Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Barton Moss: Rise of the Resistance


A traditional northern welcome for Igas
First on the scene were the jolly bobbies of the Police Liaison Team in their blue tabards. They chatted amiably to the gaggle of forty or so scruffy people waiting in the cold of a November morning at the top of Barton Moss Lane. 
Then came the massed ranks of the regular coppers, debussing from their line of vans and forming up in lines. Behind them, keeping their distance, were the even less charismatic Tactical Assistance Unit (TAU).
The day's convoy was not far behind, a lorry load of what looked like junk and another with some sort of pumping equipment, bracketed front and rear by police vans. Faced with an immovable line of protesters it was soon stopped dead.
This was Day One of the Northern Gas Gala.
Barton Moss really is the edge of town. On one side is the great Manchester, Salford and Stockport urban conglomeration. On the other it is countryside as far as Warrington. Historically, Stephenson’s Rocket once ran along the nearby railway. It has the first canal in Britain, the Bridgewater, and also the last, the Manchester Ship Canal. Now it is the front line of the new technology of hydraulic fracturing.
Fracking is a form of unconventional oil that is currently the target of resistance from campaigners around the world. Their concerns are the air pollution, noise, gas flaring and large number of lorries associated with a fracking site, large amounts of clean water that needs to be brought in and large amounts of waste water needing to be taken out. They fear underground bore holes can crack and methane can end up where it’s not wanted: in the atmosphere, in the ground water and in people.

This combination of local and global concerns makes the anti-fracking movement a diverse one and that was reflected by the crowd gathered on that first morning. A makeshift camp had sprung up on the verge next to Barton Moss Lane and the campers had been joined by local supporters.
The famous Manchester rain was absent, but the Greater Manchester Police and were present in force. A quarter of the mile down the lane the onshore oil and gas company Igas had built a secure compound in which they were preparing for a drilling operation to determine whether or not the area was suitable for fracking.

Day One of the Northern Gas Gala
With the convoy blocking half the A57, the police and the campaigners squared off. The police commander asked politely if the way could be cleared for lorries to get to the site, and he was politely told that opposition to the work would be non-violent, but also non-negotiable.

Then the pushing started. Slowly the police moved the blockade of young and old, men and women down Barton Moss Lane. Some people pushed harder than others, and soon the first arrests were being made.

Rob Edwards from Glossop had become the first arrest of the campaign the previous day. He turned up again the next day and promptly became the second person to be arrested as well.

Finally, two hours after the operation started, the convoy of vehicles was safely in the Igas compound.

That first day set the tone for the first month of the campaign: the ‘slow walk’, the pushing and the arrests – a suspiciously regular five a day, which usually occurred just after the ritual change over from regular police to TAU.

Anne Power, superhero
Usually the pace of the walk was set by 82 year old Anne Power, a local Green Party candidate and formidable campaigner. She did not move fast enough for GMP and was regularly removed from the blockade ‘for her own safety’. As a result has Anne has probably now been arrested more often than any other octogenarian in Manchester.

Anne’s arrests did not endear GMP to the Protectors of Barton Moss, as the campaigners styled themselves. Neither did an incident on Friday 13th December when police plunged into the crowd to make a seemingly random arrest, propelling disabled Protector Chris Pannel into a ditch in the process and breaking his leg.

Meanwhile the Manchester weather did its bit to make the Protectors’ lives as challenging as possible. The Christmas storms blew away tents and left the composting loos leaning at a jaunty angle. A delivery of hay bales made the situation tolerable, but life on the Moss was a daily struggle for survival. But still the ‘slow walks’ went on, interspersed with regular lock-ons and the occasional stunt such as Father Christmas delivering a wind turbine to the Igas gates.
Then at the start of January everything changed. 

The first the Protectors knew about it was when someone spotted a report on the Greater Manchester Police Facebook page of a flare being fired at a GMP helicopter landing at nearby Manchester City airport. Nobody in camp saw anything and it was assumed this might have been a New Year’s Eve firework someone had let off late from one of the nearby housing estates.

However the police immediately put out a statement saying the flare had been fired from the camp with the intent of bringing down the helicopter, with an ominous reference to the fatal crash in Glasgow the previous November. Two days later the camp was searched, but no evidence was found. Inquiries in the Brookhouse and Irlem estates, and an appeal to drivers on the busy A57 that passed the airport, failed to produce any other witnesses, but GMP continued to report that it had been deliberately fired at the helicopter by the camp.

Barton Moss drill site
The Protectors had good reason to be unhappy with GMP after this. Not only were they now being labelled as terrorists, but the search of the tents had resulted in all their bedding being soaked by the rain – not recommended if you are camping out in sub-zero temperatures. However animosity towards the police was usually restricted to the pages of social media, and on the ‘slow walks’ the incident was generally regarded as a bad joke.

However the police were definitely not laughing now. Arrests became more regular and more violent. And also more bizarre. Dr Steven Peers, for example, was arrested for ‘drink driving’ whilst sober and on foot. Equally strange was the police turning up and filling the holes dug by the Protectors for their ablutions with concrete. Meanwhile there was a steady flow of Protectors being taken away in ambulances after suffering various unfortunate interactions with the police.

GMP remove the Public Footpath sign
On the same day as the alleged flare, another curious incident took place. Barton Moss Lane, which is clearly signed as a private road, is also a Public Footpath, but that Saturday a couple of officers were photographed removing the Public Footpath sign from the top of the lane. The Rights of Way officer at Stockport Council was contacted and said he knew nothing about this and that, as far as he was aware, the lane was still a footpath.

With most of the arrests made being for Obstruction of the Public Highway, this was a very important point. These charges would only stand if Barton Moss Lane was indeed a Public Highway. The courts, which had been taking an increasingly dim view of GMP tactics and which were regularly releasing campaigners on unconditional bail even if they had been arrested for breach of previous bail conditions, would have to decide.


However the police weren’t the only people having a pop at the Protectors.

Rally at Barton Moss
13th January was a beautiful morning on the Moss. The previous day there had been an amazing turn out for the first Barton Moss Solidarity Sunday with eight hundred people from across the country gathering at the camp for speeches. There were no police, no arrests and no trouble. There weren't that many the next morning to meet the regular Monday convoy, but when the lorries arrived they were still met by a wall of Protectors across Barton Moss Lane.

The media had chosen that morning to descend on us in force. We had Daybreak TV, Channel 4, local BBC, a freelance snapper and others. Various Protectors were interviewed, but for once the main story wasn't us. Instead the real news that day was that the opposition, AWOL for the last three months, had finally showed up.

The Igas PR machine had been sounding like a stuck record since November, claiming the Protectors were disrupting local people whilst the media was clearly showing local people disrupting Igas. However the rest of the fracking industry was not intending to take all this lying down.
Consultants Control Risks had produced a report of the anti-fracking movement. It ended with four recommendations for overcoming the opposition. Firstly, acknowledge past grievances; secondly, engage with communities; thirdly, reduce impacts and fourthly, create more winners.
Interesting, then, what happened that Monday morning in January.

Lord Browne, former boss of climate villains BP, chair of fracking company Cuadrilla and advisor to the Cabinet was on the TV acknowledging that “it’s not all been perfect in the USA” and promising tougher regulations here. The Prime Minister appeared at a fracking site in Lincolnshire to announce that councils could keep twice the usual amount of Business Rates from frackers. There was no community engagement, but Igas had been doing a bit of that, although they would soon get bored.

Theo Simon on a lorry
So the opposition was firing all its ammunition at us. The Protectors’ response was to climb onto the first three lorries that tried to drive down the lane. Theo Simon from the band Seize the Day led the way and he was followed Lardo Fumblefoot, not bad for an old Druid with arthritic knees. Druids haven’t changed, it seems, just the Romans are different.

But were actions louder than words, or would the government and industry spin machine win out? Time would tell.


On Wednesday 12th February, Judge Khalid Qureshi, in Manchester Magistrates Court, finally ruled that Barton Moss Lane was a Private Road and Public Footpath and not a Public Highway. Greater Manchester Police had by now arrested over a hundred people and it looked like they would have to drop the charges against almost all of them.

For two days after the ruling no convoy passed up or down the lane.

Vanda Shivett arrested 15 Feb 2014
Then the police returned with a violence seemingly fortified, and not mollified, by the collapse of their legal case. They started arresting the Protectors once more, hospitalising mother-of-five Vanda Gillett in the process. But the increase in the level of aggression by the TAU was not the only surprise.

The police were now making arrests for the crime of Aggravated Trespass. This offence, from the notorious 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, has been widely used against environmental protesters in the past. However the bill clearly defined trespass as only being possible on land to which the public did not have access. As Judge Qureshi had ruled Barton Moss Lane was a Public Footpath, this charge required the police to claim that the Igas lorries, or the police themselves, somehow had priority over pedestrians on the footpath, a feat of legal legerdemain that has no precedent.


UK's largest anti-fracking rally
The people of Manchester meanwhile were watching all this on TV, listening to it on the radio and reading about it in their papers. A BBC poll at the start of the Gala showed 43% of Mancunians supported fracking, but one four months later by the Manchester Evening News revealed 73% now opposed the process.

At the start of March the campaign put the word out that we’d like a little show of support by the people of Manchester. The result was a carnival of 1500 people on the streets of England’s second city and it all ended peacefully with everyone doing the hokey cokey outside the National Football Museum. Manchester was now a city united against fracking.

Bez at Barton Moss
We weren’t in any of the big papers, but it appeared we were covered in most of the regional press. Fracking, it seems, was not a national issue, but it was a local issue all over the county.  

We were also starting to attract celebrity visitors to the camp including Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, actress Maxine Peake and Happy Mondays dancer Bez whilst legendary Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam put on a gig at the camp.

However at the end of the month the government’s consultation on extending the area of the UK available for fracking came to an end. Two thirds of the country was now at risk, so whether you lived in a National Park or a city, a leafy shire or an ex-industrial city, the odds were you could see a fracking rig in your back yard. Maybe not soon, but sometime. The fight was very much still on.


Cold morning on the Moss
What should have been an “eight to twelve week” drill by Igas’s test drilling finally came to an end at  the start of April. According to commentators on the London Stock Exchange web page, deep sea wells of the Falkland Islands had been completed faster. One poster said “Absolutely no way Barton Moss should have taken (is taking) so long to drill. And the delay (about 300%) is down to so-called ‘lawful protest’. And such delay is very expensive.” Maybe because of this their share price dropped 25%, knocking £80 million off the value of the company.

Igas now intended to spend the next six months looking at their data before deciding whether to apply for a license to come back and frack. Direct action certainly appeared to be working, spooking the investors and cutting through the spin to show people the truth about the industry. But in a democracy direct action can’t succeed on its own.
Salford Council refuses to debate
The Protection Camp only survived the winter thanks to support from the local community, and that community had also been organising its own opposition. Irlam and Cadishead Frack Free went out door-knocking and managed to collect a very impressive 3000 names for their petition to Salford Council asking them to debate fracking.

This was handed in at the end of February and by their own rules the council now had to debate the issue. On 8th April discussing the petition was on the agenda for Salford Cabinet. Come the day there were more campaigners than there were places in the public gallery. Ali Abbas from Manchester Friends of the Earth addressed the executives of Salford Council and then…..nothing. Despite the largest rally against fracking in the UK, over 200 arrests and the petition, Salford Council still refused to debate on the issue.


Sunset on Barton Moss camp
The campaign finally came to an end with a party under the stars on Saturday 12th April. 

For the Protectors who had survived the winter and the GMP, it was time to reflect. Then the job of cleaning up the site and moving people and equipment elsewhere then began. New camps had sprung up at Upton near Chester and at Daneshill in Nottinghamshire and more were planned. Anti-fracking groups are now springing up across the country like spring flowers, taking root in places that might not to be fracked for years.

Just like when Swampy and co. opposed the government’s road building program in the 1990s, there will soon be a network of camps across the country with a travelling army of campaigners opposing the drillers wherever they appear. At Upton they are even building tree houses.

We haven’t won. Fracking is still coming, but it is coming slowly.

Whilst there may be an argument for gas as a window fuel to replace coal whilst we develop low carbon alternatives, it all falls down when you realise that no fracked gas has come out of the ground yet, and it might be ten years before it does in any usable quantities. And that won’t do.

If we want to prevent dangerous Climate Change we need alternatives now. We need as much wind and wave and solar as we can build, we need more public transport and fewer planes, we need to save energy, use our energy smarter and make more of it ourselves. Maybe carbon capture and storage will work, maybe there is a role for nuclear, but whatever, we need this stuff now. The climate cannot wait for us to ride out twenty years of fracking boom and bust first.

Remember, once you frack you can’t go back.

To find out how to join the resistance go to:

To follow the campaign in Manchester go to:

Monday, 5 May 2014

May Day Speech

Photo Chris Rivers
(My speech to the Manchester Trades Council May Day March and Rally 5 May 2014)

Fracking is an unconventional oil. Conventional oil has peaked and, like alcoholics in a pub that is about to run dry, we are now looking for other ways to feed our addiction; tar sands, deep-water and arctic oil and fracking for shale gas.

Fracking is something that could be coming to all of us. It may not be coming fast, but it is on its way. 

According to Grant Shapps, the Tory Party chairman, a fracking site is no bigger than an ordinary house. Seeing as we’re talking about something the area of two football pitches with a fifty foot tower, I guess he must have a slightly bigger home than me.

As well as what they look like, if you have a rig in your back yard there are up to fifty lorries a day going in and out, noise, air pollution and the risk of groundwater contamination. Maybe that’s nothing to worry about. As someone said on the London Stock Exchange websie recently, we can always drink Evian, which is completely safe as the French have banned fracking.

Then there is Climate Change.

Climate Change is the issue of our generation. It will affect the politics, economics and geography of the age we will live through. If we get this issue right the future will be eternally grateful to us. If we get it wrong we may not have a future.

Photo Defo
The problem is real and it is imminent. Tropical storms like Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines
last year, are the skirmishers ahead of an army of so called ‘natural’ disasters that will sweep the world. In the future it won’t just be parts of Somerset flooding, but all of Bangladesh. It won’t just be the Middle East where drought causes famine and then civil war, but most of Africa and Asia.

Fracking will contribute to climate change, eventually, but the main problem now is that it is the major roadblock to our dealing with the problem. We need renewable energy as soon as possible. The climate cannot wait for us to ride out two decades of fracking boom and bust first.

Fracking is the last gasp of the fossil fuel dinosaurs, a final, desperate argument for business as usual when all the evidence is that we need a paradigm shift away to cleaner energy.

But Fracking is also an environmental justice issue. 

With the government consultation at an end two thirds of the country is now potentially at risk of fracking, and that includes National Parks like the Peak District and leafy Tory-voting Shires. But realistically that’s not where they are going to frack, at least not yet. First it will be places like Barton Moss. Not that Barton Moss isn’t beautiful – it is fantastic – but the people who go there to watch the birds don’t arrive in Range Rovers.

Photo Sue Lees
Never let it be said that the Working Class in this country don’t care about the countryside. My granddad worked in a factory in Stockport galvanising metal, a job that ensured he was dead before I was born. But at the weekends he was out on the hills. He was one of the people who in 1932 took part in a mass trespass on Kinder Scout, Direct Action that led to the creation of the Peak District National Park.

We are seeing today Direct Action is defense of the countryside that would make my granddad proud and Manchester has been the front line. And once we’ve defeated fracking the government will be forced to look for alternatives. We will have to develop wind, wave and solar power, we will have to invest in public transport and energy conservation. And these projects will create jobs, real jobs, jobs for Trade Union members who will come to marches like this and who will be proud that Manchester TUC supported this cause.

Join us and oppose fracking. Come to our event at the Mechanics Institute next Saturday, tell Stockport Council we don’t want Igas back on Barton Moss, tell Trafford Council we don’t want them at Davyhulme either, tell Salford Council to debate our petition on fracking and tell the government we don’t want fracking here or anywhere else.

So lets end with a really big Frack Off to Igas, to Cuadrilla, to DART and to Celtique Energie, to Total, to Lord Browne and all the other frackers.

One, two, three…. Frack Off!

Friday, 2 May 2014

The Fracking Debate

(This was my presentation to the Debating Society of Manchester University speaking against the motion "This house supports fracking". I pretty much ad libbed on the night, but this was what I meant to say. We won the debate though) 

Hello I am Martin Porter from Frack Free Greater Manchester. I graduated as an  Astrophysicist, work as a Social Worker and now speak against fracking, which is an unusual career progression.

Anyway, fracking. Fracking is an unconventional oil. Conventional oil has peaked or is about to peak and, like alcoholics in a pub that is about to run dry, we are now looking for unconventional sources to feed our addiction; tar sands, deep-water and arctic oil and fracking for shale gas.

Basically it’s about getting oil that is not stored in porous rock. Instead of just sticking in a pipe and sucking it out, fracking involves pumping water and chemicals into the ground to force the rock apart to free the hydrocarbons trapped within.

Fracking is a process that has evolved in the last sixty years, but a modern frack has as much in common with one from 1940s as a Spitfire has with the Space Shuttle. High volume, high pressure fracking has only been technically possible since 1997 and has been carried out commercially for only a decade. A modern frack uses fifteen times the pressure, and several hundred times the volume of fluid, as one in the 1940s, although at least they don’t use napalm as a fracking fluid any more.

But before we talk about fracking, we need to talk about Climate Change.

Climate Change is the issue of our generation. It will affect the politics, economics and geography of the age we will live through. If we get this issue right the future will be eternally grateful to us. If we get it wrong we may not have a future, at least not as an advanced civilisation.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has shown that climate change is unequivocally caused by humans and that unchecked it poses a grave threat to us all. This view is the consensus of science and there is now no scientific body that does not accept this. Even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists is no longer sceptical.
The problem is real and it is imminent. Tropical storms like Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines last year, are the skirmishers ahead of an army of so called ‘natural’ disasters that will sweep the world. In the future it won’t just be parts of Somerset flooding, but all of Bangladesh. It won’t just be the Middle East where drought causes famine and then civil war, but most of Africa and Asia.
Whilst we mostly ignore this problem we are quietly passing important climate tipping points. The oceans will warm and release their carbon dioxide, rainforests will burn and die and peat uplands, like those round Manchester, will stop being carbon sinks and become carbon emitters. It is now quite possible that no matter how we generate our energy in future, nobody here today will see a year in which atmospheric CO2 levels falls.
But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless, but it does mean we don’t need fracking. 
Fracking will contribute to climate change, eventually, but the main problem is that it is the major roadblock to our dealing with the problem. This is because we have this crazy notion that fracking can be a “window fuel”, a bridge between our current dependence on coal and a future of renewable energy.
There are two problems with this.
Firstly it’s not clear if fracked gas is even better than coal. At the point of combustion gas burnt in a new power station produces half the carbon dioxide of coal burnt in a smokey old one. 
One problme is that the soot from coal, although bad for your lungs, reflects sunlight and so partly counteracts global warming.
But the main problem is fugitive methane emissions. 

Fracked gas is methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas. It does not remain in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, but whilst it is there it is 86 times more potent than CO2. This means that if just 3.2% of the fracked gas leaks into the atmosphere then fracking is actually worse than coal for climate change.
What the leakage rate actually is is a hot topic. A report using industry data showed leakage rates as being quite low, but one in Colorado showed rates of between 4% and 9%, and an even more recent one in Pennsylvania showed even higher leakage rates of 100 to 1000 times previous estimates.
But even if fugitive methane isn’t a problem, fracking is still a high carbon fuel, sixteen times higher than wind or solar.
The second problem is more obvious. Renewable energy is here, it makes up 12% of energy generation capacity now and is continuing to increase despite a hostile government. Plenty of countries to a lot better.
Fracking though does not yet exist. There is unlikely to be any commercial fracking in this country until 2020. Peak production is not likely to be reached until 2025, even if all goes well.
How can you use something that doesn’t exist as a bridge to something that does?
Now there are plenty of other reasons to oppose fracking.
There is the vast amount of clean water that goes into a frack and the equally vast amounts of contaminated water that comes out. There are alternatives energy sources to gas, but we have no alternative to water. In parts of Texas the taps run dry because the water has been used for fracking.

There is the risk of contamination of groundwater, either from spills or from well lining cracking, for which there is growing evidence from the USA. We don't usually drink our groundwater directly in this country, but Robinson's brewery draws it's water from the local aquifer.

There is the growing evidence of health problems associated with fracking.

There is the industrialisation of the countryside that would have to happen. Grant Shapps, Tory Party Chairman, described a fracking site as being about the size of an ordinary house. As we’re talking the area larger than a football pitch with an eighty foot tower I can only assume his house is a little bigger than mine. To the visual intrusion we have lights, noise and air pollution, mainly from a 15,000hp engine running 24 hours a day, and up to fifty lorries in and out daily.

There is the unreality of the scale of operations needed to produce the amount of energy claimed for fracking.Eagle Ford field in Texas, the best field in the USA, involved 217 fracking rigs drilling three and half thousand wells. At this density even the little Vale of Edale in the Peak District would get thirteen well pads. Eagle Ford would have supplied just 20% of the UK's energy needs. I just can't see fracking at that intensity here.

There is the concern that regulations, which might reduce some of these risks, are inadequate. The government talks about 'world class regulation' but lobbying by the UK resulted in the EU opting out of applying regulations to fracking that will apply to conventional wells.

There are concerns about our geology, which is more complicated than the USA. Here the
rock beneath our feet is heavily faulted, which is a problem. So far only one well in the UK has actually been fracked - the one near Blackpool that caused the earth tremor. The quake certainly worried people, but the earth moving for you may not be the main problem when you frack. Faults mean there is a path that fracking fluid can use to get from where it was put to where we don't want it to be. Already Chevron, no wimps when it comes to trashing the environment, have pulled out of Poland on the grounds of "too complex" geology.

Then there are concerns about whether an underfunded Environment Agency can regulate a fly-by-night industry like fracking even if wanted to.

And so on.

But if fracking was available here and now and if it really was a low carbon fuel we might accept some of those risks.

But it isn’t.

There is no way that we can bring a brand new fossil fuel online in the middle of the next decade and still keep Climate Change to below two degrees by the end of the century. No way. We need renewable energy as soon as possible. The climate cannot wait for us to ride out two decades of fracking boom and bust first.

So let me give you another reason to oppose fracking. This is a campaign we can win. You’ve seen the opposition to fracking at Barton Moss, you’ve seen the march we had in the city center a couple of months ago. You may have seen the protests at Balcombe last summer. You may be aware of the camps in Cheshire and Nottinghamshire now.

The city investors are getting nervous. Industry consultants KPMG, who don’t usually see eye-to-eye with people like me, are sceptical. They talk about "tremendous reputational and regulatory hurdles", "high costs", "financial risk", and "extended development periods". This is all industry code for “careful you don’t lose your shirt”.

The Tory shires are getting nervous. Two thirds of the country is potentially at risk of fracking and
whilst they might not mind it in our back yard, they don’t want it in theirs.
Fracking is the last gasp of the fossil fuel dinosaurs, a final, desperate argument for business as usual when all the evidence is that we need a paradigm shift away from fossil fuels. A better future is possible, but fracking stands in the way.

That's why I oppose this motion.