Anti-fracking group stages day of action
Protests at offices of Defra and energy firm in London, Swansea University campus and sites in East Yorkshire and Blackpool
Helen Pidd, northern editor
theguardian.com, Monday 18 August 2014 19.30 BST
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Anti-fracking campaigners blockade the Blackpool offices of Cuadrilla. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
Anti-fracking protesters caused peaceful disruption at several locations on Monday, gluing themselves to the doors of a government department, occupying a building used by an energy firm and blockading access to a test drilling site.
Activists dressed in toxic hazard suits staged a protest outside the London offices of Political Planning Services (PPS), a PR firm that represents the oil and gas exploration company Cuadrilla.
The stunts were part of a day of direct action declared by Reclaim the Power, a pressure group opposed to fossil fuel consumption and extreme energy extraction, which has set up a protest camp near a potential fracking site in the Blackpool area.
In Swansea, a group of local residents, students and graduates shut down construction of Swansea University’s Bay campus. A spokesman said they were objecting to “tens of millions of public money being funnelled into research on fracking via Swansea University’s new Energy Safety Research Institute”.
In London, three activists superglued themselves to the doors of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to draw attention to a government report released last week containing 63 redactions on the potential impacts of shale gas exploration on rural communities, including the effect on house prices.
Shortly afterwards, 15 veteran campaigners from anti-fracking camps at Barton Moss in Salford and Balcombe in West Sussex blockaded both entrances to the London headquarters of the energy firm iGas, which was responsible for exploratory drilling at Barton Moss.
In East Yorkshire, protesters claimed to have spent five hours superglued to the gate of a drill site at Crawberry Hill. They said they were concerned about number of alleged safety breaches committed by Rathlin Energy at the nearby West Newton drilling site. A spokesman for Rathlin Energy disputed the activists’ account, saying they spent “much less” than five hours “attached to some perimeter fencing outside the site”. He said Rathlin was not engaged in fracking and that the Crawberry Hill site has a “no fracking” planning condition. He added: “The alleged safety breaches were made by lay people observing from the perimeter fence. At the West Newton well site, there is absolutely no problem with the well or indeed the site, whether technical, environmental or safety-related.”
The biggest protest of the day took place on an industrial estate near Blackpool airport, where around 100 campaigners surrounded the offices of Cuadrilla. Twelve protesters gained access to the building, which is owned by Blackpool’s Chamber of Commerce, and barricaded themselves inside.
Police were called but took no action. Just over three hours into the protest, the 12 occupiers snuck out of the building via a back window while police were distracted by a conga in the car park at the front, led by a lady in a wheelchair.
Cuadrilla said no employees had been affected by the demo. “Cuadrilla has consistently made clear that we support the right to peaceful protest, but taking the law into your own hands – through trespass or direct action – is anti-democratic and harmful to local farmers, business and other job creators during an important time in Blackpool’s farming and business calendar,” it said.
A spokesman claimed that the anti-fracking camp set up on 7 August in a field in Little Plumpton, near Blackpool, by local mothers and grandmothers, was on land not currently leased by Cuadrilla. According to the National Farmers’ Union, the field used by a farmer as a space for dairy cows to graze.
The activists said Cuadrilla had put in a planning application to Lancashire county council for permission to use the field as an access road to a nearby field where drilling would take place. So far at least 14,000 letters of objection have been sent to the council, according to protesters.
No arrests were made at any of the protests, according to Reclaim the Power.