Fracking industry aims for two milestones

Shale gas extraction in the north moves closer as two companies press ahead with plans – but campaigners protest at 'aggressive' policing

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A 79-year-old Yorkshire woman serving tea and an 85 year old in Lancashire sitting by the side of the road are the latest protesters to have been forcibly moved by the police as the fracking industry on both sides of the Pennines gears up for drilling milestones this month.

Cuadrilla is about to move from vertical to horizontal drilling at Preston New Road as it tests the amount of shale gas at the site near Blackpool. Because it disrupts the surface less, the technique, pioneered in the US, is seen as a more efficient way of releasing the gas.

Third Energy meanwhile hopes to begin fracking – injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into rock – by the end of year at Kirby Misperton now the Environment Agency has approved its plans. Energy secretary Greg Clark must first give his consent before the company can test how commercially viable it is to extract the gas in North Yorkshire.

Although protesters’ numbers have fallen at Preston New Road, they continue daily to highlight their safety and environment concerns in the face of what they claim is heavy-handed policing.

Last week campaigner 85-year-old Anne Power said she was considering making a complaint against police after officers lifted her across the road without supporting her legs.

“I was not going to be neglected by the police and then bullied by them.”

She had refused to move from a seated position on the side of the road after a lorry came within inches of her without anyone warning her. “I was so angry that all these police were around – somebody’s paying for them – and nobody was alerting us to the danger,” she told Big Issue North.

“The police wanted all of us to cross to the other side of the road. I could see no particular reason for it but I wasn’t interested in the reason anyway as I was so angry.

“I was not going to be neglected by the police and then bullied by them. I refused to do whatever they said. So they lifted me out of my chair and dragged me across the road by the shoulders. They did nothing to lift my ankles or feet.”

After the incident a protester filmed a police officer admitting that in future officers would not carry an elderly woman in a similar way.

Power, from Manchester, is a veteran of fracking protests, beginning with Barton Moss in Salford in 2013. She claimed the policing at Preston New Road was increasingly aggressive, more so than Barton Moss.

A Lancashire Constabulary spokesperson said: “No complaint has been received about this matter but we will review our tactics, as we constantly do in any event, to ensure we are adhering to best practice.
If anyone does wish to complain they can do so by visiting our website.”

At Kirby Misperton 79-year-old Jackie Brooks complained of “bullying tactics” by officers who removed her from the site, where she had been supplying tea and cakes to protesters. The officers said she had to be moved from a spot close to a wooden tower built by a protester because of fears it might fall on her but in a statement Brooks claimed the tower was safe.

“It’s just another way of pushing us around – it’s bullying tactics,” she said.

The tower on the verge of Habton Road was dismantled and a man arrested and released on bail.

Superintendent Lindsey Robson of North Yorkshire Police said: “We have a duty to ensure the safety of everyone involved in protests at Kirby Misperton.

“Officers had to move several people away from a tower of pallets this morning after we received advice from the local authority that it may not be safe. While some people were unhappy, we spoke to them and asked them to move for their own safety, which they did. We will always act to protect people from harm.”

A total of 26 people were arrested at the Kirby Misperton site in September and 22 have been charged for offences including obstructing the highway, assaulting and obstructing a police officer. On 11 October six people were arrested, including one for suspicion of possessing ammunition.

But police also point out that they have ensured peaceful protests, including two on 11 October.

“Every day, officers will engage with the protest community, explaining clearly what is acceptable in terms of safety and reasonableness.”

Protestors requested a 20-minute “hold” at the gate at 1.10pm, which was facilitated by officers. A number of lorries left the site just after 1.30pm. And at 3.15pm, protesters carried out a slow walk protest in front of two lorries, which left without incident at 3.35pm. Police says Habton Road was kept open to passing traffic throughout.

“We need to balance the rights, needs and wishes of everyone at the site, including those who want to assemble and protest safely and peacefully,” said Robson. “Every day, officers will engage with the protest community, explaining clearly what is acceptable in terms of safety and reasonableness, and what action will be taken if necessary.”

Earlier this month a judge presiding over a trial of eight campaigners who locked themselves together at Preston New Road questioned whether anti-fracking protesters should receive legal aid in the future.

Passing sentence on the eight, who were all found guilty of obstructing the highway but were given conditional discharges, Judge Michael Snow said he was calling for a halt to the funding “for the benefit of the legal aid system”.

Francis Egan, chief executive officer of Cuadrilla, said: “People have a right to lawful protest which we respect. That said, professional activists, the majority from outside Lancashire, have a track record of illegally causing road closures, preventing Lancashire businesses carrying out their lawful work and seriously disrupting Lancashire commuters going about their daily business.

“These activists are quite rightly being brought before court to answer the charges against them. We have consistently said that these illegal and intimidating protest tactics are a waste of taxpayers’ money, both in terms of policing and the judiciary’s time.”

Proponents of fracking believe shale gas could make a significant contribution to the UK’s energy needs and enhance its energy security. Cuadrilla hopes to start fracking early next year.

In 2013 scientists from the British Geological Survey estimated there is likely to be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the ground in the north. According to trade association United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas the UK uses 2.5-3 trillion cubic feet of gas a year for heating.

Last week a report by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said that the UK’s gas energy supply was secure without shale, even in the face of the “most severe, very low probability shocks” but it also stated: “The government believes that shale gas has the potential to play a crucial role in the GB energy system.”

Egan said Cuadrilla was “very proud” to be the first operator that will drill horizontal wells into UK shale rock.

“Drilling started at our Preston New Road site in Lancashire in the summer,” he said. “The ability to drill horizontally, at depths miles under our feet, will allow us to increase the rate of gas flow from just one well, which reduces the number of well heads on the surface and therefore significantly lessens any potential impact on the environment.”

Ineos, a much larger company, lags behind Cuadrilla and Third Energy in drilling but, with its financial clout and number of fracking licenses, could yet be a larger player in the north. It holds six licenses in Cheshire and five in Yorkshire.

Although it is still only at the stage of conducting seismic surveys and applying for planning permission, last month it won a wide-ranging High Court injunction against any activists who obstructed its fracking activities in the future, strengthening the powers of the police as anyone who broke it would be in contempt of court.

“The conversation about fracking in this country will be informed by an actual frack. For me that will change everything.”

Reacting to the Scottish government’s decision earlier this month to ban fracking, a bullish Tom Pickering, Ineos chief executive, said: “The Scottish government has turned its back on a potential manufacturing and jobs renaissance.”

Third Energy technical director Alan Linn told The Yorkshire Post it intended to spend around £17 million on its first well and that it had a “moral responsibility” to demonstrate fracking could be carried out safely. “The conversation about fracking in this country will be informed by an actual frack,” he said. “For me that will change everything.”

But Andrew Aplin, Durham Energy Institute professor of unconventional petroleum, said the two companies’ milestones “did not change anything” and warned the industry was making “slow progress”. He pointed out that Cuadrilla had conducted test fracking six years ago but was stopped when it caused two earthquakes in Blackpool.

“To progress at all the process has to be without risk,” he said. “These wells will need to be monitored extensively – that’s one reason why they are so expensive.”

Another reason for their expense, he added, was that the UK industry did not have the same supply chain as the US, where the industry had drive down costs “remarkably” in the face of cheap Saudi oil. At £17 million, Third Energy’s first well was likely to be more expensive than exploring a US well “by at least a factor of two”.

Photo: Police move tea lady Jackie Brooks from her table at the Kirby Misperton fracking site (SWNS)

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