Last summer Hate spoke to anti-fracking activist and water protector, Eddie Thornton, on behalf of the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp, a grassroots direct action campaign group. Fast forward to April 2018 and the camp at Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire has packed up and left. We got in touch with Eddie once again to update us on the situation and discuss first-hand about the power people have when they unite.
What is fracking and why should we oppose it?
In a normal gas mine you drill down into a pocket of gas and then the pressure of the gas flows up - it’s like sticking a straw into a bubble - but fracking is getting the gas out of the actual rock. You’ve got shale rock 2km under the ground and it has gas within its layers but you have to break that rock to release the gas. They use millions of gallons of water, chemicals, and fine sand, and blast it at incredibly high pressure into the rock, and then the little bits of sand hold those cracks open and you get gas flowing up.
Why it’s controversial? You’ve got no control over where those cracks end up, they can connect with fractures that are already there. All that toxic fracking fluid plus all the nasty stuff that’s already in the ground can travel through those fractures and into our drinking water. Nobody really knows where it goes. Then you’ve got fugitive emissions, so the methane that leaks at every stage of fracking - drilling, piping it off - methane is many times more damaging in terms of climate change than CO2. While burning coal at face value might seem more clean, the process of getting the gas out actually causes more climate change, so that’s another big concern.
A huge concern for local people is the industrialisation of the countryside because these wells have a very short lifespan. A conventional gas well will last about twenty years, and the fracked well will last between 1-3 years, so for the company to remain in profit they’re going to have to drill well, after well, after well. What you see in America and Australia is a patchwork of wells across the countryside, every 2 km you have another well and that has to be connected with pipes and roads, then you need all the infrastructure, like pumping stations and compressing stations, de-watering stations; so it’s a whole, massive dirty industrial process that’s going to be plonked on top of some of the most beautiful parts of the UK.
Do they tell local people they’re going to get jobs?
Yeah, they say there’s going to be jobs, and some people will get jobs. But what you’ve seen in America is that it’s usually an itinerant workforce, so it actually has a bad impact on a community because it raises prices - [the workers] are young men with a lot of money in their pockets - then you get all the problems that young men with money in their pockets bring when the workers come to town. It’s a boom-and-bust, so once they’ve ‘tapped’ that area, they go.
There’s many, many more jobs in green energy than can ever be in fracking. In my area in Yorkshire we rely on tourism and agriculture for our staple employment and those two industries can’t exist hand-in-hand with fracking. For every one job in fracking that was created in Australia, nine were lost in agriculture. This gas is only ever going to be a finite resource, so it’s very short-term to think that jobs for the locals will exist for any length of time.
What are the aims of the anti-fracking movement?
Our aim is to disrupt the industry to a point where it’s not financially viable, so that the people that stand to gain from it - the investors and the government - see it as an unsustainable investment and pack up. This has worked in places like Poland; when Chevron went in to frack the people just blockaded. They had a bit more of an easy time with it, the police said it was a matter between the protesters and the gas company: ‘we’re just here to keep the peace, and if the gas company has any problem they can take it to the courts’. Whereas in England the police are very much on the side of the gas industry, and every day are breaching our human rights to public assembly and freedom of speech.
What kind of campaigns do you run?
We’re quite a unique movement because there’s no structure, we don’t have leaders. I think across the UK there’s 500 anti-fracking groups, all loosely connected to each other, but nothing formal. Within that group there’s no hierarchy to any of them so we’re just a collection of individuals and the camps work like that as well. There’s no plan, so to speak, of how to engage with the campaign. The camps serve as a place to live, get your head down, and eat, and from there it’s up to the individual and small groups within the camp to carry out non-violent direct action against the industry. The one thing everybody is united on is that idea of peaceful, non-violent direct action, so no violence or threats of violence.
What kind of dangers have you faced?
In Lancashire they bring in riot police, they come in their big blue vans and manhandle people. We’ve had a broken wrist, we’ve had elderly ladies thrown into hedges, a local councillor’s been thrown to the floor and banged his head. That’s the daily aggression we face from the police, and then the security or employees of Cuadrilla and their suppliers have also been quite violent. We’ve had one man drive his van into a group of protestors, another man did the same, accelerated into a protester and knocked him down and he hit his head. There’s a video of us on Facebook being dragged down a hill, that was by the security company employed by Cuadrilla. It’s nothing compared to America and what people face in Standing Rock, or Venezuela at the moment, but for England it’s quite violent.
Can you briefly describe the present situation at Kirby Misperton?
We’re closing the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp after a 15 month campaign against Third Energy, a fracking company based in the Cayman Islands and bankrolled by Barclays. Activists from the camp have supported the local community in a sustained and relentless campaign of economic disruption, which against all odds, has succeeded. Third Energy ran out of money, they’ve pulled out of our community, and the government is refusing to let them frack until they can prove their financial resilience. At KM8, the well pad was already built, the well already drilled, and the pipelines were in place to take the gas to their power plant. If we can beat them at those odds, other communities can feel empowered to do the same.
What are the most effective tactics used by the anti-fracking movement?
There is no template for success, each campaign is different, and will be won by good people working hard in areas that interest them. What I will say about our success though, is that unity was key. And that’s something other campaigns can learn from, we didn’t all agree with each other, we certainly didn’t all like each other, but we all pulled in the same direction and no-one tried to undermine each other.
Our direct action tactics are entirely non-violent and designed to slow down the police as they remove us from blockading the entrance of the fracking site. A staple of the anti-fracking movement is the ‘lock-on’ where two or more people lock their arms together through barrels or tubes of concrete and metal, making impossible to move them without a specialist cutting team. At Kirby Misperton people also built and occupied towers in the gateway of the fracking site, which required a separate police team to move. ‘Lorry surfing’ has become an effective tactic as well, an opportunist can jump onto a moving lorry outside the site and close the operation down until the police build a scaffold to come up and remove them. All these tactics force the police into a health and safety situation that harms nobody, but slows down the fracking company, and costs them money. But the real aim of all of it is to raise awareness. Having a camp and a large protest, lifts the topic of fracking into the public consciousness, and against the backdrop of civil disobedience we shine a light on the dangers of fracking and the lack of local democracy. The protests against fracking across the country have ensured fracking is a poisoned chalice for any government minister associated with it, and that’s why the Secretary of State has introduced the financial resilience test for all fracking companies. It might be the nail in the coffin, because these companies are all ponzi-schemes built on mountains of debt.
What is the plan for the remaining campaigners at Kirby Misperton/ where are future actions directed?
Most people have moved on from KMPC now, some have gone on to other camps, others are taking a break from the trauma of front line activism. In Ryedale we are gearing up for the far larger campaign against INEOS who have a million acres of fracking licenses across the north of England. They are a Swiss petrochemicals company and they plan to use the gas from fracking in their private plastics factories.
What do you say to people who don’t believe in climate change?
I ask them: when did you lose sight of the fact that you are nature? We’ve become so removed from the fact that we are reliant in every single way. Every single part of our lives is reliant on the natural systems that we live in but because we’re living in concrete and driving our cars we’ve lost touch with the fact that our actions directly affect the environment, and in the long term that’s going to come around and bite us on the arse. If anybody still has questions on fracking I say look into it yourself, go home and google the list of harmed people - something like 40,000 families in America - who have no water anymore, whose kids are waking up with nosebleeds and itches, and whose children are being born early and deformed - that’s people living in a gas field! They say it’s going to be done differently in England but it can’t be, it’s the same technology, you can’t regulate steel and concrete, it’s going to break, it’s going to leak, people will take shortcuts and we’re going to feel the impact of that. The people who first feel the impact of that are the children, and poor people.
How can people in London get involved locally?
London is where all these decisions are being made, so it’s very easy for you guys to get involved. There’s Rising Up! which is a campaign group and they’re encouraging people to take action against Barclays bank. Barclays owns 97% of Third Energy - the company which is going to be fracking in Yorkshire - and there’s Barclays branches all over London including the headquarters in Canary Wharf. Any action to bring the plight of the North of England would be really welcome, as you say, if it’s not in the mainstream media there’s plenty of people down there who probably don’t even know it’s going to happen.
How can people in different parts of the country get involved / show support?
If you live in the north of England, odds are, your community is already licensed. So look up your local anti-fracking group, or if there isn’t one, start one. If you live in the south, there are sites that need support. Check out Frack Off online and you can see a map of all the locations. Hit the fracking industry in the pocket, change your energy supplier to a company that guarantees they have nothing to do with fracking, there are lots of good, green suppliers. Write to your MP, tell them we don’t need fracking for our energy security, and demand they advocate renewable energy in parliament. And talk about fracking with your friends; 50% of the population have no idea it’s even a threat to our water, our air, and our democracy.