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Joining the fracking frontline

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By Simon Swinbank
Mar 27, 2018

One of our most recent and hard-hitting examples of people power has come in the fight against fracking. We’re dedicated to fighting this harmful industry, actively making a stand by launching our ‘Boycott the Big Six’ campaign. We’ve been out at fracking sites to support the protestors, meeting people who are quite literally on the frontline. The job’s far from done. Heather from our Communications Team has been around the country meeting protestors. We caught up with her to find out how the experience has been.

Give us an intro, Heather.

Hi, I’m Heather Holve, Campaign Manager at Ecotricity, which is one of the most rewarding and frustrating jobs in the world! Rewarding because every day I meet or speak to amazing and inspiring people who have dedicated themselves to stopping fracking in the UK. And frustrating because every step towards a greener frack-free Britain is usually accompanied by a step back.

Please tell us about the Ecotricity anti-fracking campaign 

Ecotricity’s campaign is about the power of people. If we boycott the companies that support fracking and put our money – including what we pay in bills – into companies that are investing in renewables, then less money will be invested into fracking. Six out of ten people are being supplied by energy companies that support fracking – make sure it's not you! And if you switch to Ecotricity, we’ll donate up to £60 to our people:power fund. Ecotricity has already supported protestor events at the gates of Preston North Road, contributed to legal teams for public enquiries and bought equipment needed by campaigners as they set up their protest campaigns.

You’ve spent some time this year with the people on the front line – what’s it like at anti-fracking protest sites?

Most of my visits have been during the autumn and winter, so I’d have to say that protecting our countryside from fracking is a cold, wet and muddy business! What amazed me was the reality that many of the proposed sites are in beautiful and peaceful rural areas with thriving tourism economies. Can you imagine the Cotswolds with drilling rigs? Every fracking site protest has its own personality because – contrary to what we often hear – protestors who lead the campaigns are local people with pride and values, and they want to protect their heritage for future generations. I have visited sites on average days and this is where determination comes in. 

What/who has been the most significant influence during the campaign?

You can’t make me choose one individual, event or protest site. The essential part about fighting the fracking industry is that it takes a community, a movement, to stop it. In my head I have a range of hero awards that I would like to hand out to different groups. Here I’ll focus on the north as there are too many groups and too many awards to list in a single blog.

Eckington Against Fracking wins the award for community mobilisation. Over the course of a year, they went from not even thinking of fracking to getting the County Council to side with their evidence-based campaign and to decline planning permission. Frack Free Ryedale would win the award for campaign strategy. Again, over the course of a year, the group kept the pressure on the fracking industry by monitoring all activity – traffic, air quality, water, health, police and company finances, holding them to account. The government still needs to decide whether it should it grant permission to fracking to a company with insecure finances. Third Energy have now cleared the Ryedale frack site and with that the protestor camp has tidied up and left.

Finally, the Preston New Road group win hands down the #wesaidno award. Preston has been doggedly protecting its sites for four years. That is four years of standing out in all weathers stopping fracking traffic, four years of the County Council rejecting planning permission for fracking and yet being overruled by government. Four years of submitting evidence against fracking as part of public enquiries and planning cases, and four years of not letting the frackers get you down and have a party anyway. As one protestor said to me – we will win because we’re not in it for the money, we’re in it to protect our communities, our countryside and our planet.

What has been the most challenging part of managing this campaign?

The threat of fracking covers the whole country with anti-fracking groups ranging from Inverness to Lands’ End. Making and keeping in contact with active groups across the country is difficult; anti-fracking groups are run by volunteers with lives outside fighting fracking, and there are only so many hours in a day! With Scotland banning fracking last year and Wales sticking to their moratorium, the number of active groups is going down – but those that are active need as much help as we can offer. 

Who/what keeps you going in the fight against fracking?

The people on the front line keep me going. You cannot work alongside such passionate and open people without caring what happens to them.  These are not the lazy stereotypes often cited as ‘protesters’. They are honourable hard-working people who have had fracking thrust on their community. They may not have been ‘environmentalists’ or campaigned before, but fracking has pushed them to become educated on fuels, energy, the chemical industry and local planning. They are as surprised as anyone to find themselves on the front line. They are creating a community of educated, articulate and passionate people who are willing to stand up and be counted – this is what the democratic voice is about. For these groups, it’s not just about stopping fracking in their community, it’s about stopping fracking full stop.

Why do you want to stop fracking?

I don’t like the hidden politics of fracking. We’re fed a myth that we need fracked gas for fuel security – yet the government’s own reports don’t included fracked gas in forecasting for Britain’s needs. Fracking is about corporate deals and lobbying, and at the moment the renewable industry is missing out big time because we’re not in the same corridors of power. There are no support or tax breaks for onshore renewables – yet there are 50% tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry. As activists from areas threatened by fracking said – we don’t want to go back to dirty fossil fuels, communities are just getting over the death of coal and they don’t want to repeat those mistakes with short-lived and short-sighted fracking. They want industry and energy that is part of the future – that is renewable.

What is your advice to other people who want to join the fight against fracking? What can people do to help the fight?

Do something – anything. Take a cake to Balcombe protectors, send a message of support to Facebook Misson, lobby your MP, make sure you’re not investing in fracking without knowing it, sign petitions against fracking – and against plastics as some of the fracked gas will be used in making of plastics. Just because it’s not on your doorstep now, it might not be like that forever - 60% of Britain is licensed for fracking.

It’s amazing what people power can achieve, and we’ll continue to support those fighting the fracking industry. You can be a part of it too – just by paying your energy bills. Don’t let your money fund fossil fuels, join the green revolution and switch to Ecotricity. We’ll donate up to £60 to the people:power fund for everyone who does.

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