‘If we can stop them fracking here, we can stop it everywhere’
Inside the camp aiming to disrupt new Cuadrilla wells with direct action tactics
It is a battle which has gone on for years, pitting tireless local residents and environmentalists against a gas exploration company hoping to get rich – and solve a future energy crisis – by fracking under the Fylde coast.
Last October, the government overruled Lancashire county council and gave Cuadrilla the green light to begin drilling, and anti-fracking activists have stepped up their fight.
Throughout this month, protesters from around Britain have joined local people on an A-road near Blackpool for a month of “rolling resistance”. The aim is to make life as difficult as possible for Cuadrilla and its contractors as they attempt to build two wells in a 3.8-acre field beside Preston New Road.
One morning last week, direct action began at dawn when two cars screeched into the site, surprising Cuadrilla’s security guards, as well as police officers stationed there round the clock at a cost of well over £100,000 during most months. The drivers scarpered, according to police. In each car was a protester, one man and one woman, both locked on to a large and heavy object.
For hours, the pair sat in the back seats until officers persuaded them to unlock themselves, Sergeant Paul Patterson from Lancashire police said. Neither was arrested, but during the standoff a crowd gathered, blocking the road, he added.
The protesters, often several hundred strong, claim they manage to thwart or delay deliveries to the site most days. Cuadrilla disagrees, saying its work remains “unimpacted”. Tthe only people they are frustrating are drivers; several times a week the police close one lane of the road to deal with a steady supply of “lock-ons” – devices built from layers of plastic, bitumen and concrete – which can take hours to remove.
In May, Bob Dennett, was arrested for the first time in his life when he lockedon at the gate, along with 11 others. While he waits for his court date to fight charges of obstruction of the highway and an obscure violation originating in trade union law, he spends each day either at one of the three nearby protest camps or at Cuadrilla’s gate. “This has been my life for the past six years,” the 69-yearold said. “I have 10 grandchildren who live around here. That’s whyhy I do this.”
Preston New Road is pivotal to the anti-fracking fight, said Dennett, who claims to have lostst £50,000 because of a drop in house prices near the drill site.
Cuadrilla is racing its rival, Third Energy, which has a site in Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, to be the first gas exploration company to frack since a moratorium was imposed following an earthquake on the Fylde coast during earlier test-drilling in 2011.
Initially many local residents were wary of the full-time activists beside Preston New Road. Now the groups seem to mingle happily, sharing food cooked in a community kitchen and eaten by the side of the road. Jan Goss, a mindfulness teacher from nearby Lytham, offers free relaxation sessions to stressed-out protesters. “Last night I did a deep relaxation with someone who had come for 10 days,” she said. “He had been sworn at and spat at by a person passing on a bike. He was saying how stressful it has been. This was a grown man in tears because of all the abuse he has been getting.”
Around two-thirds of passing motorists are supportive, reckons Goss, with more people honking horns and displaying a thumbs-up than “flicking Vs and offering other choice signs”. She has found a wonderful community at the gate, she said, “despite people shouting ‘get a job’ and ‘get a bath’”.
The latest protests have received visitors from renewable energy practition- ers as well as a Native American from Standing Rock in North Dakota, who had protested against an oil pipeline being built close to an Indian reservation.
William Hawk had a warning for the Lancastrians, claiming the water supply in Standing Rock will be contaminated by the pipeline. “It’s going to happen here. Your water supply is going to be destroyed and your children will have nothing to live for,” he said. Cuadrilla insists it will protect water resources.
Another visitor was Rick Guest, 67, a retired gardener and gallery owner, who was dressed as Gandalf. Last year he walked from his home in Hereford to Downing Street to lobby the government against fracking, dressed as Tolkien’s wizard. He had come to Lancashire because “this is the beginning of it,” he said. “This is the epicentre of the fracking industry, where it’s going to start. If we can stop it here we can hopefully stop it everywhere.”
Protesters stepped up the fight after Cuadrilla got the green light to start drilling