The movement just beat fracking in the UK. Let’s take a minute for that to sink in.
We get to be a small part of a phenomenal force that has just won on fracking. It is a huge honour to know and work along side people who saw the insanity of the shale gas industry coming and rang their friends, called on their neighbours and locked it down: one public meeting and arm tube at a time.
From Preston New Road to Balcombe, Barton Moss to Upton and KM8, from protection camps to fashion designers in tanks to the baddass Nanas of Blackpool – in the anti-fracking movement we have truly seen what solidarity really looks like.
We Heart Frack Off
This victory was never inevitable, and at the beginning it often seemed impossible. The fracking industry in the UK would have established itself years ago if half a dozen folks hadn’t formed a little group called Frack Off back in 2010. This crew saw the resistance in Australia and elsewhere and understood what fracking meant. Because this struggle has never just been about energy and gas, but about local empowerment: about villages and towns across the UK seeing that they don’t have to sit back while dodgy projects get imposed on their communities under the destructive logic of fossil fuel capitalism; that they can stand, fight, and win.
From 2010, Frack Off toured their workshops and technical advice for over 5 years, building an incredible solid foundation for everything that followed. Friends of the Earth, Reclaim the Power, trade unions, 350, Lush, the Green Party, Drill or Drop and Greenpeace lent skills and resources. But it was people on the ground who made it happen.
Leadership from the Frontlines
Supporting frontline communities was always at the heart of Frack Off’s strategy and became part of Reclaim the Power’s ethos too. It was based on the principle that those who are most affected by an injustice must be central in the fight to stop it. Communities on the frontlines are the people who cannot walk away – who would be first affected by the toxification of our land, water and air if fracking was allowed to go ahead.
It was local people who found each other and kept going, through endless days on outreach stalls and nights wrestling with planning regulations and writing press releases. Through the frustration of trying to regain journalists’ attention or dealing with the pain of internal rifts. Through the judicial violence of injunctions and mis-use of public nuisance law to jail protesters. Throughout the highs of summer mass mobilisations and the lows of smaller numbers in winter, of being brutalised by police and security, it is local people who have underpinned this movement throughout.
Support networks like Reclaim the Power came from across the country to stand in solidarity and resist – but when we return back to our lives, it will be alway be local people left fighting to the very end. To our amazing friends and Protectors – you know who you are – this victory is yours.
Above: 2014 video from Reclaim the Power’s squatted action camp at Preston New Road, Lancashire
Direct Action Gets the Goods
As with many social movement victories, direct action in combination with other tactics has played a key role in halting the industry’s advance. Fracking companies had friends in high places. They re-wrote planning laws to facilitate new drill sites. They ignored the 40,000 objections submitted by local people to their planning applications and went over the heads of Lancashire County Council who refused them permission to drill.
The networks that supported anti-fracking groups knew that direct action would always be necessary to physically blockade the trucks and equipment. This slowed and frustrated the industry, scared shareholders and bought us enough time so that other tactics to change the political landscape such as lobbying, media work and awareness-raising could take effect. We’re seeing the result of that combined effort today.
Above: 2017 video from the Rolling Resistance month of blockades.
A moratorium is only as good as a social movement that can hold it in place
Today was not the announcement of a permanent ban. Any ban, no matter how official, is only as good as the social movement that can remain sufficiently mobilised to hold it in place – so we must stay active, and stay vigilant.
But let’s not forget: this industry has been on dying legs for years. It’s financially dodgy, legally vulnerable, technically unsafe, and has been opposed at every turn by communities. The fracking industry simply isn’t viable without being propped up on all sides by the government. With these props gone, fracking cannot stand. So yes, this is a moratorium, not a ban – but this announcement is likely to be the final nail in the coffin for fracking in the UK.
Reclaim the Power first got involved in the fight against fracking in 2013, when Cuadrilla rocked up in Balcombe, West Sussex hoping to have an easier ride than the earthquake they caused in Lancashire when they first fracked in 2010. Joining with the local community and other nationwide networks, we brought together hundreds and then thousands of people for an anti-fracking action camp in summer 2013 – propelling fracking into the national spotlight. Roadside protectors remained all summer and sent Cuadrilla packing. Later that winter, we supported the Barton Moss protection camp in Salford by blockading the drilling site with a 17 metre wind turbine blade.
In the summer of 2014, we were invited to Blackpool to support the newly-formed Nanas in their occupation and action camp at Preston New Road. We organised demos outside the gates of Upton drilling site in Chester in 2016. And since then, we have continued to stand with the community on the frontlines of the industry in Lancashire – mainly by doing what we do best: taking action.
In 2017, we again turned our focus to the fracking industry, running a Mobiliser Tour across areas threatened by the industry to share information and action skills, then running two weeks of action called ‘Break the Chain‘ targeting the fracking supply chain (businesses propping up the industry). Then in July 2017, we launched the Rolling Resistance – a month of direct action and blockades at the Preston New Road fracking site. Action teams and groups from across the UK travelled to join us and the incredible frontline protectors, shutting down the site every single day for a month.
We’ve been back at Preston New Road many more times since then, showing up for the unstoppable local community who have continued to stand together and fight Cuadrilla every single day for over 1000 days.
We have never been prouder to have stood side by side with the communities who have fought fracking for nearly a decade. This is their victory, and a victory for all who have taken action against this industry.
Our fight for social, economic and climate justice is by no means over in the UK – but this moment is a testament to what can happen when a movement comes together and everyone plays their part. So let’s take this time to celebrate, and be proud to be able to say: fracking is beaten, and it’s down to all of us.
Written by Ellen, Robbie and Liz – 2nd November 2019
Reclaim the Power’s next national gathering is one Saturday 30th November – Sunday 1st December 2019 in Sheffield. Check out the our events page for more information.