Arrested for crossing the fracking road
Anti-fracking grandmother and campaigner Tina Rothery writes on what drives her on in the face of crackdowns against protesters.
There is a road in Lancashire, England that you cannot cross without risk of arrest; where everyday people from everyday lives are found amidst scenes of police violence and protest actions as we climb seemingly insurmountable hurdles whilst swathed in restrictive red tape… and why? Because the UK government wants our area ruined for gas extraction.
And we’re saying no.
Last October, the government overturned the local government’s refusal to allow Cuadrilla’s test drilling at the Preston New Road site, in the Fylde, Lancashire; they are now constructing up to four wells.
In response, there has been daily resistance, energetic protests and blockades, with local residents joined by supporters from far and wide. The site is the largest fracking development in the UK, and the first where permission has been given for horizontal drilling under homes.
The shale gas industry plans to use the unconventional gas extraction method of fracking at this site between Preston and Blackpool – and this is just the start. Licenses have been given throughout England – Scotland, Ireland (both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) and Wales have wisely put moratoriums or bans in place – and fracking work is also underway at a site in Yorkshire near Kirby Misperton, lorries beginning delivering equipment this week. There are also many other areas where fracking is being pursued; opposition too continues to grow, with the campaigner Joe Corre the high court today attempting to stop a sweeping injunction by the firm Ineos against anti-fracking protests.
We did all our laws would allow to stop this – even succeeding in getting our council in Lancashire to reject the planning applications by Cuadrilla to frack at the site on the A583 Preston New Road; the win though was a mere breath of joy in this otherwise suffocating strangulation of democracy. But as the ruling Conservative party wants fracking, with a flick of the Secretary of State’s wrist local democratic decision-making was overturned last October, and the frackers revved up their engines.
In virtually no time they were gouging the fields where cows graze – and defending themselves with swathes of police officers from all across the country.
We residents have become shouty, sweary, angry, frustrated people. Our lives are already ruined before the gas even flows: our thoughts are dominated by this threat. There’s rarely time for joy or leisure, as each day spent not opposing fracking feels like a day we’ve failed our children. So instead of living our lives, each day we rise and head back to the site entrance, where daily protests have taken place since 5 January 2017, or off to anti-fracking group meetings and leaflet drops; or on rare days indoors, bury ourselves in research and letter writing.
Our reality is more raw and disempowering than anyone expects and we find no safeguards, no ‘body’ to represent us. Life is unrecognisable. Fracking is an energy intensive and environmentally harmful extraction method that has been implicated in earth tremors, water contamination, and impacts on health and with a range of illnesses reported by those living near to sites. We find it hard to deal with the fact that the only thing standing between the obvious dangers of this industry and the health and well-being of our children is... us. And the one thing standing between the industry and us is wearing a uniform: and calls itself ‘the law’.
I’ve seen respected local residents from our business community, broken and in tears of frustration as the police kettle us and move us violently. Only this week, I witnessed a wheelchair user shoved from his chair by two officers.
The average age of those at the roadside is at least 55; there’s more grey hair than dreadlocks. Choirs come to sing for us, faith groups come to pray; Mondays we get the environmental groups, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Green Party and other divestment groups. The situation changes daily and the mood fluctuates by the moment: from raging to comic – it’s the lunacy of it all that brings the giggles when you witness the absurdity that has become our new ‘normal’.
In theory, we protestors (we prefer ‘Protectors’) are here to slow this industry to the point where it stops, using articles 10 & 11 of our Human Rights Act to take meaningful non-violent direct action. This generally involves groups sitting inconveniently in the entrance-way, individuals locking-on to each other with devices that have to be cut off, boarding trucks so they have to stop until the Protector is removed, and other actions that directly target the industry and cause the least risk or nuisance to anyone else.
But the police have become the 24/7 security arm of the fracking industry, and park their vehicles and manpower in the site entrance so that we are forced out onto the road. Police escort each and every vehicle onto site and on most days they number at least 80 officers. Meanwhile, our campaign varies from 30 or so normally to several hundred on our busiest days.
It takes very little to understand why we do this; a quick internet search for ‘fracking + health’, ‘fracking + miscarriage’, ‘fracking + farming’, ‘fracking + drinking water’, ‘fracking + earthquakes’ will set you off on a path of discovery that you’ll wish you’d never started, but you’ll be unable turn back from. Once you know the risks, you can’t un-know them – and for anyone with responsibility for children, it is impossible to turn away.
I have been doing public meetings since the early days of British resistance to fracking – which started in 2011 after two small earthquakes in Blackpool alerted us to the fact that fracking was even a word, let alone being undertaken in our community. By the fourth meeting I had titled the process ‘The Unwelcome Gift of Truth’. People would gather in church halls or pub function rooms after getting a leaflet or seeing an advert in the local paper, to find out more about the risks associated with fracking. By the time the personal stories of those already living in gasfields in the US, Canada and Australia had been shared, the reports highlighted, the experts spoken and the evidence undeniably exposed, we’d end up with a concerned community looking for further information, and later a way to make it stop.
Along the way, people who attended our meetings realized ours is not just a stand against fracking, it’s a stand against the system of government that makes it possible. All who attended and got involved would go on to discover that much of our media takes industry words for truth and demonises opposition, and then come to question whether what they ever read and believed was true at all.
The whole idea of ‘professional bodies’ looking out for our interests is unreal too as regulatory bodies pass the buck and swerve their responsibilities. The disaster of Grenfell Tower shook us to the core as we recognized parallels to our own experience: how the residents there must have been trying to warn of dangers for years: and the brick walls, of intransigence from authorities, that went up in flames.
‘Activists’ are just people who stood up and got active about an issue that concerned them, but the act of standing up makes them amazing. We’ve had meetings held in chemo wards with other patients sworn to secrecy when one of the key minds behind a direct action couldn’t change her appointment, so we came to her. I’ve stood with many who are unwell or amidst personal trauma and yet still they come, they stand, they empower themselves despite it all.
We have become a tribe in the sense that we all know our territory, understand each other’s motives, frustrations and fears and recognise that we are stronger together. It’s a hard tribe though, one filled with purposeful, passionate, dedicated, stubborn people from every walk of life and background; unity is far from easy but because it’s essential, we are learning greater tolerance.
Every living thing is a stake holder in this cause as it directly impacts the stuff of survival – our air and water. I think that’s what sets this movement apart: that it isn’t a single sector being affected, it’s all of us directly – and so we are extremely diverse. There is wealth in this diversity, as we learn different ways, views and tactics and the accountants, school teachers, retired engineers and mothers sit down with veterans of other campaigns to seek something that will work this time.
Some stay up till 2am, when the Australian stock market opens, to check the share price for AJ Lucas, the major shareholder in Cuadrilla; it’s dropped more than 40 per cent since protests began. The shareholders have a forum, called ‘Hotcopper’, where they often talk about us and how we hinder their wealth appreciation. When the drill rig arrived recently they expected a surge, but it didn’t come and now they are sweating, trying to avoid the reality that this isn’t going to be an easy ride in this corner of England.
Back in the beginning we approached supply chain companies and successfully got some to pull out, including Eddie Stobart; this upset the shareholders immensely and the price was directly affected. Other supply chain companies who would not pull out experienced delays when we slow-walked their deliveries in protest.
I was arrested this week for crossing the road when the police repeatedly told me not to. I said I would fully comply with their order if they could give me the lawful reason for it; the answers on each attempt were simply ‘for your safety’ or ‘because you’ve been told’.
The police had chosen on this day to limit our movements on Preston New Road, preventing, for the first time in the eight months we’ve been here, anyone from stepping onto the traffic island or crossing the road to the verge. There were no actions taking place and traffic was light. There was no reason why I should not cross.
I chose to cross the road at various points and got onto the safe verge without any risk, yet each time I was confronted by burly police officers barricading me, pushing, lifting, placing, manipulating and controlling my movements. I was then charged with 'wilful obstruction of a police officer', and will plead ‘not guilty’ on 10 October 2017. That brute force would win the day is a serious assault on our rights, our safety and freedom and sets a dangerous precedent that cannot be tolerated.
The anti-fracking movement is in reality the pro-democracy, pro-renewables, pro-honesty movement, and we continue to grow. There are over 400 groups throughout the country, and success in Ireland, Scotland and Wales shows that protest works.
There is still no hydraulically fracked gas in production in the British Isles, thanks to the everyday people who gave up so much to become activists. Winter is coming, and we are preparing for the long haul. Please get in touch and visit us if you can; we’re here all days, all times and all seasons and in need of your help. Or why not look for a local anti-fracking group in your own area?
Tina Rothery is a grandmother living in Blackpool and has been a campaigner against fracking for six years.
Header and thumbnail photos by Peter Yankowski.