Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Albion Fracked?

Convoy on Barton Moss Road 13/12/13
There’s a war going on in Albion. You may not have noticed it yet, but it might be coming your way soon. The enemy is fracking, an unconventional fossil fuel bad for the planet as a whole and whichever corner of it they drilling in particular.

The government is broadly in favour, the media broadly ignorant and the City cautiously supportive. But a grass roots movement of eco-warriors and concerned locals threatens to upset their plans.

Camps are springing up across the land. It started in Lancashire in May, with 300 people at Camp Frack. Sussex then did it in the balmy days of July. Damh the Bard was there, and so where thousands of others, having fun in the sun. But us hard northern types in Greater Manchester doing it in December.

As I write their camp in Barton Moss is awaiting the arrival of the drilling rig. They are currently sorted for baked beans and pasta sauce but running low on fresh coffee and beer. So, situation critical.

It’s Oil Jim, But Not As We Know It

Shale gas, the stuff they’re looking for in Lancashire; shale oil, the stuff they were trying to get at
Boris and I at Barton Moss
Balcombe; and coal seam gas, which is what they currently claim to be looking for in Manchester, all come under the category of ‘unconventional oil’.

The processes are slightly different, but basically it’s about getting oil that is not stored in porous rock. Instead of just sticking in a pipe and sucking it out, fracking involves pumping water and chemicals into the ground to force the rock apart to free the hydrocarbons trapped within.

There is air pollution, noise, gas flaring and lots of lorries. It requires large amounts of water being brought in and large amounts of waste being taken out. Under the ground bore holes can crack and previously impermeable rock can shatter. Methane can end up where it’s not wanted; in the atmosphere, in the ground water and in people.

The Rebel Alliance

Well there had to be drummers
People opposed to fracking generally get there from two different directions.

For environmentalists fracking is another unwanted fossil fuel. Possibly it is one of the worst, as leakage of the potent greenhouse gas methane from the fracking sites may mean it causes more Climate Change than coal.

For people with a fracking well in their back garden, the concerns are the noise, air pollution, vehicle traffic and the possibility of methane contamination of the water table.

At times it can seem like the people who go round supporting wind turbines and those who oppose them have got together and decided the one thing they both don’t like is fracking. Best of all it’s a grass roots movement. Some big NGOs have almost given up, as everything they would have wanted to do has already been done by self organising local groups.

That makes a powerful movement, and one that is global. In Australia fracking in Queensland was resisted so strongly the other states either banned it outright or inflicted a punitive regulatory regime. In France and Bulgaria campaigns have led to indefinite bans.

But the real question is, can we win here?

I think the answer is a great big yes. 

Here’s why.

Jittery Markets

On the fence over fracking
People don't frack for the fun of it. This is about making money.

The thing to remember is these aren't big companies by the standards we're used to. They hope to get big, but they're not there yet. Centrica's £60 million deal with John Browne’s Cuadrill  would barely have been enough to pay the board its bonus in the days he was head of BP.

They are hoping to make megabucks, but first they need other people's money.

Industry consultants KPMG, who don’t usually see eye-to-eye with environmentalists, are sceptical. They talk about "tremendous reputational and regulatory hurdles", "high costs", "financial risk", and "extended development periods". This is all industry code for “careful you don’t lose your shirt”.

Governments, as we know to our cost, can be incredibly pig headed and can stick with bad decisions forever rather than appear weak. The City though can change its mind in an instant. It wasn't John Major's government that gave in to Greenpeace over the Brent Spar - they were getting ready to send in the SBS - but Shell which threw in the towel.

Worried MPs

The risk management company Control Risks wrote a report on fracking in which they note "activist groups are well-organised (I guess they’ve never been to one of our meetings) and actively network internationally” (they must have heard of Boris) and a government which is "is cautious or divided in its approach towards unconventional gas development".

Put together they worry:
Convoy enters Igas site on Barton Moss 13/12/13
"Protest activity in the UK can be expected to persist as new sites are targeted for exploration, although the composition of issues and concerns will vary by locality. While these demonstrations may only be marginally successful at physically disrupting drilling – Cuadrilla was delayed by just a week at Balcombe – their real impact will be felt in the politics of shale. Tory backbenchers viewing fracking as an electoral liability is a greater success for the anti-fracking movement than blockading a project site."

So they see us pesky protesters as a big threat and the Countryside Alliance supporting Conservative MPs of the Stockbroker belt as the weakest link.

Happy Campers

Guinevere Rose Ditchburn
So here's the challenge for us. Taking a group of rowdy, anti-capitalist anarchists, design a campaign to appeal to both a shrewd stockbroker and a Tory backwoodsman.

Should be easy.

However, in case you’re stuck for ideas, Control Risks has some for you.
Direct action is intended to draw media attention to the anti-fracking movement, motivate the anti-fracking opposition, and physically disrupt operations. Project site blockades, in particular, have emerged as a favoured low-cost, high-impact tactic, especially in the UK.

So there you go.

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