Lancashire Police said today it was using drones to film the area around Cuadrilla’s fracking site.
Leaflets distributed by the force to local homes said the use of drones was “in the interest of public safety” and part of the police operation covering the fracking site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.
Cuadrilla has said it still expects to start fracking the first of two shale gas wells by the end of the month. This will be the first fracking operation in the UK since 2011 and the first fracture of horizontal shale gas wells.
The police leaflets said the drones were conducting essential aerial photography and video:
“Please be aware that police officer drone pilots will be in your area conducting essential aerial photography and video. This is in compliance with the civil aviation air navigation order regulations.
“The drone activity is in the interest of public safety and forms part of the police operation covering the fracking site on Preston New Road.
“Please be assured that we will continue 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.”
“Scrutiny is alarming”
The leaflets prompted concern among opponents of Cuadrilla’s operation. A spokesperson for the Gate Camp community obervation post opposite the Preston New Road site said:
“For peaceful campaigners to come under this sort of scrutiny is both alarming and intimidatory. The method of monitoring is demonstrative of entirely disproportionate policing that would not be expected unless people were suspected of committing the most serious of crimes.
“We are law-abiding people, exercising our human rights to protest and are shocked by this latest chapter in the erosion of our civil liberties by Lancashire Police. Our worry is that the impending drone surveillance is designed to frighten people away and stifle our ability to raise safety concerns.”
A spokesperson from Frack Free Lancashire said:
“Today’s police drone notices which were posted through residents’ letterboxes, many of whom are also campaigners against fracking, appears to be yet another level of unnecessary policing that is unjustified and can only be for the benefit of the fracking industry.
“It also begs the question: who is paying for this additional surveillance? With police funding at an all-time low and no refunds are due to Lancashire Police from central government for the ongoing protest policing costs, where is the money coming from to add another intrusive level of police monitoring?
DrillOrDrop asked Lancashire Police how many drones would be used, when they were first deployed, why they had been introduced now and how the footage would be used.
The Force replied:
“Lancashire Police have secured the use of a drone to provide more accurate information on the fracking operation at Preston New Road.
“The birds eye view will enable us to assess the impact of things like traffic congestion and road closures on the local community and will enhance the safety of all concerned.”
18 months of protest
There have been almost daily protests outside the Preston New Road site since Cuadrilla began work in January 2017.
This week, an anti-fracking campaigner climbed onto a tanker outside the site around midday on 12 September and stayed up until about 3am on 13 September. He was arrested when he came down.
The latest police figures show 13 people were arrested in July 2018. This was an increase on June, when there were no arrests, but much lower than the 95 recorded in July 2017. This brings the total arrests to 364. There were 18 charges in July 2018, bringing the total to 345.
Updated 17/9/2018 with Lancashire Police response