Thomas Barlow looks at the recent history of the anti-fracking campaign and how it might be just the thing broken Britain needs to imagine another future.
The kitchen at Upton is overflowing. The sun is shining. The weather is sweet, ye-ah! OK, life on a protest camp isn’t all cooking by the fire and getting a tan, but today it feels as good as it gets.
Rewind nearly 12 months and the story wasn’t nearly as sweet. The anti-fracking movement nationally amounted to a couple of small meetings, as a few concerned campaigners contemplated the petrochemical horror about to be visited on the air, land and water of the British Isles. Today the camp in Cheshire is abuzz as protectors from the newly-disbanded Barton Moss site in Salford start arriving, and news arrives of how the Basset Law site in north Nottinghamshire occupied a rig and shut down the drill for a day.
The struggle has been long and hard, not least for the Barton Moss protectors who have borne the brunt of an exposed northern winter and possibly the most consistent and well-documented police brutality since the miners’ strike. Whilst being originally written-off as a rent-a-mob environmentalist campaign, it has moved, very quietly – perhaps something to do with the fact that sinister landowners Peel Holdings own both a lot of fracking sites and the BBC’s media centre? – from a fringe green issue, to something that strikes fear into the heart of communities across the country and across traditional demographic boundaries.
The well-founded fears of polluted air, unstable land, and poisoned water supplies have been the original reason for very strong local support of the protest camps opposing even exploratory drilling. Now that the camps have moved to Nottinghamshire and Cheshire (the Upton site is next to Chester Zoo!) they are trying new tactics to ramp up the pressure against the relatively-small fracking industry, safe in the knowledge that current local support is far beyond the hesitant response of a year previous.
Whilst Basset Law in Nottinghamshire has seen a far more sheltered and rural camp, in contrast to the Barton Moss operation within Greater Manchester, and featured daily direct action including more lock-ons and even an occupation – Upton is the site that really breaks the mold.
The site is there before the drill has arrived. Any eviction process could be exceptionally long and costly, and investors are starting to get butterflies in their stomachs about pumping so much cash into companies like Dart Energy (who have been banned from twelve other countries) and IGas. Despite having major investors all throughout government and the media – from the top of the BBC to the Environmental Protection Agency – the costs and bad publicity keep increasing.
In a clear case of Orwellian doublethink, the head of Dee Council (Upton’s local authority) promoted a projected 30% reduction in house prices in the area near the drill site as the successful creation of affordable housing for young people in the area in a live radio interview. Such examples of ignorance, arrogance, and complicity from local government are proliferating just as quickly as proposed drill sites.
But can the campaign be more than stopping a disastrous technology from destroying our environment and locking us into an incredibly expensive energy future? Rachel Sampson, a Barton moss campaigner, says yes:
“We are seeing communities come together for the first time in decades. Communities of every kind are not only aware of how brazenly corrupt our government is, but are taking action to stop them.”
In this action lies possibility.
“We have been told to believe in only individual solutions to community or global problems, but now people at Barton moss and Balcombe are building their own community energy programs to take control of their energy future. They are working together to acheive this in a way not though possible, and the new camps are starting this process traight away, not just waiting for the drills to leave.”
Could these local energy co-ops be a radical solution to major societal problems?
“With control of our energy we can drive prices down, control the energy our community needs, instead of billionaires, and save the environment with the simple and near eternal energy sources at our disposal.”