Fracking company injunction against protest 'will limit human rights'

| 4th June 2018
UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) recently applied to the High Court for an injunction that anti-fracking campaigners say could severely curtail peaceful protest against their method of oil and gas exploration in the South East of England. VICKI ELCOATE is one of the defendants in the case

This is fracking by another name, with its own set of impacts falling through a loophole in regulation and good practice. Local communities and the environment are suffering as a result.

The campaign against onshore fossil fuel exploration has taken a dark turn, with an attempt by an oil company to stifle peaceful protest. I am one of six women who decided to be named and defend ourselves in the High Court against this attack on human rights.

It’s not just on behalf of ourselves. The injunction by UK Oil and Gas is against “persons unknown". If we had stood back we would now have an interim injunction banning “lawful activities” which conflicted with UKOG’s commercial interests.

Support their campaign online.

We felt we had no choice. The potential for other companies to use this wide ranging and draconian step was enormous. So we put our names forward and became the Surrey and Sussex six!

Drill on Leith Hill

In fact, many more people came forward initially. The first hearing at the High Court in March was so crowded that extra chairs were brought in.

Bianca Jagger turned up outside the court to talk about the need to defend human rights. UKOG had bitten off more than it could chew. The judge adjourned the case - which was clearly not going to proceed within the couple of hours set aside.

Within days UKOG had amended their injunction to remove the reference to lawful activities. It now seeks to ban promoting or encouraging activities which they are seeking to define as “unlawful”.

These include some commonly used and perfectly legal tools of peaceful protest in the campaign against fracking and other forms of extreme oil and gas extraction. 

None of us chose to take this on. Oil drilling plans arrived on our doorsteps. Europa Oil and Gas has been trying since 2009 to get all its consents to drill on Leith Hill in the Surrey Hills – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belt.

Public access

The proposed oil drilling site is accessed by an historic sunken lane which is so narrow that it is difficult for two cars to pass at some points. Europa plans to use the lane to move an oil rig and tonnes of aluminium trackway and to bring out waste including radioactive waste.

The plan was given the green light by the Planning Inspectorate in 2015 after Surrey County Council had turned it down.

There was an heroic fight by the Leith Hill Action Group, which has raised thousands of pounds for legal costs. Now just the traffic management plan and the environmental permits have to be secured.

During that long saga another local group was formed - A Voice for Leith Hill - which aims to give voice to this beautiful area, its trees, the water which feeds the aquifer for Dorking and Leatherhead, the wildlife and tranquillity.

This was designated public access land, until the Forestry Commission leased it off to Europa and put up a fence.

Fracking by another name

A protection camp popped up towards the end of 2016 and has been there ever since. Locals and protectors are now working together to oppose this awful plan.

The drill proposed at Leith Hill - the same used at other sites in Surrey and Sussex - involves horizontal drilling. It isn’t defined as fracking because the water volumes involved are too low. Instead it would use acid to fracture the rock and release the oil. This is tight oil, in rock that has low permeability.

Many involved in the campaign across the Weald have signed up to the Weald Action Group and become experts in acidisation and the environmental impacts of it.

This is fracking by another name, with its own set of impacts falling through a loophole in regulation and good practice. Local communities and the environment are suffering as a result.

When the Environment Agency said it was minded to grant the permit for drilling on Leith Hill over 100,000 people signed a petition about their concerns to their drinking water. Independent hydrogeologists have found the oil company’s claims about risk to be lacking the right analysis. 

Keep fighting

Which brings us back to the injunction. We are standing together across the Weald against the rush for tight oil. UKOG has now bought a 40 percent share in the Leith Hill site. It operates at Horse Hill near Gatwick Airport and Broadford Bridge in West Sussex. 

It is planning to move ahead with plans on the Isle of Wight this year. At Markwells Wood - now not in the injunction - UKOG have been ordered by the South Downs National Park Authority to cap the well and restore the site.  

The injunction seeks to outlaw activities like slow walking and lobbying suppliers to the sites. At the Brockham site near Dorking last year nine people were arrested for slow walking.  Three were prosecuted. One of those arrested but never charged has also stepped up to be a defendant.

Jacqui Hamlin says that when the charges were dropped: “It was a great relief, as the whole thing had been a huge worry, and I felt like a real weight had been taken off my shoulders.

"I was also pleased that it was recognised and accepted that a criminal prosecution for this kind of lawful protest was not necessary and in the public interest”.  

Legal team

After the slow walking at Brockham it was found out that a side track had been drilled without planning permission under the noses of the regulators.

If had not been for local people and protectors at the site, providing evidence and reports to the county council, this might never have been discovered.

It was UKOG’s CEO Stephen Sanderson who said the aim was to build “back to back wells” in “industrial production”. Communities across the South East and those fighting fracking in the North of England do not want that.

Whatever drives us - whether it’s climate activism or fears about drinking water or concerns about HGVs on narrow lanes or unstable geology - we must keep fighting these plans and the unjust injunction that seeks to silence us.

Now we are fundraising. We are protected against UKOG’s costs but need to pay our legal team. Please support us by pledging online

This Author

Vicki Elcoate is a member of the Weald Action Group.

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here