In the UK the fight against fracking is the front line of resistance to climate change, writes Ewa Barker.
Preston New Road, despite its urban sounding name, runs through green fields. If Cuadrilla, the fracking firm which has begun exploratory drilling there, has its way that will soon change for ever. Its immediate plans are for two wells, but if they find the gas they are looking for, then Lancashire will soon have hundreds or maybe thousands of gas wells.
The destruction of the environment there has already begun. A burst water main a few hundred yards from the site has waterlogged the ground as far as the site itself. As the water has drained away what remains is a brown scar of dead vegetation, perhaps the result of something nasty leaking from the drilling fluids. The cows peacefully munch the grass nearby, then wander off single file to the milking parlour. The locals have been warned to avoid the milk from that particular dairy.
The drilling is not going Cuadrilla’s way at all. Lately, so the rumour goes, one of their drill bits broke and fell into the shaft. They were trying to fish it out again using magnets dangled down the shaft.
The drilling has been picketed by ‘protectors’ in front of the site gates from the earliest days in January 2017. Last Friday, not a special event day, there were about eighty people in front of the gates. People came from various places, Lancaster, Chorley, Nottingham or Manchester, but also included many local residents and Councillors. Local attitudes to the camp are mixed, but the honks of support from passing cars far outnumber the occasional shouts of “get a job”.
The backbone of the protest is carried by the PNR (Preston New Road gates) Community Protection Camp. Their “Hope Camp” has fifty tents, some used by “commuters” who come and join the protest whenever they can. There’s a pallet made kitchen, showers and other amenities rigged up by the campers. There is a big community tent for meetings, donated by a local business. Farmer John, at Maple Farm is also a staunch supporter, providing land and donating money for the large, and expensive, publicity posters.
Four or five vanfuls of police are constantly in attendance. Asked about their role in protecting Cuadrilla’s property, they indignantly claim to be protecting the demonstrators too. In July alone, they made 96 arrests.
We watched one arrest of a prominent protester. It took six coppers to get her, struggling, into their van. They confiscated the phone of one who was filming the arrest, and refused to return it. When she did get it back it emerged that they’d forgotten to turn the phone off. On the drive to the station you can hear them admit that it was a premeditated arrest and they’d been waiting to get her when she was away from the big group. They also admit that the arrest worked well as a distraction to allow lorries in and they “should do that more often” (see pictures here). That conversation has now been reposted widely and should be interesting data for the police monitoring organisation – Netpol.
In general, especially since Lancashire officials of the GMB union called on the police to be more active towards the demonstrators, “who were interfering with GMB members”, the police have got noticeably rougher and more violent. One wheelchair user among the demonstrators has been manhandled to the floor four times. One arrested protestor was forced, resisting, into a van in the midst of others repeatedly shouted protests that she was only a week out of hospital after surgery to her head. No arrests have been made of Cuadrilla security guards who have assaulted protesters. There is nothing new in this, but some Lancashire residents may be seeing things they have not seen before and drawing their own conclusions. The existence of a robust and persistent fightback gives us reasons to be cheerful.
Photos below by Colin Barker