The news coming out of the UK that the MP Caroline Lucas has been cleared of all the charges laid against her for taking part in a protest against fracking is excellent to hear, and suggests that the movement against this particularly damaging form of energy extraction is gaining more and more popularity around the country. Lucas, Britain’s only Green Party MP, was arrested for obstructing a public highway in the southern town of Balcombe, where the energy company Cuadrilla planned to test out a fracking site.
In the end, Lucas and her fellow defendants were released more on a technicality than anything else, with the judge deciding that they were not made suitably aware of the police dispersal order before being arrested, and that no-one was really obstructed by their occupation of the highway for a few hours. Consequently, arguments about fracking and the dangers it poses do not yet have a position as a good reason to protest in British law – but they may do soon enough, if the movement continues to grow.
Fracking has begun to capture the imaginations and emotions of middle-class English people in a way that previous activist environmental campaigns have not. When roads were being built throughout the country during the Thatcher years, and the protestors were primarily dreadlocked hippies who objected to the cutting down of trees or the destruction of nature reserves, they were largely ignored by the more well-off members of society – roads were considered more important than the concerns of the activists. A similar approach has often been taken when it comes to drilling for oil in remote areas of the world, like the North Sea or the Arctic – the middle class tend to think that it’s very bad that we have to damage the environment, but we need the oil, and these people from Greenpeace or wherever are just being disruptive.
Fracking is different, because it works on a smaller and more local scale. It is designed to exploit the small pockets of gas that lie within the rocks underneath most towns and villages in the UK. It’s also very visible in the landscape in a way that roads simply aren’t – we all see roads every day of our life, so adding another one seems to make no difference to us. We don’t see fracking rigs on the outskirts of our charming little towns – so we consider their presence to be an imposition which ‘spoils’ the atmosphere and the view. More and more people in richer and richer parts of the country are thus coming to the view that even in our quest for energy, fracking is a step too far – they don’t want the potential water contamination, the destruction of the environment, or the possibility of earthquakes that the process brings with it.
Of course, poorer neighbourhoods in Britain and throughout the world have had to put up with environmental pollution and the drawbacks of energy excavation for many years, and have long been ignored by their richer counterparts in the middle class. Hopefully, the fracking issue will be one which finally unites both of these groups to realize that our fossil fuel based economy is a madness that damages lives and ecosystems indiscriminately. In the meantime, here at NRGLab, we will continue to work on new and cleaner forms of energy that can replace these dirty and dangerous methods.