‘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

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - He­len Pidd North of Eng­land ed­i­tor

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.”

Pho­to­graphs: Christo­pher Thomond

Protesters stepped up the fight af­ter Cuadrilla got the green light to start drilling

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