Two rallies against fracking today attracted hundreds of campaigners from across the country.
Organisers estimated about 1,000 people gathered near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool for a rally billed as a family-friendly national day of action.
According to organisers, more than 400 people took part in a march from Mosborough, near Sheffield, to Marsh Lane in Derbyshire where INEOS has announced plans for what could be its first shale gas site.
Preston New Road rally
People from as far apart as Brighton, Scarborough and Yeovil joined local residents at a rally with speeches and music at Maple Farm, near Little Plumpton.
Speakers included Friends of the Earth’s chief executive, Craig Bennett, and Labour MP, Cat Smith.
Claire Stephenson, of Preston New Road Action Group told the Blackpool Gazette the rally had been “brilliant” and support from around the country had been “heartening”.
She told the paper:
“We had a really lovely event and then a water blessing afterwards. Our event ended at 2pm so we can’t comment any anything after that. Our message is peaceful protest.”
A police statement issued during the event said:
“POLICE are currently dealing with a significant number of protestors at the Cuadrilla site on Preston New Road.
“Following an earlier event at Maple Farm badged as a national day of anti fracking action, a significant number of protestors believed to number around 250 made to the Cuadrilla site on Preston New Road.
“Around 150 of those proceeded to try to breach the fencing and to gain access to the site.
The police statement continued:
“The A583 is currently closed while police deal with the protestors.
“Those engaged in the behaviour are largely thought to be from outside the area and not from the local protest groups.
“A significant policing response was required to prevent disorder while maintaining the right of those who wished to protest lawfully. This was done calmly and professionally by the officers involved.
The statement added:
“No arrests have been made at this time, although an investigation will follow to identify any criminality.
“Our approach is always to ensure a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to lawfully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.
“We aim to prevent, where possible, crime and disorder, but where it does occur we will provide an effective, lawful and proportionate response.”
This statement was later corrected by Lancashire Police, which conceded that “a handful” of people got into the field. See DrillOrDrop report
Cuadrilla made a statement to the Blackpool Gazette:
“Organisers of the anti-fracking rally held at Maple Farm, Preston New Road, claimed they wanted a peaceful demonstration. This has been very far from the case.
“We have seen dozens of activists aggressively breaking through fencing to trespass on the local farmer’s land site causing damage to equipment.
“We have also seen distasteful intimidation at the local farmer’s home where he lives with his family.
“This is unacceptable, irresponsible behaviour which has resulted in road closure, disruption to the local community and landowner and the need for significant police force resource. The unacceptable face of anti-fracking activism is clear for all to see.”
Frack Free Lancashire criticised the police response. In a statement on 26 February, the day after the event, the group said:
“Frack Free Lancashire is disappointed with the number of officers deployed by Lancashire Police, the use of police resources and the closing of roads when it was unnecessary to do so. The Fylde Police’s quote of “Around 150 [protestors] proceeded to try to breach the fencing and to gain access to the site” is a factually incorrect representation of what happened. Around 15-25 individuals accessed the site of their own accord via an already-present breach in the hedge.
“A large number of people gathered at the site entrance in a peaceful presence for the blessing, as is our right to do so. No fencing was “breached”. A loose Heras fence panel was pushed over, however, but there was an unnecessarily oppressive line of police and security guards blocking Cuadrilla’s site. It is not surprising people feel disenfranchised and enraged about the blatant facilitation by a Conservative government of an industry that was democratically refused entry to our county.
“There were no arrests and the whole day was conducted in a peaceful spirit. Fylde Police’s account which was posted on Facebook, was biased, distorted and contained many inaccuracies.”
Mosborough-Marsh Lane march
Residents opposed to INEOS Shale’s plans to drill an exploration well at Marsh Lane walked around four miles from Mosborough, through Eckington, to the proposed site.
The organisers told the Sheffield Star that significantly higher numbers than expected turned out at Eckington.
They said they had hoped 200 people would join the march but they lost count at 350. By the end, the number was estimated at more thay 400.
One of the organisers, Sarah Vause, told the paper:
“Everybody’s got a right to their opinion, and we had the right to stage a peaceful protest today”
Dorking demonstration against drilling
In Surrey, about 20 campaigners against plans to drill for oil near the Leith Hill beauty spot marched through Dorking.
The drilling site, at Bury Hill Wood, has permission and the developer, Europa, is currently negotiating with Surrey County Council over planning conditions.
Opponents have occupied the site and have been organising events every Saturday. A possession order was granted in the High Court to Europa last month.
Updated to include Lancashire Police correction of statement and link to a DrillOrDrop post on this subject