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Grandmothers lead U.K.-wide wave of direct action against fracking

On a U.K.-wide day of action on Monday, anti-frackers locked-on to gates to defend planned fracking sites and occupied fracking companies. They closed down PR companies and blocked government departments. In total, 12 anti-fracking actionstook place across the U.K.

The coordinated protests aimed to highlight the dangers of fracking and the corrupt web of corporate and government power aggressively pushing the process forward despite widespread public opposition.

Catalyzed by, and created within, the week-long Reclaim the Power camp taking place in Lancashire in North West England, the actions couldn't have happened without grandmothers and mothers first occupying the land on which U.K. fracking giant Cuadrilla plans to begin drilling full-scale in earnest.

Grandmothers and Mums Lead the Fight to Rid the U.K. of Fracking

Twenty-five women, some retired, and three men met at a covert rendezvous point at 5 a.m. on August 7. Sporting camouflage, they rushed onto the field. "When you legally occupy a field, you have to run a piece of marker tape around the site, so we did this first," grandmother Ros Wills tells me.

Cheryl Atkinson, another mother, says they coordinated the action with secret meetings, calling it Operation Acorn – because big things grow from little acorns.

Reclaim the Power, a nationwide anti-fracking and environmental movement in the U.K., accepted the group's invitation to hold its annual camp on the site. Reflecting with pride on the organization of their site occupation, Atkinson says, "Fighting fracking has brought this community together – being proactive, both the campaign and camp are opportunities for the first time to stop fracking."

The risks posed by hydraulic fracturing – which involves blasting thousands of gallons of water mixed with chemicals underground to break up shale gas deposits – are what motivated them to act, adds Wills. "Since we found out plans to frack Blackpool, we discovered it pollutes the water with chemicals, pollutes the air, and causes earthquakes," she says.

Fracking Began in Blackpool and May End in Blackpool

The U.K. government's plans to frack the country hinge on starting at two sites in the county of Lancashire, the place where British fracking was first attempted in 2011. To initiate its full-blown fracking campaign, the company Cuadrilla submitted a 4,500-page planning consultation document, on which the local council will make a decision.

But with local campaigners building awareness and public pressure mounting, the authorities were forced to once more extend the deadline for public consultation, pushing it back to November.

Helping lead the opposition, Frack Free Lancashire has gathered 18,000 signatures and counting. That number is currently rising by the hour, catalyzed further by the Reclaim the Power camp, and is supported by this Friends of the Earth online petition.

"We are now getting tremendous support by raising the profile of fracking. When you go out petitioning now, you don't even have to explain. People sign up straight away," Atkinson says.

"The whole world is watching here, because if they frack Lancashire, they will frack the U.K. – maybe even spreading it across Europe," Bob Dennett, another member of Frack Free Lancashire, tells me.

Dennett explains that in its planning application, Cuadrilla calls for permission to do exploratory drilling. But upon deeper analysis, the environmental impact assessment states that this so-called exploration in fact aims to add gas into the power grid for two years.

"It must mean full-scale fracking, as the production of these wells drops off by 64% in the first year and 35% more in the second year. So there is no way on this earth they are going to do that without getting paid for it," he said.

Dennett calls on people everywhere to sign the petition – because "air has not got any boundaries, and neither has water."

Spreading awareness and information about fracking has been a core element of the camp, with workshops hearing from both local campaigns and campaigners in other countries. Beginning last week, the field occupied initially by the grandmothers was transformed into a community the size of a small town, with massive marques that provided workshop spaces. The camp was powered by solar panels with an additional boost from unseasonal windy weather. This meant the site was able to obtain all its electrical energy from a wind turbine.

Reclaiming the Power Across the U.K. on August 18

Growing from the personal bonds created at the camp, and using skills shared in workshops, the community’s members formed into different affinity groups then went out to challenge different issues surrounding fracking with 12 separate actions.

At 6 a.m., the Swansea University Engineering Department was blockaded for accepting funding from the fracking industry, which relates to the broader "frackademia" trend of gas companies "buying science" in order to promote industry views.

An hour later, locals at Lytham, near the camp, ran around dressed as radioactive atoms to represent the dangerous threats fracking poses to human and environmental health. These dangers are backed by academic references in a letter sent by doctors and scientists calling for a monatorium on fracking in New York State.

Next, at 7:30 a.m., activists occupied the London headquarters of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. This protest criticized the government department's recent report that hid the dangers of fracking.

Within half an hour of that action, locals from Lancashire visited their local councillors with banners that read "Corrupt Councillors" and "Reclaim the Power".

At the same time, activists blockaded the offices of Total Environmental Technology, a company contracted to deal with the toxic waste fluid created by fracking.

Attention again shifted to London at 8:30 that morning, as both entrances to Igas London headquarters were shut down due to protests. Igas's plans are being resisted near Manchester by the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp, which has often seen police violence in the past year.

The seventh action of the day happened in the northeast of the country, at Crawberry Hill, where three people locked on to the gate of the proposed frack site owned by Rathlan Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canadian company Connaught Oil & Gas.

At noon, the focus returned to the local Lancashire area as activists occupied the regional headquarters of Cuadrilla, the company at the forefront of the push to frack Britain. Cuadrilla chairman Lord Browne is held up as a key example of the corruption within Britain’s democracy, as he is also a leading non-elected member of the government.

Simultaneously, a banner drop occurred in Salford Media City in Manchester, near the Barton Moss camp, and the place where ex-musician Bez is running for election on a radically progressive anti-fracking platform.

Another local action happened at that time, too, as Foxtons real estate agents became ‘Frackstons’ who set up a spoof estate agency. As part of the action, locals were offered to sell their homes at half the asking price and buy the only insurance on offer due to fracking.

The town of Blackpool hosted a die-in at HSBC bank, which provides banking and lending services for Cuadrilla. And finishing off the day, Cuadrilla’s main PR company was shut down for the whole day by protesters dressed in toxic-waste suits.

“Fracking started here, and if we don’t stop it here then the whole of the U.K. may be fracked,” Bob Dennett tells me, reflecting on the day-long actions. “We have to stop it to protect future generations, and this system is very divisive. But the ironic part of this is that the anti-fracking campaign is actually galvanizing people and bringing people together. It means we’re reclaiming community.”

 

Photo credit: Reclaim the Power website

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