Thursday, 21 August 2014

Creative anti-fracking campaigners take the protests to the next level

Cuadrilla's planning applications for shale gas drilling (fracking) test sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood have received over 14,000 objections (the deadline is 5 September). But despite the overwhelming public opposition to fracking, the Coalition Government is reliant on party donations from energy companies - with whom 125 ministers have financial links.  £billions of public funds have been made available in tax breaks and subsidies to push fracking licensing through for them, regardless of public opinion or the environmental and social cost to the affected regions. 

David Cameron's recent appointment of pro-fracking lobbyist, and ex-chair of Arup (a Cuadrilla and Peel Group partner and generous political donor) Sir Phillip Dilley to head the Environment Agency is a national disgrace and has sent an unmistakeable message to the electorate that conventional democratic structures and environmental safeguards are no match for the political influence of the fracking industry. 

With this in mind, anti-fracking campaigners carried out a series of creatively disruptive protest actions throughout the UK on Monday to highlight the level of corruption and disregard for public and environmental welfare behind the coalition government's persistent support for shale gas extraction.

'Reclaim the Power' Protest Camp
The 'Reclaim the Power' protest camp has been running all week at the
proposed drilling site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool. In Blackpool on Sunday a mass rally on the promenade attracted hundreds of marchers and a giant 'Cuadzilla' puppet monster.

Offices Occupied
On Monday activists occupied the office building in
Blackpool shared by Cuadrilla and the local Chamber of Commerce.

PPS Group
Campaigners protested outside the offices of PPS Group, Cuadrilla's PR company. PPS is the company exposed in 2007 on Channel 4's 'Despatches' for their involvement in the Spodden Valley asbestos site development scandal in Rochdale. Their tactics were described as including: sending of fake letters in
favour of planning applications, attempts to infiltrate community campaign groups, bugging of private council meetings, the creation of 'secret dossiers' about councillors. The documentary alleged possession of a PPS Group document describing whether it could "bribe” or “bully" a London Borough Council.

It's not just the problem of 125 government ministers
with personal vested financial interests in fracking. Or the embedded advisory members of the coalition Cabinet, such as Cuadrilla chair Lord Brown, who are employed and funded by the fracking companies.  A network of lobbying groups steered by embedded personnel working for the shale gas extraction industry but purporting to represent 'local' business interests has been set up throughout the North as vehicles to influence the disposal of  publicly funded contracts, development grants and planning decisions. (for more on how this works see the  Ex Urbe report 
on fracking landlords Peel Group).

Councillors with vested interests
Anti-fracking campaigners from the Reclaim the Power camp in Blackpool visited the homes of local councillors with vested interests in supporting fracking in Lancashire.  Their banners read: “Corrupt councillor”, “Reclaim the power”. A banner was hung
at Blackpool College which has accepted donations from Cuadrilla.

Other campaigners placed 88 ‘atoms of Radium' (not really, just craft models) around Lytham as a temporary art installation to highlight concerns about negative impacts of fracking on public health and the environment from the radioactive discharges inherent in the process. Each item has a message attached
guiding the public to reliable independent research. There is no research in existence that supports the industry's claims that fracking can be done within safe environmental levels that was not funded by the fracking industry. In the fracking business, it isn't about what you know, it's about who you own.

Radioactive contamination of the Manchester Ship Canal
Anti-fracking campaigners from Salford hung a banner from a bridge at Salford Media City (owned by
fracking landlords, Qatari-owned Peel Group) to highlight the 884,000 gallons of radioactive fracking water that was dumped into the Manchester Ship Canal (also owned by Peel) from just one fracking operation (several thousand are planned), which was cut short because of the earthquakes it caused.

Frack Fluid haulage company blockaded
More activists blockaded the Total Environmental Technology premises outside of Hull,  glueing the doors closed to shut down the site. TET lorries are currently being used to remove waste and used fracking chemicals – “frack fluids” – from live sites.
Approximately 2-300 lorry-loads of toxic hazardous waste are created per frack from each well.

HSBC die-in13 activists staged a “die-in” at the Birley Street, Blackpool, branch ofHSBC bank, where they raised banners displaying the phrases “Fracker’s Bank” and “Toxic Investors”. Public response to the action was overwhelmingly positive.

Public money funnelled
In Swansea, eight protesters shut down construction of a new Swansea University building and caused chaos for commuters to highlight the tens of millions of pounds of public money being funnelled into research on fracking for the benefit of fracking corporations via Swansea University's new Energy Safety Research Institute.

Blockade at Crawberry Hill
Campaigners also occupied and shut down a new fracking site run by Canadian company Rathlin Energy at Crawberry Hill, East Yorkshire.

Occupation at DEFRA
Three activists superglued themselves to the main entrance of DEFRA in London, and “locked on” through reinforced arm tubes to prevent access. Another climbed the building and unfurled a banner reading:

Government report censored
DEFRA was targeted to draw attention to their report published last week on the potential impacts of shale gas exploration on rural communities, with particular reference to Lancashire, which contained 63 redactions concealing issues raised by potential social, environmental and economic impacts.

Blockade at IGas
Also in London, there was a blockade of the headquarters of IGas Energy – a Peel Group partner and one of the major fossil fuel exploration and production companies involved in fracking in the UK. IGas have been carrying out exploratory work for coalbed methane at Barton Moss near Salford, Greater Manchester, sparking copious local resistance and brutal police repression of protesters.

Manchester Police contracted to act for IGas and Peel against public at taxpayers' expense. 
A `Memorandum of Understanding' obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by NetPol showed the high level of collusion between its co-signees Salford Council, IGas, Greater Manchester Police and Peel Holdings during the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss - sharing intelligence, communications and branding. It's a strategy that owes its origins to tactics used by Shell Oil to eradicate local opposition in the Niger Delta, by suborning regional authorities into providing native militia to wipe out local resistance.  The Memorandum even set out the level of force that the police were expected to use against the public - who pay their wages.  It contained an agreement that IGas would take the lead role overseeing all media communications.

The protests at the Barton Moss drilling site near Manchester were distinguished by the exceptionally high levels of violence and arrests (few of which resulted in actual convictions) used by the police against protesters. Deputy District Judge Saunders at Manchester Magistrates Court on 3 July accused Greater Manchester Police of exceeding its powers by intervening on IGas' behalf  and of acting as 'civil enforcement officers' for the company. Which in fact they had secretly contracted to do.

You can find out more about the creative and escalating public campaign against fracking at the following websites and facebook pages:

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