Poland: Fracking opponents block shale gas conference

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Last week Polish activists disrupted the “Shale Gas World Europe 2011″ conference in Warsaw. Below we republish their press release in it’s entirety… and don’t miss this inspiring video of their action.

“We will do everything to assure that protests are not able to stop shale gas exploration in Poland.” – Bernard Błaszczyk, Vice Minister of the Environment

A meeting of the largest international energy corporations began on Monday, November 28th, in Poland’s capital, Warsaw. The CEOs and representatives of Halliburton, Talisman Energy and Dow Chemical amongst others flew in to network with members of the European Commission and the Polish government behind closed doors and away from the public eye at the downtown InterContinental hotel (the cheapest “silver” entry pass cost 10,000 zlotys/2,500euros. Most Poles earn about 1,000 zlotys per month). Conference participants aimed to showcase the future profits of their shale gas investments, which thanks to the smooth politicking of Polish authorities, are to make Poland the next Niger Delta.

Just before the opening keynote speech, planned for 9 am on Tuesday, November 29th, a flash mob congregated in the downstairs lobby. While a group of drummers beat rhythms to the distraction of hotel security, a passerby dropped a suitcase full of golf balls that scattered all around the hall. In the meantime, a large banner was dropped from the upstairs banister displaying a raised middle finger resembling a drilling derrick complete with lighted gas flame on top. The banner read, “Frack You!” and listed over two dozen towns and regions around the world where fracking is being protested or has already been banned. Amidst this commotion, another group entered the main conference ballroom on the second floor. Linking arms and sitting down on the stage, they blocked the keynote, forcing the conference participants to leave and wait outside. During this time, the group organized an alternative conference in solidarity with the residents of Poland on whose land fracking is underway in spite of protests.

From Pomerania to Philadelphia, from Syracuse to Sulęczyno, from Lewino to Lancashire, residents of drilling towns have experienced the consequences of hydraulic fracturing and are demanding the same thing: an end to their dispossession and a halt to the tragic degradation of the environment. When their complaints and protests fall on the death ears of mainstream media and patronizing officials (As if the well water in Rogowo in the Lubelskie Region is contaminated due to the locals’ “backward fear and lack of knowledge”) people are forced to take matters into their own hands. In Opole Stare, Kraśnik and Kostry, disenfranchised locals have begun sabotaging drilling sites, removing over 300 m of otherwise worthless specialty seismic cables on one occasion, and an entire set of hydraulic fracturing machinery on another. The residents of Stężyca and Sulęczyno declared last week that they will block roads leading to drilling sites. Taking cues from their initiatives, we decided to interfere in Tuesday’s undemocratic meeting.

After blocking the conference for two hours, we were forcibly removed from the ballroom by police and transported to arrest. We have all been charged with trespassing and are facing up to one year of imprisonment. This charge is peculiar. While we are accused of wrongful interference in InterContinental’s possessory rights over their property, it is corporations who are forcing entry onto peoples’ land, fracturing the earth under their homes, inducing earthquakes and contaminating their water supply. The most radical form of trespassing to which communities in Poland are subjected, involves the expropriation of land in the name of corporate profits. This practice has been legally sanctioned by the new law on geology and mining, according to which regional governments and local communities are excluded from decision making processes that concern gas and oil exploration. This same law renders geological resources a “public good” under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state, which sold shale gas concessions without consulting local people.

With a decreasing toolkit of legal instruments, endangered by corporations and abandoned by the state, the residents of Poland, just like their counterparts in other countries, are forced to take the initiative. Despite absurd accusations of “acting against national interests”, direct intervention appears to be the only effective means of preventing local tragedies. Ultimately, it is grassroots protests that authorities like Vice Minister Błaszczyk and international corporations fear the most.

Eleven out of the twelve of us detained were released after 8 hours in arrest. One was additionally charged with aggravated assault of a police officer. She remained in arrest overnight and is facing up to three years in prison. Two drummers were fined 200zł (50euros) each for alleged disorderly conduct.

A solidarity fund for the group’s legal defense has been started. All contributions to the following account are warmly encouraged and greatly appreciated as the group’s initiative was entirely grassroots, as are their pockets in general.

Solidarity Fund Account: PL 08 1240 1024 1111 0010 2760 9063
SWIFT (IBAN) code: PKOPPLPW

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