Cuadrilla 'takes risks' as fracking resistance rolls on

Direct action is a central part of the carnival of resistance against fracking by Cuadrilla in Lancashire.
What do Mr Blobby, Spiderman and Dumbledore have in common? And Bez from 80s rock band Happy Mondays, local residents, farmers, students and solidarity groups from around the UK? These characters assembled for a climate carnival in Lancashire, reports LYDIA NOON
You’ve got to take action, haven’t you?

The colourful demonstration was organised by environmental action group Reclaim the Power as the finale of a month of "rolling resistance". 

On Preston New Road, a busy through-way between the Northwestern cities of Preston and Blackpool, a farmer named Allan Wensley has leased land to energy company Cuadrilla in an extremely contentious move, paving the way for fracking to take place in the area. 

That was the plan anyway. Since the British company began work on the site on 4 January, local people, with support from activists outside the area, have done all they can to thwart Cuadrilla’s activities.

People power and direct actions involving blockading the road in ‘lock-ons’ so vehicles cannot enter the site and ‘surfing’ lorries to prevent them from delivering supplies means that business has not been as usual for the fracking company. 

In a fight that began in 2011, Lancashire residents have been saying ‘no’, a lot. In 2015, they convinced Lancashire County Council that they should refuse planning permission to Cuadrilla.

But while last year’s results of the EU referendum saw democracy strictly adhered to, the council’s decision was overturned in October by communities secretary Sajid Javid, after an appeal from the company. 

You’ve got to take action, haven’t you?

More than 300 people joined the carnival last week. Any more than 100 pedestrians in the road and the gates to the site must be closed. The road has been reduced to a single lane. Most drivers honk and wave their support. 

Unease at the school gates

Keith Butcher is one of a number of people wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with the words ‘Respect existence or expect resistance’. On his back is printed ‘The Desolate North’, referring to a group whose original aim was to transform an old gate-house in Scotland into an eco-living community.

Those plans got put on hold when Cuadrilla came to Preston New Road. Now the group donates money and offers support to the struggle in Lancashire instead. 

"Maddison goes to the local school, St Nicks. It’s less than a mile down the road", says Keith, a local business man who owns a tattoo parlour and fancy dress shop in the area. Maddison is seven-years-old.  

Keith and his family live a mile and a half away from the site and he has been coming to Preston New Road for five years, since Maddison was a toddler.

"She’s heard us talk about fracking and we watch coverage on the news, but when I ask teachers at school about it, they say they’ve been told not to discuss it with the children". He doesn’t know who has given this order.

"I asked the headmaster if they’d done any health and safety checks related to the fracking site. When they do anything in schools, they’re supposed to do health and safety checks, aren’t they? He told me that it’s not in his remit".

Keith has spoken to parents online over the past few weeks to try to get a group together, urging the local schools to make plans to protect their children. He says about six parents at Maddison’s school are involved but he doesn’t want to push people.

"There’s another school in Kirkham which is even closer than St Nicks, about half or three quarters of a mile away from here. The wind mostly comes in from the sea, so it’ll be blowing chemicals from the site towards the schools. It’s a big issue."

Six or seven years ago, when Keith first started looking into fracking, he considered getting a job in the industry. Now though, things couldn’t be more different. 

"I’ve been here all my life, born and bred in Blackpool, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re considering moving up to that gate-house."

In between the circus tricks, the pedal-powered sound system, the face-paints, the speeches and the world record attempt at the longest conga – eight miles from Blackpool Promenade to the festival – are many stories like Keith Butcher’s.

Local people who have been on the roadside and in the courts fighting central government and the greed of multinational companies for the past six years, for the sake of their health and their children’s, for the local environment and for the communities around the world affected by climate change.

Cuadrilla, the risk taker

Several people tell me they are worried about what will happen after July, when Reclaim the Power end their month of actions; the recent surge in numbers has boosted energy, morale and publicity.

But one member of Frack Free Lancashire tells me that there are 48 anti-fracking groups in the county alone. And she’s hopeful that many groups and individuals who have come during the last few weeks will pledge their support for the months ahead. 

The final week of July has brought both good and bad news. In an underhanded tactic that has been widely reported, a drilling rig was delivered to the Cuadrilla’s site early on 27 July via a convoy of 30 lorries.

The delivery, at 4.45am, was in clear breach of planning permission regulations that state that no vehicles should enter the site outside of working hours. As a result, Lancashire council is considering action against the company.

On 25 July, three lorries carrying supplies to the site were stopped outside Maple Farm by campaigners sitting in front of the them and blockading the road before ‘lorry surfers’ scaled the vehicles between 8-11am.

Some 72 hours later, one of the haulage companies affected, L & M Transport, released a statement saying that they would "never knowingly work for Cuadrilla or any agents involved with Cuadrilla or the fracking industry again". 

Cuadrilla operated at a £3.4 million loss in 2016 and continues to lose money as contractors pull out and work is delayed. 

"Cuadrilla are high risk takers – with people’s health and safety and now they’re risking their money too", says Barbara Kneale, a consultant in occupational medicine who lives in Leicestershire and has travelled to join the resistance for the weekend. 

"I have taken an oath to protect people’s health, but for this site there have been no reports into how public health is going to be affected. If you have robust regulations, then fine, but there are none. You’ve got to take action, haven’t you?"

This Author

Lydia Noon is a freelance journalist and has written for New Internationalist and openDemocracy. You can follow her on Twitter at @lydia_noon.