The growing anti-fracking movement has become a major headache for the gas industry. Rising from nowhere eighteen months ago the movement has become so large that these days gas drilling is rarely mentioned without a second word: “controversial”.
This is not simply a UK phenomenon. In the US thousands of people regularly protest against gas extraction. In Australia Coal Bed Methane operations in Australia have ignited a furious response, most notably the ongoing direct actions at Glenugie, part of the impressive CSG Free Northern Rivers organisation and the Lock the Gate Alliance.
Yet while the UK has been largely exempt from civil disobedience, that may be about to change.
Our elected representatives are either corrupted or irrelevant. The distant palaces of Westminster remain determined to override the vocal – and growing – UK community concerns, largely because of vested interests within government structures. Local intermediaries have become increasingly irrelevant. Tory-led Lancashire Country Council, for example, thinks fracking regulations are inadequate, but this is just a gesture: the council is powerless to do anything significant to stop it. Regional Assemblies are equally impotent. The Scottish & Northern Ireland Parliaments, for example, have no oversight over oil and gas exploration and production.
Thus the tidal wave of extreme energy extraction facing the UK has become a symptom of the decline of UK democracy: no existing democratic channels are a match for the business interests that stand benefit a few people in power and their cronies.
There is, of course, a route-map as to where to go next. The noble history of universal suffrage, Indian Independence, US Civil Rights, the 1990s road protest movement and recent climate movements provide a stark model. Imagine: if you were a woman im the 1890s, what would you do?
In terms of Extreme Energy, what might this mean? The Lock the Gate Alliance in Australia provide an instructive model. Here, sixty communities have signed up to circumvent their traditional democratic structures. Community members go door to door, signing up their neighbours to reject new gas drilling. Typically “no” votes have been more than 90% of respondents.
And yet this is not simply a petition. Respondents are also asked to state what they’ll do to help the cause. Many have pledged to physically block the drillers trucks when they appear. This kind of community organising is the source of the direct actions that are currently engulfing Australian driller Metgasco.
Direct Action is an example of strategic thinking: a time-tested demonstration of a stark truth that – when the rules are clearly wrong, it becomes an imperative to push against them.
This is in no way anti-democratic. It is rather a revitalisation of democratic involvement whose representative capabilities have long become questionable.
Now is the time for the UK anti-fracking movement to up its game. The time has come to add to our amour: Cuadrilla, Dart Energy, UK Methane, and Igas – and their backers in government – should know that they will face civil disobedience should they continue their drilling plans.
Our not-so-representative politicians have demonstrated their contempt for our community concerns. Our communities must now stand up and be counted.