Yesterday was an extraordinary day in the fracking calendar.
Protestors pulled together a rally outside Parliament with a range of speakers, celebs, and a massive fracking rig puppet. The Government’s own Environment Audit Committee (EAC) published its report on the ‘Environmental Risks of Fracking’ which unequivocally called for a moratorium. And the Government held a short final debate on the controversial Infrastructure Bill before passing it.
The fracking industry is in deep trouble presently, what with the fall in oil prices, the growing number of bans worldwide (including New York) recently, and the announcement by Plaid Cymru and SNP of moratoriums on fracking.
Yesterday didn’t get off to a good start for the pro-lobby either, with the revelation of George Osborne’s dodgy private letter to cabinet and the call for a moratorium in the EACs final report.
But in the biggest illustration of what little democracy we ever had being fully subsumed by corporate interests, the new clause (NC19) calling for at least 18 months’ moratorium was voted down in Parliament, as Labour abstained from the vote to push their own agenda.
While trespass laws were altered by the Bill so as to allow frackers to drill under our homes without letting us know, to pump whatever they want down there, and to leave any equipment and chemicals etc for as long as they like, the only protection we have from the environmental effects outlined by the EAC (a committee set up by the Government to consider independent evidence and offer reliable advice), is a set of 10 “safeguards” that Labour tabled (NC9), which once again relies on effective and robust regulation (while Government regulators get hit by massive cuts because of “austerity”).
There were numerous complaints from MPs that there was not sufficient time to debate the amendments, and even that they were being asked to vote on amendments of amendments that had supposedly been sent to them by email but that they hadn’t seen. Murkiness all round it seems.
It was no surprise then, that many of the speakers at yesterday’s protest spoke of how the only option left for environmental protectors is to consider peaceful civil disobedience to disrupt the fracking industry everywhere it tries to drill.
The press crowded round the celebs such as Bianca Jagger and Vivienne Westwood, as the Friends of the Earth compere, Donna Hume introduced activists from around the country, and the ex-UK Diplomat for Climate Change, John Ashton, enthusiastically addressed his first ever public rally.
Green MP Caroline Lucas, one of the architects of the NC19 moratorium clause spoke to the crowd before delivering a petition signed by more than a third of a million supporting the moratorium.
The crowd also held up a solidarity message with Lancashire residents who are waiting for a Council decision later this week on Cuadrilla applications for further drilling in the beautiful Fylde area.
The Lancashire planning committee has already recommended in a 684 page report that the licenses should be refused on planning grounds, and normally this would be the end of the matter, but given the Government’s dismissal of its own environmental report, and the dodgy ties the industry invariably has with policy-makers, activists are still very concerned about the vote and have called a two-day national vigil at the council offices on Wednesday and Thursday. There is a current Avaaz petition for Lancashire Council which has already collected more than 40,000 signatures which they will deliver this week.