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A small victory in the fracking war

On 3rd December 2016, an anti-fracking group in Swanage will be celebrating the end of their occupation at the California Quarry, a proposed drill site. The weekend is a celebration, because the planning permission granted for exploratory work will expire on 3rd December, meaning the camp no longer needs to be present.

Frances Leader, who is a strong voice within the group, says: “I think the principle thing we’ve achieved by setting up the camp in the first place was to consolidate the local people who’ve been fighting against InfraStrata [an independent petroleum exploration and gas storage company] for the last three years.” She promises the weekend of celebration will be lively. Having held strong through the frost that signals the beginning of British wintertime, the Swanage Protection Group have demonstrated their dedication to the cause.

This isn’t Frances’ first anti-fracking demonstration, and occupying the land in Swanage was a last resort. She says: “We tried everything else. We contacted the council, the company and the local parish council. The only thing left to do was to physically stop them from fencing off and preparing that land for a drill site.”

However, this is a small victory. Planning permission can now be reapplied for, meaning the group’s tents might not be quite ready to go back in the shed.

“We’ve won the battle, but we haven’t won the war,” Frances says. “We have pushed the oil company to have to reapply. This time, we’re armed and we’re ready.”

Environmental concerns are at the heart of anti-fracking groups. During the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals are injected into shale rock, which has the potential to contaminate groundwater with chemicals. Transporting vast amounts of water to the fracking site in the first place also sees the arrival of increased traffic.

A study has shown that fracking has an impact on the earth’s surface, and can contribute to earthquakes. Satellite images even show the Earth’s surface buckling slightly near the site of the 2012 Timpson earthquake in Texas, which was close to a fracking site. In the UK, fracking work was halted when tremors were felt in Blackpool. It’s thought that injecting fracking waste water at high pressure is causing these quakes.

The planning permission in Swanage is not actually for fracking, and Frances claims that it never is with these situations. She says: “They apply for planning permission for the exploratory drilling phase. Should they encounter a sweet spot of gas or oil, they then cap off the exploration rig, and reapply for planning permission to produce from that well. Should that sweet spot prove to be productive, there would be very little that the local council, or the county council, could do to stop them. Having found what amounts to an important energy source nationally speaking, the council will be overridden by the government, because this is what they consider to be essential infrastructure.”

The group has taken on advice from global fracking friends - don’t let them get one well in. They know the importance of mobilising before fracking is even on the table.

Frances is passionate in her fight against fracking, and it’s for very personal reasons. “I’ve got grandchildren. That was the very first motivation when I first heard about fracking,” she says. She goes on to explain that her husband used to work on a North Sea oil rig, which she believes is the cause for the cancer that eventually took his life after a 20 year struggle. She doesn’t want her grandchildren to live in a contaminated area. “The oil industry robbed my husband of seeing his grandchildren grow up. He died before he could even claim the fat pension he was promised.”

Frances knows the fight is far from over. She says: “I won’t stop. I will still carry on fighting - this is a global issue. There is no limit to the amount of damage that they’re prepared to do.”

To keep up to date with news and events from the Swanage Protection Camp, you can join their group on Facebook.

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