Battle of Balcombe – Anti-Fracking Movement’s Tahrir Square?

fracking protest 7UPDATED with video at 17:45 BST

This is The Monday Line
Denis G. Campbell

Last week a group of dedicated local citizens stood up against hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) for shale gas in the Sussex community of Balcombe, nearby the site of the decisive Battle of Hastings in 1066. The locals were again overrun, but not by invading Normans, rather a Tory Government hell-bent on pushing the controversial fracking process. The reward for locals’ effort to protect home and property (when Duke University’s recent major study showed homes within 1 km of active wells have such high levels of methane their water is unsafe to drink?), is that drilling will begin in earnest today, less than 1 mile from the area’s main drinking water reservoir.

fracking protest 6On Friday, more than 100 specialty riot police, who, as a source told UK Progressive Magazine, had most recently been in Northern Ireland fighting anti-Republican demonstrators hurling petrol bombs and stones, were called in to disperse a group of peaceful protestors. The ‘Balcombe 16’ sat non-violently with arms locked to try and stop rigs from entering the site and fouling a nearby river.

The shale gas drilling company that owns the Balcombe site’s permit is Cuadrilla. It, in turn, is owned by Lord Browne of the UK Parliament’s upper chamber, The House of Lords. This would be like a US Senator owning an oil company then writing policies to ensure he can do as he wishes (come to think of it, that is exactly what the US Congress does). Cuadrilla began transporting equipment and hazardous chemical materials late last week to this heavily secured site to begin drilling in secret.

farcking protestsOutnumbered by police at least 5:1, the peaceful protestors were set upon in a coordinated, thuggish attack in which at least three members of the police resorted, on camera, to the use of pressure point release tactics that many described as torture at worst, an over-reaction at the least. The Balcombe 16 were arrested and will appear on 14 August in Crawley Magistrates Court. Frances Jenkins, one of those arrested, in an exclusive interview told World View Show, “his screams of pain and use of excessive force even disgusted the members of the media present.”

fracking protest 8A few national news outlets picked up the story, but most late Friday were still in Royal baby mode. So the incident got little coverage. But the government was certainly blanketing the media, promoting the wonders of fracking. Indeed Tory Energy Minister, Michael Fallon was quoted on Channel Four News saying in rebuttal to claims by Friends of the Earth, “earthquakes (from fracking) are not going to be allowed.” He even looked a bit like comic strip Lil Abner’s Mammy Yokum. She would defiantly say, “I has spoke!”

A complicit UK national media has been lazily dragged along by this Tory government into the belief that fracking is a gold rush that solves all energy needs. The Tories proposed the globe’s most generous tax benefits of 30% to ‘frackers.’ They claim there is ‘nothing to see here’ with the Cuadrilla-Lord Browne connection, Chancellor George Osbourne’s father-in-law being a key oil and gas lobbyist for a BP-Shell coalition ‘think tank’ and the chief architect of PM Cameron’s re-election strategy running solidly with the oil and gas bulls!

(Story continues after the video break.)

balcombe 4The Sussex local council and environment departments bowed to outside political pressure and simply ignored legitimate resident environmental concerns. In excess of 900 residents submitted comments protesting drilling. The government even allowed the issuance of a radioactive material transport permit. Why, you say, that was needed? Oh there’s only been radioactive radon gas and uranium 226 found in the fracking water coming back up the wellhead. So that lorry beside you as you sit stuck in traffic with your pregnant wife? It can only kill you AND your unborn child but hey… Drill Baby Drill!

And to add icing to this sh**cake? Before going on summer recess, the Tories proposed a bill saying local planning authorities will no longer have the ability to do their job and protect its citizenry when they raise planning concerns about oil and gas exploration. Only the national environmental and energy agencies can issue permits from now on.

And yet there is one element to this crisis that goes under-reported.

camelAlmost a millennium after the Normans overran Hasting, this one site could become the anti-fracking movement’s Tahrir Square. Like Mubarak, police over-reach threatens to awaken a sleeping giant populace. Thuggishness against peaceful protestors for no apparent reason has dire consequences because it awakens the people.

Ask US Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) how being thuggishly beaten atop the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Alabama energised and awakened the populace to the horrors of race discrimination.

balcombe 1Ask those watching the secret police attack on horseback and camel in Tahrir Square and the epic battle with stones and petrol bombs that ensued for three days? Remember the image of Wael Ghonim crying on national television for those killed for protesting after he was held for 12 days for no reason? The next day’s crowds were the largest ever seen and 48-hours later Mubarak was gone.

Could the image of the young men being tortured for sitting by a locked gate by police could have the same awakening affect? Time will tell but it does not take much to swing opinion and police over-reach is usually the cause.

fracking protest 6We need to listen to voices expressing real concerns. As Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, the distinguished professor of engineering at Cornell University, said in a lecture about fracking,

“6.5% of ALL well casings fail initially leading to methane migration. 60% of them fail over 20 years. They ALL fail over time. Why doesn’t the industry fix this systemic problem? BECAUSE THEY CAN’T.”

So with a 100% wellhead failure rate leading to methane migration in the water supply, why push this risky exploration process? Because… there’s money to be made.

As Andy Chyba said in an interview to air Tuesday evening on World View Show, “the Tories will do anything for short-term financial gain.” He’s right. Ask the NHS about the £1bn pound privatisation contract announced just last week!

What else is for sale here David?

Denis G Campbell View more

Denis G Campbell
Denis G. Campbell is founder and editor of UK Progressive magazine and co-host of The Three Muckrakers podcast. He is the author of 7 books and provides Americas, EU and Middle Eastern commentary to the BBC, itv, Al Jazeera English, CNN, CRI, MSNBC and others. He is CEO of Monknash Media and a principal with B2E Consulting in London. You can follow him on Twitter @UKProgressive and on Facebook.

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