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Fracking in trouble, from Lancashire to Lanarkshire!
Banner outside the Lancashire County Council buildings in Preston on 28 January, where about 250 anti-fracking protesters assembled in protest at Cuadrilla’s planning applications for two fracking sites between Preston and Blackpool. Photo Dave Beale
So-called 'hydraulic fracturing' is banned in numerous countries and widely opposed in Britain because of serious evidence that it is deeply unsafe. Instead of investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and as the Socialist Party advocates, doing so on the basis of democratic socialist planning, the energy industry and its financial backers want to 'frack' as widely as possible across Britain because of the apparent short-term profits on offer.
Numerous concerns have been raised about the safety of fracking, including the lack of effective regulation and the pollution from sites affecting people and the environment in a 10-15 mile radius. The pro-fracking lobby led by big businesses and their politicians is nevertheless trying to push ahead, with David Cameron even offering extra money to local councils if they grant permits for fracking.
Lancashire county council nearly became the first local authority in England to actually reject an application by a fracking company, when the council planning officers recommended not giving Cuadrilla four permits to drill across two sites because of concerns about noise and traffic. Hundreds of protesters, including Socialist Party members, demonstrated outside the council's Development Control Committee, calling for the permits to be refused and for fracking to be rejected.
Outside the Lancashire County Council buildings in Preston, 28 Jan. Photo Dave Beale
Had Cuadrilla been turned down, it could have been a tipping point against the intended mass expansion of fracking, in a week which saw it suffer significant blows. Pressure from numerous local campaigns is finally seeping through to the mainstream politicians and the cracks are opening up. While Tories like Cameron and Osborne push for fracking with only very minor restrictions for the sake of appearances, those more fearful of the voters in specific areas, like Tory councillors in Trafford, Greater Manchester, have raised some objections to fracking.
Labour MPs are split over the issue, but as a party are clearly not opposed to fracking. By abstaining in a parliamentary vote on 26 January, Labour ensured even a very modest and insufficient proposal for a moratorium on shale gas exploration was defeated. However, shortly afterwards the Scottish National Party announced that fracking would be put on hold in Scotland until a public consultation has been held.
Cuadrilla demanded a postponement of the decision in Lancashire and was granted it for at least eight weeks. Not granting the permits would have been a major blow to the fracking companies, hence the panic and veiled threats from the pro-fracking lobby in the run-up to the decision. Despite statements to the contrary, Cuadrilla is playing for time. Delays cost the fracking companies money, but they are using the time to lean on the politicians to grant the permits on the basis of "additional information".
Further delays are not impossible. The council's committee is due to meet on 8 April. While the council itself isn't up for re-election for another three years, on 7 May there are elections to other councils in Lancashire as well as the general election. Many local and national politicians will not want themselves and their parties to be seen as blatantly pro-fracking so soon before facing the electorate.
If local authorities refuse permission to drill then fracking could be swiftly defeated. When all the main parties are pro-fracking though, the question has been of exerting sufficient pressure on them and ultimately replacing them. Now, as growing political pressure coincides with the collapse in the oil price and doubts among the financial backers of fracking over the potential profits, the fracking 'industry' has never been in so weak a position.
If one local authority denies permission to frack, this will give an enormous boost to campaigns and communities demanding that other local authorities commit to refusing permits and adopt an anti-fracking policy.
Even the limited decision in Scotland will add to the pressure on politicians south of the border. If and where permits are ultimately granted, fracking can be blocked by mass protest, but this also underscores the need to elect anti-fracking candidates at May's elections committed to building the necessary mass movement to stop fracking.
We need anti-frack councillors
Every anti-fracking campaign comes up against the pro-fracking main parties. We need an alternative. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) fielded hundreds of local candidates last May and this year is standing 1,000 council candidates and 100 parliamentary candidates, all opposed to fracking.
In Salford at local elections following the Barton Moss protests in Greater Manchester, TUSC made opposition to fracking a major part of its election campaigns. Unfortunately, the Green party candidates didn't even raise the issue. Many individual Green members and candidates are committed to opposing fracking, but to defeat the frackers and their backers we need a party that everywhere is opposed to fracking and willing to build a mass movement of opposition based in communities and the trade unions.
Read more about TUSC including TUSC's national conference last weekend at www.tusc.org.uk
The Socialist Party says:
- No to fracking. Local authorities should refuse to take the bribes, and refuse to grant permits to frackers!
- For a mass movement of opposition, involving local trade unionists, residents and community campaigns, to blockade fracking sites
- Take the profit motive out of energy production and distribution. For socialist public ownership and democratic control of the Big Six, and a socialist plan for energy production, distribution and pricing.
Planning for the Planet: How socialism could save the environment
This book explains why capitalism has failed to tackle global warming and other threats to the environment. The alternative of a democratically managed socialist planned economy is proposed, with which environmental problems could be solved. How such a socialist economy would work is critically examined. Order at www.leftbooks.co.uk
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 30 January 2015 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.