Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Vivienne Westwood anti fracker

Vivienne Westwood anti fracker

Vivienne Westwood joins anti-frackers

On 2 August, Cuadrilla began exploratory drilling for oil at Lower Stumble in Balcombe, West Sussex, writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick. After a week, they’d reached depths of 1,300ft. Gathered outside the work site are a growing number of opponents to this process, demanding that the work stop and the workers leave.

Exploratory drilling and testing doesn’t include hydraulic fracturing – aka fracking. If hydraulic fracturing was to take place, states Cuadrilla’s letter to local residents, a thorough environmental impact assessment would be required, including community consultation, and separate planning consent would have to be given by West Sussex County Council.

Frack Free!

However, from the day the first equipment arrived, campaigners, believing that any steps leading potentially to fracking need to be nipped in the bud, have created a community camp to highlight the dangers and high risk factors, protect the planet and what they value and support the local residents, 82% of whom are against Cuadrilla’s plans. 82%? I asked local campaigner Helen Savage how people had arrived at this figure.

“The Parish Council put it to the vote last year – and this was the result. Then, as part of the ‘No-Fibs’ campaign, a lot of us got together to do a door-to-door survey and asked everyone in the village – and the result was 85% against, with 9% unsure and 6% in support.”

I guess there’s a chance the pro-fracking decision-makers will simply choose to frack where there aren’t any doors. ‘Stick it up in the North’, suggested one proponent recently. Although, it would seem that wherever the frackers go, their opponents will doggedly follow.

Placard display

On the train to Balcombe, I met Nikki and Sue from Eastbourne on their way to the community camp, laden with bags of food for both humans and dogs, clothes and a torch.

“People have said to us, ‘What’s the point? It won’t change anything’,” said Sue. “But apathy never got anyone anywhere,” added Nikki.


Conversation flowed on from there to a statement purportedly made by Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, that “they’ll learn as they go along”; reports about radium 226 coming up through sump pits at fracking sites in America; the disappearance of the birds at the Balcombe site; the banner they carried, which read: “Please don’t ever mention the genius of Nikola Tesla for free energy in 1931. Research it” and their billowing T-shirts, hand-painted with the message,  ‘Enviro Mental Disaster’.

“We can’t just sit back and let this happen… irreversible damage… our beautiful countryside… decimated…. and it’s not just us, it’s our children and their future… and it won’t reduce energy prices, that’s all bollocks… and it’ll take us thousands of years to recover for the sake of 25-40 years of energy… it’s banned in other countries like Germany… raping the earth, that’s what they’re doing…’ There was general agreement that the decision-making folk were in this for themselves and for profit.

Protest camp

We parted company at the food tent. Local villagers have been providing a lot of the edible sustenance for the Balcombe Community Protection Camp, as well as offering their encouragement and gratitude. ‘Protection’ is a term preferred by some, replacing ‘protest’, which has associations amongst some circles with ‘anarchy’ and ‘terrorism.’

The camp grew in the few hours I was there. Protectors of all ages, police, media, the occasional vehicle making its way through the site gates. Helicopters roared above our heads, landing and taking off in a field hidden by trees, dropping off important people, it was assumed. Organisers walked round with phones and papers, information was freely distributed and media interviews given. Camp meetings were held, with people waving their hands to signal agreement and rotating facilitators endeavouring to allow everyone time to express their point of view, comment and suggestion. A massage tent had been set up and a tent for skill-sharing sessions on subjects like meditation and conflict resolution.

Kettle Info Flyer

I read the camp’s code of conduct for peaceful direct action, stating – amongst other things – that people be treated with respect, no violence, acceptance of personal responsibility, no alcohol or drugs and no late night music. Maps showed the spread of fracking in the UK and the wider world – USA, Canada, Russia, Ireland, Netherlands, Italy, Israel, Pakistan, Australia, Venezuela, Botswana, South Africa – and the growth of groups protesting against the process.

Masked protectors

Visitors to this camp have come from Wales, Dorset, Lancashire, Pease Pottage, Haywards Heath, Crawley Downs, Poland, Germany, America, etc. This is a global issue, as well as local. This drilling work at Balcombe represents one of the steps in George Osborne’s recently publicised campaign to make Britain the tax-break fracking capital of the world.

A kilometre or two down the road, another separate but cause-united camp was developing, organised by Reclaim The Power and No Dash for Gas. A huge number of people were to be expected over the weekend, taking part in a skill-sharing training session and 48 hours of non violent direct action. Later, as I came home on the train, two young women told me that Cuadrilla had stopped drilling for a day or two, possibly in anticipation of the campaigners’ arrivals – or because of broken drills.

Vivienne Westwood arrives

Vivienne Westwood.

Orange-haired fashion designer Vivienne Westwood arrived with her entourage to head a walk of campaigners down the road to the site, where she was immediately engulfed by media interviewers and photographers.

This is what I overheard her say, as I wiggled myself into the fray.

“All the concentration is on fossil fuels, not renewable energy… The government are trying to force legislation through where councils can’t object… Storing up trouble for the future… We could get all our energy from renewable energy sources.’

Asked about the protesters and did she think they could make any difference, she replied: “They represent the general opinion that we don’t want to be tricked into this [energy] race… the energy companies just want to make profits…”

Nick St Clare

Nick St Clare.

As her photo-call ended, a man with a megaphone stood on a chair to declare a statement to the surrounding public and media regarding emails between David Cameron, the Environment Agency and Greenpeace last year, a story reported in the local paper, The Argus. He said it was clear the Prime Minister had been aware of the serious damage involved in fracking and he was therefore guilty of malfeasance and aggravated criminal damage to the environment, under Section 2 of the Criminal Damage Act and should face life imprisonment.

The man is Nick St Clare, environmental campaigner for 35 years and self-declared independent free thinker. I spoke to him about his views.

“To damage or destroy any property with intent to endanger life or knowing life will be endangered, carries a sentence of maximum life imprisonment. No country in the world can say this is lawful. It’s global law. Property means this planet, the earth, and it’s being damaged and destroyed knowingly by the workforce [at work on the site]. I’m inciting the people to uphold the police oath, which is to protect life and property and uphold the law. The threat of environmental damage is commonly agreed to be as serious a threat as a war – a lot of the police agree with this, I’ve spoken to them over the years.”

He reported David Cameron to a local police superintendent and the local police press officer. To read more about what St Clare has to say and a wealth of legal insights, you can check out his blog or search ‘ecotort’ on YouTube.

I also read a leaflet about a proposed ‘Law of Ecocide’, a European Citizen’s Initiative, stating that, “the large-scale destructive practices scarring our planet are a danger to the planet’s life-system and constitute a crime. A crime for which those responsible should be held accountable.” You can check this out and sign up here.

Police line

Police bullying? I was told by one person that ‘brutal tactics’ had been used by the police, whilst another person said that the police had been very friendly and reasonable. I guess each police-campaigner experience is different, depending on the characters involved and the circumstances. Both are only human, after all. I also heard from various people that a lot of the police were secretly supportive of the protesters’ objectives.

On the radio news over the weekend, I heard a journalist reporting from the camp explaining that around 1,000 protesters had formed a human chain around the site. “They’re getting UPSET,” she crescendoed. Upset? By forming a human chain? I also heard the usual rumours about “rent-a-mobs being called in…”; who knows if this is true or not – and if it is, who’s renting them and for what purpose? The campaigners at these camps know that if there’s violence, this is what will hit the media headlines, be counter-productive and therefore their goal is using non-violent direct action to stop this process peacefully.

What keeps echoing in my head is that the rest of the natural world doesn’t recognise our human boundaries. Water doesn’t say “Ooh look, I’m passing into Kent now, cheerio Sussex…” Air, earth and our fellow species just don’t play by the rules of our boundary and mapping games. So, IF the water, earth and air are poisoned in this frantic search for energy sources, the toxins won’t just stay in Balcombe. How much are we willing to risk in order to maintain our high-energy consuming lifestyles? Could we change our attitudes and use less, use the energy more wisely, use renewable, sustainable sources?

Simultaneously, I am aware that what is toxic to one species is nectar and life to another. Ditto individuals within the species. And we are just a single species on this planet, one of many passing through the evolutionary cycle. There is more to life than us, although this is hard to believe in our homocentric world. Life, with or without us, in some format or other, will go on. This thought always cheers me up!

Love wins

There’s lots of information out there about this issue. Here are some links: petition.

Gas Drilling In Balcombe here.

Frack Free Balcombe here.

Frack Off! here.

Facebook: Frack Free Sussex

Facebook: No Fracking In Balcombe

Cuadrilla’s website and info on Balcombe here.

All photos by Zelly Restorick.


Posted 15:41 Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 In: The HOT Planet

1 Comment

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  1. Richard Hull

    See also this excellent discussion

    Comment by Richard Hull — Thursday, Aug 22, 2013 @ 08:07

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