ON SATURDAY (May 28), supporters of Frack Free West Wales gathered outside Barclays in Aberystwyth to protest against the bank’s support for fracking in the UK. Fracking is shorthand for the hydraulic fracturing of shale rock to extract methane (natural gas).
The action outside Barclays was a show of solidarity with the residents of North Yorkshire.
North Yorkshire Council recently approved a fracking development outside Kirby Misperton, a village in Ryedale near the North York Moors national park. The Aberystwyth protest was one of a number of similar actions taking place across Britain.
Nicki Wilkins of Frack Free West Wales said, ‘We support communities around the world who are fighting governments and companies that put profit before people or the planet. We organised this gathering in solidarity with those people in Yorkshire who continue to try to safeguard their community from Third Energy, which is owned by Barclays Bank, and the Conservative government, who are intent on profiting from the exploitation of fossil fuels. We have to leave fossil fuels in the ground if we are to protect future generations from runaway climate change, it’s as simple as that. Unfortunately, our current government doesn’t take our future into consideration when making their deals so it’s up to us, the people, to stand up to them.’
In 2015 Frack Free West Wales successfully lobbied Ceredigion Council to declare the county ‘frack free’. Ceredigion was the first local authority in Wales to take this step, empowering other councils to follow suit.
RIDING ROUGHSHOD OVER RYEDALE
North Yorkshire Council’s decision to approve Third Energy’s proposal to frack for gas at Kirby Misperton was made despite thousands of objections from residents and campaigners.
Over 32,000 people signed a petition condemning the Council’s decision. The petition also challenged the UK Government to ‘develop a balanced long term energy policy that will achieve our globally agreed climate change targets’.
The Frack Free Ryedale campaign group are currently considering whether they can take legal action to stop the fracking at Kirby Misperton.
No new fracking developments have been approved in Britain since 2011 when the process was found to be responsible for two earthquakes near Blackpool. Since then, campaigners have successfully countered proposed developments, notably Cuadrilla’s schemes in Sussex and Lancashire. Communities and campaigns across Britain are concerned that the North Yorkshire decision will set a precedent that leads to more fracking sites being approved.
The UK government seems set on the promotion of fracking. In 2014 David Cameron stated ‘We’re going all out for shale’. Opponents argue that such a policy directly contradicts the UK’s commitment to curb climate change.
Although it is ‘cleaner’ than coal or oil, shale gas is still a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide when burned to produce energy. There is also evidence that leakages of methane associated with the fracking process could mean that the overall impact of shale gas on the climate is worse that of other fossil fuels.
Measure for measure over a 100 year period methane causes around 25 times more atmospheric warming than carbon dioxide.
In 2015 Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said the UK is ‘absolutely committed’ to the Paris climate deal and will be ‘making sure we deliver on it’. Opponents claim that Rudd and Cameron’s statements are contradictory.
Scotland has imposed a moratorium on fracking.
New SNP Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said it would not be permitted unless it could be proved ‘beyond doubt that there is no risk to health, communities or the environment.’
FRACK FREE WALES?
Wales does not have a moratorium on fracking. In 2015, the then Natural Resources and Planning Minister Carl Sargeant assumed the power to stop councils from approving applications for fracking.
In a letter to the 25 planning authorities in Wales he wrote that where a local planning authority ‘do not propose to refuse an application for unconventional oil and gas development, the authority must notify the Welsh ministers.’
That directive followed a Senedd vote instigated by Plaid Cymru proposing that the Welsh government to do everything in its power to prevent fracking in Wales.
Nobody has yet applied for fracking in Wales. There are two sites with all the necessary permits to carry out test drilling, Pontrhydyfen and Llandow. However, there is no sign of work beginning any time soon.
A spokesperson for Frack Free Wales, Keith Ross, told the Herald: “The main concern about the North Yorks decision is that it will pave the way for more fracking applications and give the whole industry renewed impetus.
Despite the so-called ‘moratorium’ in Wales we can expect the UK Government to do everything in its power to undermine opposition in Wales, so we need to focus hard on preventing this industry from gaining a foothold. Anything that can done to slow progress and to put obstacles in the way of the industry will contribute to this aim – including action against those who are funding the industry.
“The fight in Wales goes on until we have a complete ban on Unconventional Gas Development and are well on the path to generating all our energy from renewable resources.”
‘YOU WON’T BE FRACKING LONG!’
There are legitimate public concerns about fracking.
Including excessive water use, earthquakes, well-head and transportation accidents leading to groundwater contamination, landscape degradation and an increase in heavy road traffic because the gas is usually transported by tanker.
In the longer term the major concern must be that burning any fossil fuel drives climate change and fracking comes with the extra risk of methane leakage.
Opponents of fracking consistently argue the need to develop sources of renewable energy.
In common with protesters around Britain, Frack Free West Wales shared photos and video footage of the Barclays action on social media. Groups opposed to fracking across the UK are calling on customers to lobby Barclays and switch their accounts from a bank with a notoriously unethical history that includes supporting the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
The solidarity action in west Wales was much appreciated by the Frack Free Ryedale group who tweeted in response: ‘We love this! Thank you Aberystwyth – each & every one of you!’
Protesters in Aberystwyth sang ‘You won’t be fracking long’ to the tune of The Laughing Policeman.
As the evidence against the process increases and public opposition grows, they may indeed have the last laugh.