Anti Frackers will stay at PNR
Energy firm Cuadrilla dismantles frack site
Energy firm Cuadrilla dismantles frack site
Anti-fracking protests will continue in Lancashire despite indications that the industry has ground to a halt.
“We’ll be here until they go,” campaigner El Santos, 26, told Big Issue North. “Maybe it’s coming to an end but we don’t know yet.”
This week, after 30 months on site, dogged by protests, regulations and earthquakes, Bamber Bridge-based energy firm Cuadrilla Resources began to demobilise equipment from Preston New Road (PNR) near Blackpool, the only operational fracking site in the country. It confirmed it would not be resuming fracking this year.
The announcement came 35 days after fracking caused a 2.9 magnitude earthquake that led a reported 100 people to complain to Cuadrilla about damage to their homes. Over 130 seismic events were recorded after fracking just seven of an intended 45 stages of the second well at Cuadrilla’s flagship site, the biggest of which meant that the firm had to down tools while the Oil and Gas Authority investigated. Last year Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said a day’s delay cost the firm £94,000.
Planning conditions under the Town and Country Planning Act meant Cuadrilla’s permission to extract gas from shale rock thousands of feet below the surface, by injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure, would expire in November – 30 months from the date it began drilling the first well. A Cuadrilla spokesperson told Big Issue North that it plans to seek a scoping opinion from Lancashire County Council for a variation in its planning permission, and if possible put in a formal request.*
Following opposition campaigns at a number of sites across the country– including neighbouring Preese Hall where Cuadrilla induced a 1.5 magnitude earthquake in 2011 – campaigners concerned about environmental implications mobilised to PNR when work began in 2017.
From obstructing workforces to reporting breaches of planning permission, the sustained campaign has challenged Cuadrilla’s every move since and last week it marked 1,000 days of action at the PNR roadside. The firm eventually began fracking in October 2018 but campaigners take credit for delaying the process and holding the firm to account.
“Even though we didn’t stop the fracking I think our impact is quite great so it might serve as a warning to other companies, and if it finishes here we’ll go and help somebody else,” campaigner Ros Wills, 66, told Big Issue North from the roadside shack overlooking Cuadrilla’s PNR site.
The retired pharmacist from nearby Poulton first became engaged with fracking in 2012 after being “horrified” by the chemicals involved. She is part of a rota of activists who sit in the shack 24 hours a day, seven days a week, inches away from the busy road. The shack is insulated and there are home comforts including a comfy sofa and a stove for heating and cooking. Passing drivers honk their horn in support of the activists.
“It’s been a long arduous struggle and an uphill battle,” said Santos, who lives on New Hope Resistance Camp – a makeshift but sophisticated site on a piece of formerly disused land on PNR, 1.5 miles from Cuadrilla’s operation. With kitchen, communal area, food store and private living quarters it has been home for Santos and other full-time resident anti-fracking activists for two years, and also boasts a bunkhouse for visiting protesters.
“It started off as a place we were going to live and it had to be a sanctuary because it was going hand in hand with the campaign and was fundamental to the protest,” said Santos. “At first we were all in tents and cooking on an open fire but now it’s a home. We’ve had good builders so the shacks are weatherproof and nothing’s fallen down.”
Santos says the camp will make a group decision about where to go and what to do next but members agree it will be on to the next immediate environmental concern and it won’t be yet.
In Cuadrilla’s statement last week Egan said: “We are committed to exploring for shale gas with the aim to establish a domestic energy supply that the UK really needs. Bowland shale as a whole could be a very important resource for Lancashire and the UK and we plan to continue with our work to prove this.”
Despite work on dismantling the fracking equipment beginning immediately the company said it would begin flow testing – evaluating the shale gas potential – the partially fracked well.
Half way between the roadside shack and New Hope Camp on PNR is Maple Farm Nurseries, which has provided a base for the anti-fracking campaign over the past two-and-a-half years thanks to sympathetic owner John Tootle. A large polytunnel provides a place to host meetings and organise, and some campaigners, including 41-year-old Katrina Lawrie, live there in caravans.
Lawrie is one of three people who were taken to court by Cuadrilla for taking part in a lock-on outside the gate, breaching an injunction granted by the High Court. Critics said campaigners’ right to peaceful protest was being quashed but activists could not afford to challenge the decision in court.
“Let this be clear – this is justice for the highest bidder,” she said. “They took us to court and they tried to send us to prison because we had the courage of our convictions.”
She believes if Cuadrilla is defeated it will be the downfall of the fracking industry in the UK, although some local residents continue to believe fracking will bring jobs and investment, as well as contributing to the country’s energy needs.
“We knew from the very start that if we won at PNR we would win everywhere,” she said. “We know we’re on the winning side – we’ve just got to sit it out.”
* 7 Oct 2019. This article has been amended after Cuadrilla asked to clarify its position on requesting to vary its planning permission. A spokesperson originally said it had no current plans to do so.
Photo: In the roadside shack on PNR (L-R) Ros Wills with PhD researcher Sarah O’Brien, and fellow activists Debra Whiteside and 12-year-old Matthew Whiteside (Claire Griffiths)