To tell the tale of our Preston New Road Campaign from the start on 5 January 2017 is a challenge too far for any single one of the thousands of us that took part, the hundreds that are ‘regulars’, or the core dozens that are permanent.
We each have our own perspective from our particular place on the busy A583 Preston New Road between Blackpool and Kirkham in Lancashire where a fracking site grew out of a field. The site was fracked, failed, fracked again and is currently suspended because of seismic events including a 2.9 earthquake that damaged homes and rippled fear through our lives.
The ‘Fylde’ where we live is a diverse landscape and society, with farms and wildlife bleeding into the wild nightlife of the iconic party-town of Blackpool. Transient workers and generationally embedded families nuzzle side by side, if not so much in harmony as accepted reality. The shale gas site on Preston New Road is a busy road full of commuters at peak times and a ‘blue light zone’ where ambulances must dash between Preston and Blackpool hospitals – the least ideal place to stage a protest daily for nearly three years.
In those three years we have reacted each day in ways we never imagined. As a community comprised of local residents, environmental campaigners, NGOs and weary individuals, we had no idea what this would come to entail.
Whatever it takes
We ‘slow walked’ in front of trucks to impact works and raise awareness, and challenged the supply chain – getting even Eddie Stobart to pull out of supplying this dirty industry!
Each supplier we encountered would receive phone calls asking that they stop. If this didn’t work, we would stress that their involvement in this destructive industry was threatening the health of our children and we would have to take our protests to their gates too. For some, it just wasn’t worth the risk of disruption. Others were decidedly more tetchy and it was awful when encountering stubborn, angry drivers and brutal bosses.
We made art, tied ribbons, prettied the place up and generally made our mark as close as we could get to the field where they work – staking our claim on the way this road looks as well. Their mighty drill rigs and cranes were such a brutal sight to be greeted by each day and, although the tying of ribbons seems a small thing, to us it made a difference.
We built temporary structures – towers at the gates with a line between them that inconvenienced and slowed the progress of trucks that were too tall. We built an entirely unique observation hut that still stands today and monitors every movement, sight, sound and smell coming in, out and off the site.
When the head of the fracking company here, Francis Egan CEO Cuadrilla, said: “This is the most monitored shale gas site in Europe”, he meant us – our phenomenal ‘Gate Camp’ that monitors 24 hours of every day.
The shale gas industry pretty much marks its own homework, simply updating our weak regulators with what they need to hear. Countless breaches of planning regulations and changes to the traffic management plan make clear that they were never going to be able to live up to their planning commitments or their media hype about being a ‘good neighbour’.
We broke boundaries – nothing physical as we’re entirely peaceful, but social ones. More heavily represented by an older demographic and with women far outnumbering men, the resistance in Lancashire is a coming together and forming of true ‘community’. Seeing a ‘knitting Nana’ supporting a Green Party Councillor who is locked into a tube, blockading the site and attached to a young climate campaigner is a sight to behold! Any differences evaporate. We are united and in this we find that former opinions and judgements are wrong.
There is a deep humanity here that is hard to explain but it makes walls disappear and gives us encounters that no other walk of life would.
We all agreed that fracking must be stopped here and everywhere, and that the risk to our environment and our health is like playing Russian Roulette with our children’s lives. That’s a heck of a point of agreement that holds us together despite the challenges. Our choice of football team, stand on Brexit or political party are subjects mostly that don’t come up or are avoided.
This is one campaign with a clear end goal that can only be achieved if we work together.
The community provided evening meals to camps where campaigners could stay, and a local landowner gave space for a ‘community hub’ that at its peak was providing hundreds of meals a week during three-month and one-month intensive campaigns that brought bus-loads to help.
Over 100 weeks of ‘Green Mondays’ have brought politicians, authors, professors, political figures, scientists and even George Monbiot to the roadside to present talks. We have legitimised our protest with facts and science, and given a space for people who give a damn about the environment to come together.
Well over 100 weeks of ‘Women’s Call Wednesdays’ have brought women together each week for an event called ‘Call for Calm’. This came about as a response to the intense policing here that has seen countless arrests, injuries, court cases and fines. The women hold a 15-minute silence at the entrance to the site and remain there to sing, dance, share food and create a pause in the week. Here, we remember what we’re fighting for, rather than building our rage daily without end. Vivienne Westwood, Emma Thompson, Amelia Womack, Natalie Bennett and other amazing women have joined us for this.
No end in sight
It started with hope and is maintained with obligation – how could we walk away and trust that our neighbours, families and selves will be just fine in the hands of this industry and our complicit government?
There are so many stories to tell, but we aren’t at the end yet.
For now, in summary, Cuadrilla has caused harm and literally fractured our world here. In 60 days of fracking in 2018 there were 57 tremors and in August this year it was again suspended after 22 days of causing 134 seismic events, including the 2.9 quake that damaged homes and caused the suspension.
Their license expires in November and at this time, they’ve not re-applied (although we watch to see). Current activity involves ‘flaring’ – the burning off of methane and ‘nitrogen lifts’ that help get the liquids and released gas out of the ground. All vile activities that will impact our health and pose risks to our safety. They’re not fracking but they’re not done harming yet.