This is No Small Fracking Matter

Sites of Resistance invite you to join us at 6pm Wednesday 21st November 2018 at Number 70 Oxford Street, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, M1 5NH to discuss recent developments in fracking and anti-fracking protests, and the wider significance of this in terms of defending the right to protest.

We are delighted to confirm that Richard Roberts of the Anti-Fracking Three, alongside further campaigner(s) from Reclaim the Power and Frack Free Lancashire will be joining us to share their experiences, alongside Dr Will Jackson co-author of the Keep Moving! Report on the Policing of the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp.

The event is free to attend but for event organisation purposes we ask you to please register for your free ticket via this link.

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This is No Small Fracking Matter

On Wednesday 26th September 2018 Simon Roscoe Blevins, Richard Roberts, and Richard Loizou (hereafter referred to as The Anti-Fracking Three) were sentenced to prison terms of between 15 – 16 months at Preston Crown Court. Their ‘crime’? Opposing the controversial process of Hydraulic Fracking, or ‘fracking’ as it is more commonly known, through peaceful direct action, at the Preston New Road site near Blackpool, Lancashire. On Tuesday 27th July 2017, 8 lorries associated with the Caudrilla Resources oil and gas exploration company, carrying various forms of fracking equipment, sought to enter the New Preston Road site and were blocked by a mass gathering of people. When the lorries came to a stop, The Anti-Fracking Three climbed atop 3 of the lorries and remained there for times varying between 45 and 84 hours. Convicted of ‘causing a public nuisance’, The Anti-Fracking Three are the first people to be sent to prison in the UK for anti-fracking protest action, and, they are understood to be the first environmental activists jailed directly pertaining to the course of an act of protest since 1932 (although it should be noted that other environmental activists have received prison sentences for taking a political stand not to pay fines for example). On Wednesday 17th October The Anti-Fracking Three were freed during their appeal process where the judge deemed their original sentences ‘manifestly excessive’ (Gayle et al., 2018).

What is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracking is a process of extracting gas and oil from various types of rock, most notably shale rock. It is achieved through drilling into the earth’s surface in both vertical and horizontal patterns, including the creation of wells up to 3 km deep. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is then pumped into the ground at extremely high pressures creating ‘fractures’ to release oil and gas.

Fracking: A huge concern

Fracking is opposed by many for the untold dangers that it may bring. Although the full effects of fracking are arguably unknown, thus far concerns raised include effects on the environment such as the sourcing of huge amounts of water for the process, it’s impact on national parks, and its effect on the earth’s surface – with fracking being cited as ‘highly likely’ to have caused the 1.5 and 2.2 magnitude earthquakes experienced in the Lancashire area during fracking ‘tests’ in 2011 (BBC, 2015). Contamination of water sources is also a highly referenced concern. The Oscar nominated documentary such as Gasland (2010), and its sequel Gasland II (2013), have shown footage of persons who live near fracking sites in the US as able to light their running tap water with a single match, due the entry of methane into the water supply – argued to be a direct result of the Fracking process. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that there is the risk of ‘spills or leaks’ at every stage of the fracking process including ‘during the transport, mixing and storage of the water and flowback’.

The State and the Corporation

Since the imprisonment of the Anti-Fracking Three, it was revealed, late in October 2018, by journalists for the Mirror Online that the presiding Judge over the case, Judge Robert Altham had links to the oil and gas industry. Smith (2018: np) argues that ‘J.C. Altham and Sons is believed to be part of the supply chain for energy giant Centrica, which has invested tens of millions of pounds in fracking’. This once again calls into question the mutually reinforcing relationship between the State and the Corporation in the pursuit of capital gains. As stated by Tombs and Whyte (2015) in their text The Corporate Criminal: Why Corporations Must Be Abolished, ‘corporations are institutions that are created for the mobilisation, utilisation and protection of capital within recent socio-historical state formations […] corporations are wholly artificial entities whose very existence is provided for, and maintained, through the state via legal institutions and instruments’ (p.54).

This Is No Small Fracking Matter … and defending the Right to Protest

Aside from the acute injustice experienced by The Anti-Fracking Three, and the other 300 hundred protestors who have been arrested at the site in Lancashire amongst many others at fracking sites in Surrey, Yorkshire, West Sussex and Nottinghamshire, this case is of relevance and concern for activists and people everywhere alike. It is important not only to recognise the specific injustice of the criminalisation and imprisonment of The Anti-Fracking Three specifically, but to identify that the outcome of this case has significant implications for our collective ability and right to contest injustices in a whole range of matters across society. As stated by Richard Loizou, within the video for the Free The Three by The Frack Free Four Supporters:

‘Protest is like a safety valve for democracy [without protest], we wouldn’t have the vote, we wouldn’t have ended slavery, we wouldn’t have had civil rights, we wouldn’t have had a decent working week, we wouldn’t have half of the parks and open spaces that we actually have around the country, if it wasn’t for protest. Protest is what keeps the government in check, it is a very reasonable check for corporate power and for that influence that corporate power has on the government, it’s an essential thing in a healthy democracy’.

Samantha Fletcher is a Lecturer in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University and the Coordinator of the Crimes of the Powerful Working Group c/o The European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control.

References

BBC News (2015) What is Fracking and why is it controversial? Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14432401 [Accessed 11/10/18]

Gayle, D. Perraudin, F. and Bowcott, O. (2018) Fracking protesters walk free after court quashes ‘excessive’ sentences, available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/17/court-quashes-excessive-sentences-of-fracking-protesters [Accessed 22/10/18]

Perraudin, F. (2018) Blackpool activists jailed for anti-fracking protest, Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/26/anti-fracking-activists-jailed-for-blackpool-cuadrilla-protest [Accessed 11/10/18]

Smith, L. (2018) Judge who jailed fracking protesters with ‘excessive’ sentence has family links to oil and gas firm, Available from: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/judge-criticised-jailing-fracking-protesters-13396324 [Accessed 11/10/18]

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2015) The Corporate Criminal: Why Corporations Must Be Abolished, Oxon: Routledge.

United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) (2012) Thematic Focus: Resource Efficiency, Harmful Substances and Hazardous Waste, Available from: https://na.unep.net/geas/getUNEPPageWithArticleIDScript.php?article_id=93 [Accessed 11/10/18]

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