Frack off corporate thugs! No to arrests and provocations against environmental protesters!

FRFI supporters in Manchester have been following the emerging campaigns against fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in North West England, which recently have centred on Barton Moss, near Salford. Fracking is a threat to the health and welfare of the local community at a time of savage cuts to social spending, as well as high local rates of poverty. And yet the local Labour council has given the go-ahead for the Igas company to carry out 'exploratory' drilling at a depth of up to 3,000m. We have attended three demonstrations and witnessed the mounting police violence. Martin Harrison reports.

Fracking is a method of obtaining energy such as shale gas, coal or oil from underground rocks. It involves often very dubious methods that threaten water supplies and rivers, human safety, wildlife and even the land itself, as earthquakes and severe pollution can result. To do it, pressurised fluid, sand and chemicals are blasted into rocks after bore-holes have been dug; this is often very noisy, including the sound of 40-tonne lorries carrying the fluid and other materials to the sites. Worse, liquids released by this practice can leech into the rivers, lakes and sea, and poison all living beings that live there or depend on them for drinking water. It is claimed that at least eight of the chemicals used in fracking may cause cancer. In Canada and the US, where the practice has been going on much longer than in Britain, it has been linked with throat, mouth and liver cancers among Native Americans living near to polluted waterways. Government claims that fracking will create jobs are also deceptive. At Barton Moss one estimate is that just 35 workers will be required, including the security personnel on duty.

Significantly many countries have taken steps to ban fracking. In 2012 the French High Court ruled against it, after the French Socialist Party and its allies had voted against it. Ironically the French energy corporation Total has taken advantage of Britain's more openly unregulated pro-business climate to push for fracking contracts - it will make up 40% of investment at a major site in Lincolnshire for example. Other countries supporting fracking include Poland, which wants to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, while Russia itself opposes it in order to keep gas prices higher for its own exports. Any poorer capitalist countries that adopt the method can be assumed to have even fewer safeguards than here in Britain.

Two examples among many expose to the safety records of the energy companies involved and their lack of concern for the environment they operate in:

  • Total, the world's fifth largest publicly traded oil and gas corporation, has a recent record in Britain which includes a North Sea oil rig blow-out, an oil platform leak, and a serious fire and explosion at a storage depot in Hertfordshire.
  • In the US, two accidents related to fracking took place in July 2012 in the state of Pennsylvania. First, a 30-foot methane geyser erupted near a Shell natural gas well. Two weeks later, 4,700 gallons of hydrochloric acid spilled out at a drilling site nearby.

Fracking is an example of the imperialist system becoming more and more desperate as it searches out new sources of energy and profit in an already depleted and polluted world. The Middle East has been engulfed in flames since the US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the aftermath of the NATO-sponsored war in Libya has brought instability, corruption and bloodshed. As these higher grade oil and gas deposits remain out of reach, the imperialists search out and fight over lower quality ones. This alone shows that the politicians are not interested in stopping climate chaos.

Resistance to fracking

At Barton Moss, demonstrations have involved a mix of local working class people, environmental activists, camps set up by ex-students, some local trade union activists and Green Party supporters. On 12 January a march from Eccles in Salford to Barton Moss attracted up to 1,000 people, chanting noisily for fracking to end. Some participants came from fracking campaigns elsewhere such as Balcombe in Sussex, where local agitation has put the practice on hold, and from the Blackpool area, where protests against local earthquakes caused by deep drilling have had the same effect. Earlier in December, the Barton campaign held a rally on the site, generating widespread publicity.

Common to the demonstrations has been the heavy hand of Britain's police thugs. At the time of writing, a disabled protester from Newcastle named Kris is receiving treatment after suffering a broken eye socket and other injuries all over his body on 20 January. Kris, a legal observer, had just asked police about a lorry with illegal number plates. Instead of an apology and compensation he was then arrested for 'obstruction'. When he was discharged to hospital, his solicitor was pushed away by police while trying to visit. On the 26 January demonstration, more protesters were beaten, including Amanda from Salford, who received a bloody face and bruises to her legs. More than 85 Barton protesters have been arrested, mostly in January. As we write, no pleas are being allowed despite court appearances, as the court is waiting to decide if the protesters are blocking a highway or just using a footpath. With such provocations, no wonder protestors are trying to keep video evidence of this brutality and bullying, which includes cops and lorries driving straight at protesters to intimidate them before swerving away. In order to challenge the police and council tactics, some activists have camped outside the Salford council buildings in Swinton. Supporters of the arrestees have turned up to court to support them and more solidarity is expected.

As for building a bigger opposition movement to this madness in Britain, to where can we turn? The Labour Party will not lead any defence of the environment as its record on this is one of deals with big business and shameful failure to follow even the limited recommendations of UN conventions such as Kyoto. So despite opposition to fracking by local Labour MP Barbara Keely in words at least, aware of the lack of public consultation, the local Labour council clearly supports it. Local councils are likely to be bribed by new measures announced by the ConDem government, which will allow them to keep all the business rates from fracking sites. Incidentally, Cameron's decision to offer these 'sweeteners' came almost immediately after the 12 January Barton demo, perhaps in response to fears of popular opposition. So we must look to the people instead for initiatives.

Police hands off the protesters! Victory to the Barton Moss campaigners!


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