by Mads Ryle and Sian Cowman
October 11th was the third Global Frackdown – a day of international actions and resistance against the fracking industry and the governments supporting it. The extraction of ‘uncoventional fuels’, and fracking in particular, remain one of the most prominent battle lines in climate activism and the movement for a clean energy future. Very recently this has been underlined by Naomi Klein, who at speaking events and interviews to promote her new book ‘This Changes Everything’ has repeatedly emphasised the power and new potential of today’s anti-fracking struggle.
With the Democracy Center staff as usual spread about the place, here we just give you a quick update on some fracking and anti-fracking news from the UK, Ireland and Bolivia.
In the UK the government continues to scythe away at trespass laws in order to open doors to the fracking industry in the face of enormous public opposition, with up to 60% of the country now being declared fair game for exploration, and with fracking companies now relieved of the obligation to inform homeowners if fracking infrastructure will be built underneath their houses. The government did carry out a consultation on whether fracking should go ahead, but when 99% of 40,647 respondents stated their objection to the industry, the government simply ignored them, saying that “no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.” Which kind of tells you what they think about A. Citizen’s opinions. Just a few days ago what looks like an extremely sloppy bit of new legislation has also given those companies the right to use and leave ‘any substance’ in the ground that they produce through their operations, making a mockery of the reassurances that have been given on the tight regulations that would be put in place on fracking in the UK.
Nevertheless, grassroots opposition remains very active, particularly in the prime sites of the southeast and northwest of England. There were frackdown events across communities on the 11th (often joining up with groups protesting the TTIP free trade agreement), but more significantly there are ongoing community blockades at several sites around the country, targeting exploration activities by a number of companies including Celtique Energy, Raithlin Energy, Dart Energy, Cuadrilla Resources and Angus Energy. Just a few days ago a new protest camp was set up at the Horse Hill site in Surrey, not far from Gatwick Airport, where oil has recently been discovered. ‘Frack free’ groups around the country continue to assess and react to local events and decision-making processes by local and regional councils. In West Sussex this has just been successful at getting the council to refuse a drilling application by Celtique Energy, though the company has been quick to appeal the decision.
In Ireland, several events took place across the country, North and South, for Global Frackdown Day.
11th October was also the European Day of Action against TTIP (a trade and investment partnership between the US and the EU). In Dublin, a network of civil society organisations hosted a series of workshops on the impacts of these trade agreements, including a workshop on fracking and climate change. Campaigners from the grassroots network No Fracking Ireland attended the TTIP event, and then moved on to join in one of the largest protests to take place in Ireland recently.
The march was called for by a campaign group for the abolition of the new Irish water charges, Right2Water. Anti-fracking campaigners joined in the 100,000 strong march, a united turn-out of people from communities all over the country joining together to stop water privatisation. With the demonstrated destructive impacts of fracking on water, the presence of anti-fracking campaigners at this march highlighted the important links between these campaigns.
This Global Frackdown Irish anti-fracking campaigners had a victory to celebrate: an Australian company, Tamboran Resources (who hold fracking licences both North and South) have been halted in their tracks. In the North, their licence allowed for an exploratory borehole, with which they attempted to bore on an old quarry in Co. Fermanagh, only a couple of kilometres from the border. Campaigners set up a full time vigil outside the site, dubbed ‘The Gates of Hell’, and ran many community events and e-actions to mobilise people against fracking. They gained a first victory when the Northern Environment Minister called for full planning permission and an environmental assessment at the site, and so halted the borehole. A few weeks later, Tamboran’s licence was due to expire. The licence had already been renewed once by the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, and this time she did not renew the licence again (though she claims that public pressure had nothing to do with her decision).
In the region of this important victory, the border area between counties Fermanagh, Leitrim and Cavan, community campaigners organised several Global Frackdown events: a pig on a spit outside the former borehole (now dubbed ‘The Gates of Heaven’), a day and an evening of music, story-telling and craic as a ‘farewell to Tamboran‘, and a gig of comedy and music in an arts centre.
Of course, the battle is not over. Tamboran are planning to bring judicial reviews against both Ministers’ decisions. And two more areas in the North are in the immediate firing line. Global Frackdown events took place there too – an info stall by the Protect our Coast and Glens group in Antrim, and an anti-fracking and TTIP bus tour in Belfast by Not for $hale.
Fracking is also threatening its arrival across much of Latin America, where activists are just starting to get to grips with the threat it poses and how they will confront it. One of the most active countries so far, both for exploration and resistance, is Argentina – read the new report from Friends of the Earth about UFF extraction there. The Colombian government is also poised to embrace the technology in the face of falling conventional oil supplies. As far as Bolivia is concerned, we had this message from one of our allies on the state of play here:
Since 2000, Bolivia has become a hydrocarbon state, where the majority of state revenue comes from exporting gas (roughly $6 billion per year of gas). But it plans to massively increase exports and simultaneously build 19 industrial plants in the near future to industrialise the country. At present rates of extraction, Bolivia has 19 more years of gas, but with this additional extraction planned, it will only last another decade. For this reason, YPFB, the state hydrocarbon company, is planning to begin fracking so that Bolivia can exploit its 48 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves (the 17th highest in the world). In June 2013 Bolivia signed an agreement with YPF Argentina to begin shale gas exploration in Abapó, Santa Cruz. If Bolivia exploits all these reserves, it will consume 242 million liters of water and produce 2.6 GigaTons of CO2. Environmental activists in Bolivia have held two small preventative/informative protests over the last two years, and wider civil society is started to get informed about this growing threat, so watch this space to see what happens next…
The Democracy Center is looking at ways to develop links between the fracking movement internationally in order to effect knowledge and strategy transfer between communities facing this threat. Do get in touch if you are working in that area, or would like to be involved.