On 21st March 2018, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham held his first Green Summit, where he announced his intention to make Manchester one of the greenest cities on the planet. Many fine words were said, but it’s far too early to judge what actions they will result in.
However, in the evening Frack Free Greater Manchester held an anti-fracking fringe event to review the four years that had passed since IGas ended their initial search for shale gas at Barton Moss, Salford. About thirty people packed into a room at Central Methodists hall to hear the story of the opposition to fracking in the UK, and to plan the next moves in the campaign.
Helena Coates – Frack Free Greater Manchester
Helena, who was part of the campaign against drilling at Barton Moss, said that when she first joined the protests, she did not think of herself as an environmentalist. But as she kept attending the slow walks, and saw how the protectors were policed, she started to make connections between the economics, the politics and the issues.
She said that she though out her campaigning against fracking, she has always been a mother and she ended her talk by reading from The Storm, by Kathy Henderson. A tale of a mother and son who survive a wild night on a barren coastline, it was a story of the power of nature, and about survival.
Eddie Thornton – Kirby Misperton Protection Camp
Eddie was part of the campaign to stop Third Energy fracking at Kirby Misperton, near Pickering in North Yorkshire. The KM8 well looked like ot should have been the easiest place in the country for fracking to get going as it was on an existing industrial site, and a well had already been drilled for conventional gas in 2011 – although they had ‘accidently’ over-drilled by more than a kilometre. The gas would enter the grid by an existing pipeline and, despite 4000 letters of objection, against only 30 in support, the local authority had approved planning permission.
However things did not go smoothly for Third Energy. Frack Free Ryedale was set up round a kitchen table in 2014, and at the end of 2016 a protection camp was set up. Eddie described Christmas at the camp, which was still being built. As he and the other protectors huddled round candles in the cold, a procession of locals brought them Christmas dinner in stages, something which kept them going both “physically and spiritually”.
Kirby Misperton is an area that is conservative with both a small and a large ‘c’. However the campaign, led by the community and supported by the camp, soon started to attract support from people who did not usually embrace radical causes. Even the local bishop turned up. Third Energy and the police had a communication strategy that tried to divide the locals and the protectors, but the camp always had three people working with the press to counter this.
Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Development, could have approved the fracking in October last year. However, as a result of the opposition, he got cold feet. This was to have catastrophic consequences for Third Energy.
In January 2018 the outsourcing giant Carillion collapsed. Third Energy’s chairman, Keith Cochrane, was a former chief executive of Carillion, and this put the spotlight on the energy companies finances. Third Energy had filed their accounts four months late, but when they did it showed they had £52 million of debt, and only a few thousand pounds of assets.
Throughout the campaign in Ryedale, campaigners across the country had been targeting Barclays bank, Third Energy’s main financial backers. faced with growing opposition, and Third Energy’s collapsing business case, Barclays basically “pulled the plug on their finances“. The government imposed a financial test on fracking companies, which Third Energy failed. They withdrew their rig and, despite promises to return in the autumn, it is almost certainly all over.
Eddie was clear what had happened: community resistance works. The companies, and their backers, know that opposition is growing. Even a large bank like Barclays cannot ignore this.
But Eddie also said he saw in their victory in North Yorkshire, a way that the national campaign can be won. The collapse of Third Energy’s finances gave the government a “way out” of supporting fracking, without having to do a politically embarrassing U-turn, and Eddie hoped that the success at Kirby Misperton can be the model of how to defeat fracking in the rest of the country. INEOS, who plan to frack large parts of Yorkshire and the East Midlands, have a mountain of debt and their stock is effectively junk bonds. All it may take to end their threat is for the government to go over their books.
Maureen Mills – Frack Free Lancashire
The campaign in North Yorkshire may have been won, but n Lancashire it continues. Despite the planning inspector deciding it should not go ahead, the government is reopening the public enquiry into Cuadrilla Resources’ application to frack at Roseacre Wood on 10 April.
Of the different ways the campaign against fracking had developed, Maureen was particularly impressed by the contribution of the Trade Unions, especially the One Million Climate jobs pamphlet. “This is now a campaign for social justice.” The way forward, she thought, was to “win the hearts and minds” of people.
Maureen said she can see the results of this tactic. “More people oppose fracking than support it“. She said “I really feel the tide is turning,” especially with people in Lancashire “now it’s landing on their doorsteps.” However she warned “the thing is sticking together, with a united resistance.”
The success in North Yorkshire had left her “even more buoyed up”. Like Third Energy, the companies that plan to frack Lancashire have “precious little money.”
Maureen also said that Frack Free Lancashire would like to hold another rally in Manchester, like the United Against Fracking march in November 2016. The energy of that day had sustained campaigners through their year old protest at the gates of Cuadrilla’s site.
“Let’s do it again,” she said.