There’s a surprise waiting for Theresa May at this week’s PMQs

Theresa May is facing a revolt over fracking
Steve Topple

There could be a rude awakening for Theresa May at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). Because dozens of women (and some men) are descending on parliament. Actress Emma Thompson has described the issue the women are raising as “local democracy” being “flushed away by the government”.

Fracking: ‘flushing away democracy’

On Wednesday 12 September, over 100 women dressed as suffragettes will descend on parliament. They, along with supporters and MPs, will stage a protest over fracking from 12.30pm at Parliament Square. Marking 100 years since the Suffragettes won the vote for some women, these modern-day equivalents mostly come from Lancashire, one of the front lines in the battle against fracking. They are coming to parliament with a simple message, which was given to The Canary in a statement:

Let communities decide on fracking, without the top-down power doctrine of central government.

Thompson is supporting the protest. She said in a statement for The Canary:

Everyone should know the story of Lancashire. Local democracy was flushed away by the government along with the decision of the local people to resist fracking in the area. Fracking is a ludicrous way of creating energy. It flies in the face of everything this government pledged to support in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

For the greater good?

As Friends of the Earth describes, fracking is:

a process to extract oil or gas from shale rock… the rock has to be fractured – this is known as hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ for short. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped down the well at very high pressure. This fractures the rock and when the pressure is released, the gas or oil flows back up the well.

The government says that fracking could give the UK “greater energy security, growth and jobs”. It claims it’s “encouraging” companies to explore fracking in a “safe and environmentally sound” way.

But the fracking industry is controversial. Campaigners are against it; not least because of its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s been linked to polluted drinking water and earthquakes. Studies have also shown links to low birth weights, premature births, and a possible increased risk of breast cancer.

In Lancashire the issue of fracking has been high profile. And one site in particular is at the eye of a political and environmental storm.

Cuadrilla vs the people

Preston New Road, near the village of Little Plumpton, is at the centre of a row over fracking. Cuadrilla has permission to explore and drill the site for shale gas, which has pitted them against local people. Protests have increased since January 2017. But Cuadrilla’s operations have been dogged by numerous scandals. These include:

  • Campaigners and local councillors accusing police and private security at the site of using “disproportionate force” and trying to “provoke violence”, something both groups deny.
  • Political interventions from shadow chancellor John McDonnell, and from Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and its co-leader Jonathan Bartley. Police at one point “dragged” Bartley away from the site.
  • The Environment Agency altering the terms of the company’s licence. Friends of the Earth branded the decision a green light for Cuadrilla to “intensify” fracking at the site.

Then, in July, the government officially gave Cuadrilla the go-ahead to start extracting shale gas, or frack properly. The decision was met by more protests from locals.

Meanwhile, the government has rapidly pushed through measures this year to make fracking easier at other sites.

The government: riding roughshod over councils

In May, a written statement made by secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Greg Clark essentially gave a green light for fracking. Because it instructed local authorities not to set:

restrictions or thresholds across their plan area that limit shale development without proper justification.

Clark’s statement was a preliminary policy announcement before a major piece of legislation. This came in July, when the government released its revised National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) which includes updates on fracking. One particular section related to fracking states that authorities should:

recognise the benefits of on-shore oil and gas development, including unconventional hydrocarbons… put in place policies to facilitate their exploration and extraction…

As Drill Or Drop reported, the guidance effectively relaxed the rules around fracking. Campaigners described this as the government showing “contempt for people and our planet”. But the government carried on regardless, also releasing a consultation on planning rules about fracking development sites.

End this dash for gas

It’s this ‘flushing away’ of local democracy by the government that Thompson described.

Other speakers will include Green peer Jenny Jones and former party leader Natalie Bennett. The women and their supporters will be calling on all MPs not to support the government’s plans. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are also backing the protest. And if it’s anything like the original Suffragettes’ actions over 100 years ago, May could be in for a surprise over fracking.

Get Involved!

– Stay up to date with fracking news from Drill Or Drop.

– Read more about fracking from The Canary.

Featured image via Guardian News – YouTube

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Steve Topple