A considerable amount of people are aware that the world is approaching an accelerating climate breakdown. We also seem to widely agree that the extraction and consecutive combustion of fossil fuels is the main driver. Yet we allow those in power to keep extracting coal, oil and gas, year after year after year. But maybe things are changing. Lately, Europe has seen a surge of people taking matters into their own hands, by putting their bodies in the way of extraction sites. In the UK, one particularly nasty extraction method, known as fracking, meets serious resistance.
What is fracking?
Regular extraction means that fossil fuel companies drill wounds into Earth’s crust to plunder its age-old fossil remnants. These are then consumed to power modern human civilisation, creating greenhouse gases which boost the climate breakdown. The extraction plants in themselves are chunks of industrial abuse. Just as an example, the cement platforms on which the machines are installed are often the physical leftovers of what used to be a limestone landscape. Once populated by lush wildlife, the search for profit now coldly turn these landscapes into industrial wastelands.
Fracking adds on top of all of this blasts of water, sand, and a mix of potentially toxic chemicals into the drilling holes. By creating cracks, this helps the fracking companies drain bedrock which they might have previously considered depleted. The process requires massive amounts of water, and chemicals which risk contaminating surrounding ecosystems and the ground water. It also causes earthquakes which disturb both human and non-human life in the area.
The potential of fracking opposition
All this devastation has created a considerable public opinion against fracking. Most European countries have banned the practice, and wherever fracking is deployed it’s met with popular opposition. Although this fracking opposition is clearly welcome, views diverge when it comes to the positive question – “what do we want instead”? As of my personal interests in fracking opposition, it’s an extension of my general outrage against this exploitative society. I wouldn’t be satisfied simply by an end to fracking, with the rest of the fossil fuel economy intact. And although I strongly believe in anti-fossil activism, the power system of society is adaptable and complex. Huge issues would still remain if the activism results in a relocation of the environmental destruction. One typical reaction could be that western companies accelerate their exploitation of “biomass” in the global south.
After successful protests against nuclear power in Germany during the early 2010s, the political elite switched to brown coal instead. Many of the same activists who used to oppose the atomic energy are now involved in anti-coal protests. This highlights some dynamics of the destructive system.
On the other hand, what the wide negative opinion means is that fracking might make an easy first target. There is already a vivid resistance in place. Moreover, it may be harder than usual for the corporations to vilify the protesting environmental activists. Considering the murder of our climate, we need all disruption we can get to keep the fossil fuels in the ground. Anyhow, one country where the political elite has managed to keep fracking in play despite the opposition, is the UK. Let’s take a closer look at the struggle going on here!
Political struggle in the UK
In the UK, there is a political funding system letting political parties receive financial support from private donors. In practice, this mechanism allows big corporations to influence policy making so that it supports their interests. The frackogram reveals the extensive connections between government officials and the fossil industry. This type of mutual aid between the powerful is one important mechanism to consider for understanding how officially democratic governments can let companies get away with committing atrocities.
In 2015, the county-council of Lancashire in north-western England denied fracking company Cuadrilla access to the lands. The following year, the UK central government overruled this decision, allowing Cuadrilla to pursue their controversial plans. But the story didn’t end there. The film The Power Trip portrays how activists have organised in order to make fracking as costly as possible for the company. People in Lancashire have been opposing fracking since 2010, establishing several protest organisations. These organisations now began disrupting the company’s attempts to establish their industry. Subsequently, they received support from a national network of environmental organisations. Disruptions range from direct blockades of the site and its supply lines, to so called “judical reviews” – making the frackers face law processes. This has gone on ever since, involving an entire community of people helping out in various ways.
Reclaiming the power
Even though the fracking industry, and its resistance, is active on many places in the UK, Lancashire is special. It was the first county the industry started explore, and the only place where they’ve actually started fracking. In Sheffield, in the neighbouring county, Reclaim the Power, one environmental activist-network which have taken a significant role in the fight against fracking, had a national gathering last week-end. One hot topic was the network’s prospects of helping to channel the anti-fracking momentum into a broader movement for climate justice. Some fracking opposition protests started out as a “NIMBY” (Not In My Backyard!) reaction to the local impacts of the fracking. As the protests developed, this often turned into a “NIABY” – Not in anyone’s backyard! People wanting to do something against corporate exploitation suddenly found themselves empowered, with a clear target.
A worldwide conflict
The UK fracking opposition is part of a wider current. Due to the inherent destructive impacts and injustices of extraction, people of various different walks of life organise themselves against it all around the world. These oppositional organisations range from the militant MEND, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, to Ende Gelände, in Europe. The former waging a remarkably successful guerilla war against colonising oil companies, the latter organising mass actions against the expansion of coal mines. Whatever their aims may be, their struggles all play an important role in the fight against this expanding empire of exploitation that we live in.
As of now, the future of the world in general looks awfully dark. In the UK, the fracking industry is still mobilising. But due to the potent local opposition that fracking has inspired, it could become one of the first falling pieces of the fossil economy. If it were not for people like those in Lancashire, the darkness would be complete. As long as there are still disobedient thoughts and organisations – hearts collectively beating for something – the struggle continues!