• The Scourge

    They took them out of the trees last week; nine men and women arrested after being locked on or otherwise perched on high in an effort to stall the drilling at Upton in Cheshire. They’d been there since April 2014 and were hoping to prevent work taking place until this coming May, by which point IGas would have had to renew their license. It was perhaps a tall order by anyone’s books and yet speaks of the will and sense of common purpose so evident up and down the country in the face of the unprecedented threat fracking poses.

    As we all know, the fight against this industry in Britain has been going on for years. But events at Upton can only show that that fight is still as necessary as ever. It serves to remind us that, without a sufficient shift in both policy and pitch of the protests against fracking as it stands we face the prospect of the process being rolled out across the land, as the latest round of drilling licenses only goes to show. And when you study the facts, both of the ins and outs of the drilling process and the tortuous means by which environmental and democratic safeguards have been stripped away or removed you’d be forgiven for thinking we were living in some kind of sci-fi dystopia.

    Look at the sorry state of affairs over the Environment Agency for instance. The Agency’s former chairman, Lord Chris Smith, headed up ‘The Taskforce on Shale Gas’ whose final report came out last month and who were supported by the pro fossil fuel lobbyists Edelman PR. During Smith’s tenancy the Agency were the recipient of dramatic cuts and were induced to acquiesce with a huge scaling back of the regulatory regime for unconventional oil and gas drilling.

    Or look at Lord Browne. If a reminder was needed he was at one point a key adviser to Cameron’s cabinet and major shareholder of Cuadrilla, and is now executive chairman of a Russian oil oligarch’s firm. He was appointed to his governmental position by Francis Maude, who at the time was MP for Balcombe, one of the first sites faced with fracking in Sussex. Then there is Lynton Crosby; head of a pro-shale publicity firm and political strategist to Cameron. There is a massive lobbyists’ drive with an audience among (if not the active collusion of) those at the very heart of government. In 2014 one drilling company alone was investing £500,000 a month in PR.

    Then consider the Infrastructure Bill, given royal assent early last year and which permits drilling under private property and even National Parks. We are being sold down the river by the perpetuated belief that none of the many and grievous environmental misnomers the industry is responsible for abroad will ever happen here as we will have ‘gold plated’ regulations.

    Forget, if you like, that this is an intrinsically dirty industry whose impact, with even the best regulation, would be difficult if not impossible to avoid once up and running. Or that in 2011 and 2012 the EA refused to ask Cuadrilla to apply for a permit for their work in Lancashire as they didn’t want to bind the industry with regulation. More tellingly than either of these is the move to differentiate between ‘high volume hydraulic fracturing’ and exploratory and preparatory processes, ignoring that these processes still carry huge potential for environmental harm.

    Consider too that the EA are now required to offer permits for drilling after just two weeks (formerly it took twice this time). Apart from anything else, this seriously undermines the scope for public consultation, potentially affecting the Aarhus Convention, which states that the public should have the right to get wide and easy access to environmental information and the chance to participate during the decision-making and legislative process. Meanwhile, the criteria for sites qualifying as ‘of high public interest’ are subject to increased scrutiny as to what this term means. That any given site may actually be receiving significant attention from the public is apparently no longer enough.

    If any of this seems abstract, consider for a moment the fate of the people of Porter Ranch, affected by a massive methane leak from a fracking well in the US, an environmental disaster that has been described as one of the most devastating in the history of California. Reports of nosebleeds, nausea and other symptoms are widespread. There is no end in sight to the leak, with industry representatives stating that it may continue for months. Many people have simply left the area as a result, as stark a warning as any.

    But there are still signs of hope, such as last summer’s decision by Lancashire County Council to reject Cuadrilla’s fracking bid there. Or the fact that not one drilling license was permitted in East Kent in the latest licensing round despite extensive initial plans. Both campaigns show what can be achieved when people work together to fight this terrible threat – even defining it as an industry is to lend it a sense of credibility it doesn’t deserve. Fracking is not only an environmental timebomb, or more immediate ecological disaster; even OFGEM have stated it will sate, at best, only 15% of our current national gas demand.

    We desperately need to decouple ourselves from our institutionalised national gas cravings. But we should be quite clear too that our current government are in the middle of an anti-democratic lobbyists’ coup. We can still see off this corporate tide but need some kind of real catalyst for change. Everyone of us can contribute to what has become a very necessary resistance.



The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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