New Internationalist

Reclaim The Power revs up in West Sussex

shale gas pipes in the US [Related Image]
A future we don't want: shale gas pipes like these in the US could soon blight the British landscape. Beyond Coal and Gas under a Creative Commons Licence

The Battle for Balcombe is the last good chance for people in Britain to nip in the bud Prime Minister David Cameron’s energy ‘revolution’. This revolution will be acquired through rolling out a programme of hydraulic fracking across the country. We are told that we have enough shale gas and oil under our green and pleasant land to last 100 years, but the prospect of accessing it via fracking is not remotely rational: we risk our aquifers being poisoned permanently, seismic tremors becoming more common, toxic waste entering our groundwater, our fresh water supply being used up, and runaway global climate change that will destine our children to a nightmarish future.

This is unbridled corporate greed gone insane. According to our cabinet of millionaires – many of whom have blatant links to the fossil fuel corporations – it seems ‘wiser’ to make a fast buck now and destroy any decent future for our species than it would be to tighten our collective energy belts, make the transition to renewables that last infinitely and ensure a sustainable future for all.

There has been no more vital battle for British climate justice in the past 10 years than this, the Battle of Balcombe. So, who are the forces behind the fracking and who are the defenders? The defenders are those of the local community who wised up about what was happening in their backyard and its dire consequences and went down to the gates of the exploratory drilling plant to start a protest camp, doing all they could to stop the drilling equipment being delivered. Other campaign groups quickly supported them, including the well-established national campaign group Frack Off.

Key players on the pro-fracking side, but rarely mentioned in the press, are arch manipulators of public thought, Bell Pottinger, the public relations company employed by Cuadrilla, the fracking corporation which is drilling outside Balcombe. They are notorious for glossing over human rights abuse to support their clients, who include Qatar, Belarus and Sri Lanka.

Having visited around 100 homes in Balcombe, I have yet to meet anyone who is in favour of the fracking operation; indeed, all the local people I have met have expressed gratitude for the offer of other campaigning groups coming to support their fight. This is made all the more extraordinary by the fact that this is in the heartland of Conservative voters. They are devastated by the realization that their government cares not a fig for their wishes or their wellbeing, and many times I have heard them say that ‘there is no democracy in this country’. Tory voters are being radicalized. Now there’s a thought.

This has unnerved the government deeply, and for a week or so they have refrained from making any major announcements about Balcombe or fracking in general. They have had to work out a strategy that will stem the tide of fears for the safety of fracking, as well as nip in the bud any chance that local councils will block attempts for fracking in their communities. The former was dealt with by denial, denial, denial, with David Cameron stating that this energy revolution was not only safe, but would create jobs, and that communities would be given cash rewards for allowing their areas to be fracked. All three assertions have been cast in great doubt, but the bluster may have worked for the majority who simply do not have the time to evaluate the wealth of evidence to the contrary.

The latter has been dealt with in such a way that democracy seems no longer to have any genuine relevance to how the Coalition government operates. Legislation is being rushed through to disempower local councils from blocking any fracking plans in their local community.

So, what can Bell Pottinger and the government do to counteract the fact that this Friday, a coalition of hundreds of very experienced activists plan to turn up at Balcombe station at 1pm, hold a ‘swoop’ to take a site and establish a five-day camp of resistance called Reclaim the Power?

On Tuesday Cuadrilla announced (likely on the advice of Bell Pottinger) that they might not engage in a full fracking operation in Balcombe. This news was coupled with the publishing of an open letter from Balcombe Parish Council stating that the ‘Reclaim The Power’ camp was not wanted. In one fell swoop, seeds of doubt are sown and a community is divided.

You decide where your support lies and who you most believe: hundreds of people who understand the dire ramifications of the dash for gas and extreme mining procedures and are willing to risk their safety and liberty to stop this happening, or a government of millionaires with strong ties to the fossil-fuel energy corporations and members of a Parish Council who in no way seem to reflect the community’s wishes?

If you decide in the way that I have, then you will be in Balcombe at 1pm this Friday to Reclaim The Power. If not now, when? If not you, who?

For more information on the swoop, visit the No Dash For Gas website.
@jamiekelseyfry
@nodashforgas

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