t the first gas incident at the site, where drilling takes place less than half a mile from people’s homes.
Around 100 people in the village of Woodsetts, south Yorkshire, protested on Wednesday with tape over their mouths.
Ineos, the company that wants to frack nearby, is seeking a nationwide injunction on protests at its fracking site.
England and Wales are more densely populated than the US, and firms have to contend with far more local residents to get their way.
So the support of the government is essential. Tory minister Sajid Javid even overturned Lancashire County Council’s decision to deny Cuadrilla planning permission.
Fracking is a big political issue. The Scottish government has promised to make permanent its temporary ban on fracking.
As well as showing solidarity with communities facing down the frackers, socialists must campaign to extend the campaign to the whole of Britain.
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