Campaigners against 'fracking' have vowed to continue their fight, despite court judgements against some and support for the technology from Tory-led Lancashire County Council.
On Tuesday, three people from Liverpool and Brighton were found guilty of 'disrupting lawful activity' for occupying Cuadrilla Resource's drilling rig in Lancashire for eleven hours last November.
SchNews reports that the trial, which lasted for four days, saw prosecution witnesses from Cuadrilla Resources, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Lancashire County Council, cross examined on the legality of Cuadrilla's earthquake production operations in Lancashire. Evidence from a number of expert witnesses from the US and UK was presented to demonstrate the massive threat posed to the global climate, local communities and human health by the expansion of fracking for shale gas around the world.
Despite admitting that the defence had painted "a picture of an Armageddon that no-one would wish to contemplate" the District Judge sentenced the three defendants to two year conditional discharges and £750 costs each.
Initially, the District Judge was also considering curfews and restraining orders to keep the defendants away from Cuadrilla sites. Two of the defendants were also convicted on a spurious charge of common assault stemming from one of them being pushed over a steel beam and pinned by a security guard in the early stages of the action.
The District Judge however seemed to consider the £20,000 that Cuadrilla claim to have lost as a result of that action the major concern and didn't tack on any extra sentence as a result of the assault charges.
CONCERNS OVER FRACKING HIGHLIGHTED
While the convictions are a setback to the anti-fracking lobby, the trial again served to highlight concerns about the the technology, and prompted Green Party county councillors to raise the issue at a council meeting on 12th July.
Since the embarassing earthquake incident at their first site in Lancashire, Cuadrilla have drilled two further wells but have been holding off fracking while they work with the government to solve their PR problem.
Cuadrilla currently has sites in Elswick, Weeton, Singleton, and Westby, as well as a site near Banks in West Lancashire. It seems likely that they will attempt to start drilling at one of their sites in Lancashire soon and may begin fracking their second well within the next couple of months.
Their eventual plan is to frack 400-800 wells in Lancashire alone.
Earlier this month, the company, which has hired a former local newspaper editor as its local community advisor, announced it has commenced work to install sensitive monitoring technology so that it can undertake comprehensive seismic monitoring.
In line with the company’s commitment to best practice, Cuadrilla will adopt a number of early detection systems to prevent a level of seismic activity that could give cause for any concern.
The monitoring technology was recommended in an independent scientific report into the minor tremors last year and by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in their expert’s own review.
But the many clearly remain unimpressed by assurances on safety. Green County Councillors Chris Coates and Sam Riches proposed a motion to Lancashire County Council on Thursday 12th July calling for a moratorium on onshore and offshore exploration, development and production of Coal Bed Methane, Shale Oil and Shale Gas.
While the motion was defeated, with County Council leader Geoff Driver describing the Green Party's stance as "shameful", the Greens gained backing from worried Labour Party Councillors.
Coun Janice Hanson said she shared the concerns of the community regarding tremors, property values and told thevmeeting the people of Lancashire are worried by the technology.
Conservative councillor Michael Greaves argued Lancashire County Council is a strategic planning authority and must not make statements which could pre-judge future proposals.
He said there was no evidence of water pollution if fracking is done properly and reports had shown that risks are very low provided best practice, better co-ordination and mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments are applied. he recommended a vote against the motion, arguing its passing would jeopardise the role of the County Council as a Planning Authority.
When put to a vote, 21 voted form 48 against, with nine abstentions.
"Although the motion was defeated by the Tory administration, it was really important that concerns about fracking, and especially the lack of regulation of the industry, were aired in the Council chamber," feels Chris Coates.
"There is a widespread lack of understanding about the shortcomings in the current regulatory framework.," he added. "We can’t afford to cross our fingers and hope for the best, especially when the results of a well blow-out near to a community could be catastrophic."
Sam Riches said, 'We were pleased to be supported in the debate and at the vote by Labour councillors. The Lib Dems abstained and only the Tories voted against our motion. We will now enter into discussions with both Labour and the Lib Dems about how we move forward on this issue – the strength of feeling amongst residents of Lancashire is clear, and this issue is certainly not going away."
A RIGGED JUDGEMENT?
Commentators on the recent legal proceedings have described the sentences as a "rigged judgement" with campaign site SchNews arguing that despite the self-righteous air of the judgement, the trial showed up the fact that in some ways fracking in the UK is even more of a wild west activity than in the US.
"The back to back testimony from DECC and local council bureaucrats demonstrated a staggering level of buck passing with no one willing to take responsibility for regulating the industry," they argue. "In the US the notorious 'Halliburton Loophole' passed in 2005 exempted the industry from the majority of environmental laws. In the UK, rather than change the law to fit in with this new technology, the government seems to have adopted the strategy of studiously ignoring any issues that this new practice raises.
"Given the poor repulation of fracking it is perhaps not surprising that they are not particularly keen to expose the issue to the sort of public debate. The general PR strategy appears to be obstinately deny that fracking is fundamentally different from traditional extraction methods."
Worryingly, fracking for shale gas is part of a tidal wave of much more extreme methods of energy extraction that are threatening to become widespread as a result of the increasing scarcity and rising prices of fossil fuels. Over 25,000 shale gas wells have been drilled in the US during the last decade, particularly in western states such as Texas. More recently, as these practices have moved into higher population density states such as Pennsylvania, it has resulted in a backlash as much larger numbers of people have been affected.
In the UK, in addition to shale gas, coal bed methane (natural gas extracted from coal seams) and the even more insane underground coal gasification (setting fire to coal seams and piping the resulting gases to the surface) are also serious threats. All these methods involve much more effort and environmental destruction than conventional fossil fuels.
"Since we cannot afford to burn half the remaining conventional fossils fuels and avoid catastrophic climate change exploitation of these unconventional fuels is suicidal," say anti-fracking campaigners, who are determined to keep up their fight against the technology.
NEW PR PUSH BY CUADRILLA
Determined to counter concerns about the technology, Cuadrilla Resources is now being advised by former newspaper man Steve Singleton, who left his job as editor of the Lytham St Annes Express in June.
Mr Singleton, 56, has joined communications consultancy PPS to take up a role as Fylde local community advisor for Cuadrilla.
“As a local resident I know that people do have questions about Cuadrilla’s operations and future intentions," he said. "What impresses me about Cuadrilla is their openness with the community and the fact that top-level management get personally involved in site visits, information days and meetings.
"I think that it’s important for Cuadrilla to see things from a local’s perspective. Being Sandgrown and living in St Annes all my life, I am as keen as anyone to see that all the facts are made available to the community and questions continue to be answered.”
“We are really pleased to welcome Steve as another local working for the Cuadrilla team," commented Mark Miller, who has recently taken up a new Lancashire-focussed role as Cuadrilla’s Director of Bowland Operations. "As a respected member of the community I’ll be listening carefully to his advice.”
Sounds like he's got a lot of work ahead.
- For more on the local campaign against fracking see Ribble Estuary Against Fracking: http://www.reaf.org.uk/news.php
- For more on the national fight against extreme energy abuse www.frack-off.org.uk
- For more information about Cuadrilla’s community involvement, or to request site visits or talks, please contact Steve and the rest of the Cuadrilla team by freephone, operated on weekdays between 9.00am and 5.30pm, on 0800 170 1115 or through Cuadrilla’s website at www.cuadrillaresources.com