No Fracking Way! A report from Carlisle

On Sunday 31 January, groups gathered in over 30 towns and cities across the UK to show their opposition to fracking, without any overarching organisation leading the events. The Cumbria event was organised by Laurie Rees, a woman who had never organised a demo before in her life – a refreshing feature, repeated at many of the demonstration across the country. Hazel Graham reports.

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This was bottom-up, locally-based, anger-led, knowledgeable mass protest. And it wasn’t the usual suspects either! The organisers had never ‘organised’ before! A small group of seasoned activists provided advice behind the scenes to the people who wanted to hold the event, and supported them to channel their anger and frustration into a very successful public gathering.

Thousands came together across the UK. In Cumbria, over 80 people, many from far afield, came to Carlisle (a five hour round trip for some).

Twelve people spoke spontaneously on the open mic – on emissions, health impacts, effects on house prices, aesthetics, local environmental damage, earthquakes, ground water contamination and flooding. Old and young, confident and terrified – all had a go.

The Cumbrian group now have an email list of over 100 individuals who will oppose fracking locally. The group agreed to keep in touch and work together around raising awareness about fracking and to directly oppose any development of fracking in our county. If I were planning to frack in Cumbria, I’d think twice after seeing Sunday’s display of determination, anger and knowledge!

With the Tories determined to push ahead with fracking, it is critical that we drive home the key political points. We need to make the links between fracking and a government that will do anything for corporations like Cuadrilla. These companies are the same as Google. To them our cities and countryside are not places for living, but zones for extraction and profiteering.

Laurie Rees, who had travelled up from Barrow and was key in making the event happen locally, started the talks, having never spoken before in public. “Like many people I knew very little about fracking. It wasn’t until an earthquake shook my house that I woke up to what is happening and started to educate myself about the issues. In the past I have put issues like this in the “too big to deal with” box, but as I’ve looked into it I’ve come to realise that, if people who care about an issue acting together, we can make a difference. This issue is too important for us not to act.”

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Hazel Graham, from Brampton, spoke about how fracking benefits only a few wealthy individuals, whereas the negative impacts are felt by many of us. She emphasised the fact that there are more of us than them. She went on to explain that the science is unequivocal in showing that our use of fossil fuels is causing climate change and that the floods we have just experienced across Cumbria are likely to become the norm if we don’t act urgently:

“The government have said they recognise the need to tackle climate change and keep the temperature rise below 2°C degrees, but they continue to make legislation to not only make fracking easier but also forcing it onto communities who have clearly said they don’t want it, such as Lancashire. I am here today because I don’t want us to leave my 3 year old daughter the legacy and impacts of irreversible climate change that she can do nothing about.”

Helen Davison, of Carlisle and Eden Green Party, said, “We need to let our local and national politicians know we don’t want it. Money they are investing in fracking should instead be put into renewables and insulation to lower our demand for energy.”

Rachael Rodway, of Carlisle, voiced her major concerns about water contamination. “Given the recent floods, imagine the devastation that would be caused if the flood water in our houses was not only contaminated by sewage and diesel, but also toxic fracking chemicals.”

Sky Higgins, of Carlisle, said, “even if the overwhelming environmental reasons don’t motivate people to act, communities in areas that will be fracked should be made aware that their house values will fall and they may be unable to get insurance for their houses against fracking related damage. A recent investigation by the Independent showed that many insurance companies won’t insure against fracking-related damage or have exemptions related to water contamination due to fracking.”

Seven other members of the audience, who did not wish to be named, spoke on the history of the local anti-fracking movement, on recent letters received about applications for mineral rights, on their fears of earthquakes or other disruption and on their disgust at the thought of corporations profiting in this way.

It was great to see such a vibrant, locally driven movement standing up for everyone’s rights. Long may it continue!

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