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Fracking: What The Actual Frack?

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By the time you read this, I am likely to be in prison.

On 25 September, along with three others, I will be sentenced in Preston Crown Court for committing a public nuisance, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The crime was standing on top of lorries carrying fracking equipment, half a mile from Cuadrilla's frack site at Preston New Road in Lancashire. We stayed on these lorries for four days to delay the equipment being delivered and to raise awareness of how this industry threatens our communities, environment and democracy. Here's why.

The UK government seems determined to extract a new source of fossil fuel - natural gas from shale rock, deep underground. To unlock the gas requires millions of gallons of water and chemicals forced at very high pressure to fracture the rock like a smashed car windscreen. This 'high volume hydraulic fracturing' is commonly called fracking. Around the same time as Britain was negotiating the Paris Agreement on climate change, hundreds of UK fracking licences were leased to private companies.

For me, one frack is too many

David Cameron promised that shale gas would improve our energy security. He also said fracking can be done safely, pointing to the US as proof. But there is growing evidence that it can and does cause harm to water, public health and the environment.

One of the companies, INEOS - 60% controlled by the richest person in Britain, who is now relocating to tax-free Monaco - owns more licensed area than any other and wants to use shale gas as a fuel for its petrochemical plants and as a feedstock for their manufacture of plastics. So it's a triple whammy. We get the pollution when they extract the gas, pollution when they burn the gas, and pollution when their plastics are used and discarded.

For me, one frack is too many, but another problem is the potential scale of this. Experts have predicted thousands of wells across the north of England. With each well there will follow an infrastructure of new roads, thousands of HGVs, diesel fumes, hundreds of miles of pipelines, gas processing plants and, of course, associated greenhouse gas emissions.

There is growing opposition to fracking in the UK. Over 400 groups have emerged over the last few years. Most political parties and most major unions are now opposed to fracking. England is surrounded by countries that have either banned fracking or have moratoria in place. Even our government's own experts are expressing caution, but the government seems to pay heed only to intense lobbying from the fossil fuel industry.

Even our government's own experts are expressing caution

In our region there are already six exploration wells planned at five sites in North East Derbyshire, South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire in the face of widespread opposition. Planning applications turned down by local councils have been overturned at public inquiries and injunctions limiting our right to protest are now in place.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the government now wants to make exploration drilling 'permitted development', which means planning permission will not be required at all. It will be taken out of the hands of our locally-elected representatives. Furthermore, it wants to make fracking a 'nationally significant infrastructure project', which means planning applications will be decided by government-appointed planning inspectors. These are attacks on localism. If fracking happens, it will be against our will.

What makes this devastating situation bearable for me is the extraordinary support of the community that has come together to fight fracking. This is an incredible network of people of all walks of life and experiences. You can write letters to papers and your MPs, inform your neighbours over a cup of tea, help with events fundraising for camps and campaigns, bake cakes for demonstrations, and sing your heart out at the fracking site gates.

Everyone is welcome in this fight to stay frack free. We need all the voices, bodies and minds we can muster, especially with a few of us likely to be locked up behind bars.

Wish me luck in court.

Roscoe Blevins, with David Burley & Jenny Gerrans

Frack Free South Yorkshire

Next article in issue 127

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