Introducing Frack Free Lancashire
Since January 2017, oil and gas company, Cuadrilla, have been working to prepare their site at Preston New Road in Lancashire for exploratory hydraulic fracturing (fracking). One of the earliest and most symbolic works they carried out – to my memory – was to remove the hedgerow, exposing the land they were about to desecrate.
Hundreds of HGVs have since rumbled down the Fylde’s Preston New Road, filled with industrial equipment, pipes, and tons of aggregate and lime to try and stabilise the sodden land beneath this emerging horror.
Fracking has been vociferously opposed in Lancashire for over six years. Campaigners from REAF and RAFF raised public awareness and lobbied in parliament, following the earthquake Cuadrilla caused when they drilled back in 2011. The company failed to report the damage they caused to the well for six months, and were heavily criticised by the then Energy Minister, Charles Hendry. He stated that this failure to report the well damage showed “weaknesses in Cuadrilla’s performance as a licensee”.
Cuadrilla are behind schedule by months. Direct action taken by peaceful protestors has helped to slow down any site progress. Legal challenges have also been ongoing by the community group, Preston New Road Action Group. The constant watchful eye and livestreaming by roadside campaigners has been invaluable in witnessing and understanding what is happening on the ground at Preston New Road.
Following Lancashire County Council’s 2015 democratic refusal of planning permission for Cuadrilla’s exploratory works at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood on the Fylde, Cuadrilla then appealed to the Secretary of State. A six-week appeal case was then held in Blackpool, where critical evidence was presented from both community groups, their legal teams, Friends of the Earth and other speakers, including from Cuadrilla’s scant support.
Sadly, in October 2016, new Secretary of State, Sajid Javid MP, announced his decision to grant Cuadrilla planning permission at Preston New Road and was “minded to grant permission” at Roseacre Wood, pending further traffic mitigation plans. Javid’s overruling of Lancashire County Council’s democratic refusal was a highly disappointing outcome, and moreover, a blow to local democracy which was effectively neutered.
A further judicial challenge from Preston New Road Action Group was not upheld in Manchester earlier this year and this week, sees the campaign group return to the Court of Appeal in London to further challenge what they believe, is an unlawful decision made by Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, in allowing the overturning of Lancashire County Council’s original decision.
Since January 2017, Frack Free Lancashire, other individuals and groups have had a presence outside the gates of Preston New Road, increasing to a 24-hour watch several months ago. There is also a camp at the gates of the site, where campaigners have tirelessly monitored incoming traffic and witnessed some horrific policing and security aggression. Lancashire police are being used as Cuadrilla’s security force, facilitating HGV convoys daily.
The campaign is a multi-faceted one, with so many people involved on a variety of levels: from being at the gates taking direct action, to cooking for the camps, to lobbying MPs, photographing actions and equipment, leafleting, reporting the campaign on social and mainstream media, awareness-raising, making cups of tea for camp visitors… the list is endless. There is always something to do to support the anti-fracking movement.
There are several protection camps set up on and around Preston New Road, with campaigners dedicated to defending the water and land in Lancashire and beyond. And rightly so. The fracking industry historically brings with it a multitude of problems that cannot be mitigated. For instance, groundwater contamination is regularly reported where shale gas extraction has taken place; airborne pollution is rife, with peer-reviewed studies citing correlations between fracking and increased risks of heart and neurological diseases, cancers and adverse birth outcomes.
Over the last eight months, Cuadrilla have clocked up a long list of breaches in and around their site, with absolutely no repercussions for their shady actions. This included a colossal convoy of 30 HGVs being brought onto site at 04.45hrs: a major planning breach and without consent from the authorities, yet it was facilitated by Lancashire Police. Any other respectable business would face serious consequences for such a dangerous and unauthorised breach. We would never have found out about this serious failure if dedicated campaigners had not been roadside at all hours to witness it.
As from the 2017 snap General Election, Lancashire County Council changed from Labour-run to Conservative, with breaches being ignored and minimised by the planning department as needing to be kept “proportional”. In basic terms, the new council are Cuadrilla apologists.
Additionally, the security guards employed by Cuadrilla have been repeatedly witnessed inflicting violence against campaigners at the roadside during peaceful, direct action. Cuadrilla’s site manager himself is under investigation by the police for a blatant and well-documented assault on a campaigner this summer.
Arrests at the site are so far total 278 people, with the biggest majority (66%) being charged under Obstructing of the Highway. July saw the biggest number of arrests, after an amazing, creative and colourful month of Rolling Resistance action from Reclaim the Power. One of the best direct actions was a 13-person lock-on of residents outside the gates of Preston New Road, including three of our local councillors.
Above all, shale gas extraction for energy reliance is outright nonsense if we are to protect the climate for future generations. Climate change is a very real and dangerous threat to humanity. It makes no rational sense to proceed with developing yet another fossil fuel industry in the UK. We know we have to keep at least 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground, unburnt, to meet our 2 degree climate change targets. The UK needs be climate leaders and give the renewable energy industry the chance and respect it deserves: we desperately need clean energy for the planet’s future survival.
It has been a heartbreaking eight months, watching our community and prime arable land being destroyed for a fossil fuel company’s benefit, only to be replaced with an ugly drilling rig. Here in Lancashire, we will never give up resisting and opposing this dirty industry. Our voices are getting louder because our future generations are depending on us.