A wave of yellow descends on Buckingham Palace mall. Banners, placards and branded brollies accompany a chorus of protest songs, drawing attention - and photographs - from puzzled tourists. At the foot of the statue, the campaigners make their stand. Flasks and tupperware emerge from beneath blankets and bags, homemade sandwiches are handed out and tea shared around. “Have a flapjack, dear?” asks one lady in a pinny emblazoned with the words ‘Austerity my arse.’ “Tea! Who wants tea?” shouts another.
It's Tuesday 27th September 2016, and the Lancashire Nanas And Residents Against Fracking are in London. This “motley crew” as organiser, Tina Rothery, fondly describes them, may be handing out tea and cake to local policemen, but they have a very serious argument to make against fracking - the process of drilling down into the earth and using a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to fracture the rock and release the gas inside.
Grandmother, Tina, explains, “Each of us has been involved in opposing fracking as residents but we came together under the banner of Nana in 2014. We’re here today because we’ve done just about everything that was in our democratic toolkit to do: we’ve informed our council of the things that they were denied knowledge of, we’ve lobbied our MPs, we’ve worked with the media, we’ve raised petitions, we’ve objected to planning, we’ve attended public meetings and we’ve held public meetings.”
“We made a checklist of all the things we did and we got down to the very last thing which was to appeal to your monarch. For us, we’re here as grandmothers to defend our young and we feel that we’d like her think about her role as a grandmother, not as a monarch who reigns over things, but as someone like me, who’s had children and whose children have had children.”
The desire to protect their families fuels the Nanas’ fight against fracking. Don’t be fooled by appearances, the same ladies handing out sandwiches to passersby can quote any number of reports on environmental damage and talk statistics like they’ve spent the morning in the House Of Commons.
Tina talks about their battle to bring undercover reports to light: “In the last five years we’ve given our councillors information that they did not have access to - peer-reviewed studies of which there are 888 now - 630-odd of these are on our side and the others are generally paid for by the industry. They just banned fracking in Victoria, Australia, and that’s because of a five-year, cross-parliamentary study that proved that for every ten jobs you get in fracking, you lose 18 in agriculture. This is not a job winner; this is a lie and a myth.”
In one moment, mother of two, Janice Buckley, stops laughing about the pressure she’s putting on her children to give her grandchildren, to give a detailed analysis of government strategy. Referring to comments made the former prime minister in 2014, in which he said his government would be simplifying the process of getting permission to frack so that the UK could catch up with America, she says, “I was quite shocked when David Cameron said we could match the American shale gas experience. Immediately I wondered how he’d come to that conclusion considering that Pennsylvania is the size of the UK with half the population. The fact that we’re prepared to drill holes through hundreds of thousands of aquifers [underground bodies of rock] is beyond my comprehension. We already contaminate water in many ways, from many different sources. Do we really need to go this far?”
She stresses, “Fracking is a dangerous activity. How long can you live without water? And how long can you live without gas? We would obviously have to make vasts changes as we derive a lot of chemicals from gas and we make plastic from oil and gas derivatives, but we can change things - we can go in different directions. We’re living the 20th century and fracking isn’t a renewable operation: it's a drill and bust operation. We really need to concentrate on doing something different. I’m not prepared to risk my family’s lives for a quick buck.”
Fellow Nana, Debbi Jackson, from Accrington in Lancashire, who has her second grandchild due in February, also has family on her mind. She explains, “I don’t want this land poisoned for [my family] and their futures ruined. I spend a lot of time in bed because I’m disabled but this is too important not to do anything, so I do what I can when I can. We’ve come down to London today to appeal to Britain’s most famous grandmother, the Queen, to help us to stop fracking in Lancashire. I’d like the Queen to come out and sit down, have a cuppa and a cake and let us explain to her that fracking isn’t a good thing. I think there’s a least one cake for the Queen with a crown on it.”
Ginette Evans from Fleetwood, says her two children and four grandchildren wholeheartedly support her protest today: “My grandchildren already know that I’m here today and that I’m fighting for this - I hope that when they’re a little bit older they’ll join me. We’ve been through every other route we could, our local council said no, our district council said no and then the government decided they would change the law and that they would make the decision. It should be up to the public to decide.”
Having the decision taken away from their community has left the Nanas feeling disenfranchised. Tina explains, “Now that the decision is with Westminster they could overturn us any day and say, well, you’re getting fracked anyway - where is local democracy then? I think that we all fear what happens at that point - what do we become when all options for democracy are removed from you? Where do you stand then? All opposition parties now oppose fracking; the only people in this country that want it are Theresa May and her government which seems crazy. Is our democracy working for us or is it working for big industry?”
Her comments follow the recent news that the Labour Party has joined the fight against fracking. Co-leader of the Green Party, Jonathan Bartley, who was outside Buckingham Palace to support the Nanas, said “We’re reaching a pivotal moment point in energy policy and the Government’s policy is a shambles: we’ve got gas coming in from abroad, we’re expecting the announcement today with Cuadrilla in Lancashire and we’ve just seen them approve Hinkley Point. This is entirely the wrong policy. We’ve got renewables waiting to be drawn upon - clean energy that produces thousands of jobs and provides us with energy security. Fracking is just the wrong way to go - it’s bad for local communities, bad for the water and bad for the environment.”
He continued: “We know that the price of renewables is coming down; a recent national audit report just showed that renewables are now cheaper than nuclear power, so it’s a better deal for the consumer. We know that offshore wind, wave and other renewables have potentially six times the [power] of our annual electricity spend. Britain could be a world leader in a post-referendum world where we’re looking for industry to invest in. This is an issue that transcends party politics - we need to work together.”
Speaking about the Nanas, Jonathan stressed that everyone should have a say in our energy policy moving forwards: “These are ordinary grandmas who are concerned about their children and their grandchildren. These aren’t hard right or hard left activists - these are people who just care about their community. Get involved in your political parties and get active. We know there’s a better alternative: a renewables revolution.”
What does it mean to Tina to be here with the support of fellow campaigners and grandmothers? It’s an emotional point. “The right diversity of people just came together and ended up being this amazing support group. It doesn’t matter which mix of Nanas you get - it’s always worked because we don’t come from any other place but from the heart. That purity of motivation keeps us tidy in our expectations and actions.”
Each of them has sacrificed a lot for the cause - Tina, for example, faces a fine of £50,000 and a possible custodial sentence for trespass on a site being considered for shale gas exploration. But her greatest sacrifice is time with her family. “My granddaughter started high school last week and when I started this she was six years old,” she says. “She’d sit at the back of meetings writing notes to herself and drawing little pictures of what she thought fracking was. Now she’s started high school and I've realised, damn - that went quickly. Other than the times when she came along with me, I didn’t get that time with her which is a massive loss. There are so many intrusions into your life.”
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