Campaigners challenge “draconian” oil and gas protest injunctions in court and at sites

170710 Broadford Bridge BBAG4

Environmental campaigners are counting on protesters and senior judges to protect hard-fought rights which they say are under threat from powerful and wealthy onshore oil and gas companies.

The Court of Appeal is hearing challenges in March to injunctions against protest activity granted to UKOG and Ineos Shale, the UK’s biggest fracking company owned by the country’s richest man.

The hearing will be the latest attempt by individuals and campaign organisations to stem an increasing number of injunctions against protests at oil and gas sites across the UK.

There are now court orders in force at sites connected to the industry in at ten counties: Lancashire, Sussex, Surrey, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Hampshire and central London. Some cover sites for which there is no planning permission.

Some of those challenging the injunctions took their case to parliament this afternoon for a meeting with MPs and peers.

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Slow walking outside the UKOG site at Broadford Bridge, 11 July 2017. Photo: Broadford Bridge Action Grouo

The barrister, Stephanie Harrison QC, who is involved in the Ineos appeal, urged people opposed to the onshore oil and gas industry to continue campaigning and not to be deterred by injunctions.

“Those who are participating must continue to exercise their right. We have to keep campaigning and protest about matters of concern and importance.

“Yes we also have to challenge the injunctions in the courts but challenging in the courts is never enough. Even if we succeed the company can come back with other ways to undermine people’s rights.

“Real democracy is when people say ‘enough is enough, this is not acceptable’, and they take steps to pursue that.”

She added:

“If we do not succeed in overturning this process then I think that we have to recognise … very wide-ranging injunctions are going to be made with large repercussions across the board for many people with no effective opposition.

“For that reason alone this form of proceedings must be categorised as unacceptable and challenged both politically, as well as legally in the courts.”

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Parliamentary meeting, 16 January 2019. Photo: Frack Free United

Friends of the Earth is involved in the UKOG appeal and is seeking to intervene in the Ineos case. The organisation’s head of political affairs, Dave Timms, said:

“The use of injunctions is taking the UK to a dark and frightening place where rights and liberties essential to a healthy democracy look very fragile”.

He said:

“These draconian injunctions go far wider than covering already illegal actions.

“They create a climate of fear where people taking lawful protest are uncertain about whether their actions could breach an injunction with the risk of imprisonment or having their assets seized.

“They put decisions about public order policing into the hands of the oil and gas industry with their army of corporate lawyers and private security firms.”

Oil and gas companies have always said they are not seeking to curtail lawful and peaceful protest.

But the injunctions have specifically outlawed the protest technique of slow walking, where protesters walk in front of lorries to delay deliveries. This has often been tolerated, and even facilitated, by police. People prosecuted for slow walking at recent protests have often been acquitted or, if found guilty, given a conditional discharge.

Breaching the terms of an injunction, in contrast, could result in people being found in contempt of court, for which the penalties are prison, fines or the seizure of assets.

181220 Tinker Lane Ross Monaghan

Christmas carols protest outside IGas’s shale gas site at Tinker Lane in Nottinghamshire. Photo: Ross Monaghan

“Bypassing constitutional rights”

Stephanie Harrison said the companies were seeking recourse through the civil courts to bypass the constitutional right of police to make decisions on the ground.

The onshore oil and gas industry disliked the police toleration of slow walking and some forms of sit-down protest, she said. It also disliked decisions made in magistrates’ courts on protest cases and regarded penalties as an insufficient deterrent.

Ms Harrision said:

“We say it is fundamentally illegitimate for a private company to use its powerful resources to go to the civil courts to recast the line where the police apply the legislation. There are concerns about the way the police have policed these protests but constitutionally they are the body that makes the decisions on the ground.”

She said:

“The primary aim of injunctions was to limit the number of people willing to participate, to intimidate and deter local activists and members of the local community from standing together with others who were involved in peaceful direct action protest.”

Barbara Richardson, a campaigner against shale gas operations at Preston New Road in Lancashire, where an injunction is in force, said:

“Even though protest of some nature was allowed, people were scared off, unclear about what they could do and worried about things like assets getting seized.”

Max Rosenberg, a campaigner against oil drilling near Leith Hill, in Surrey, said injunctions by Europa led to a loss of support and funding.

Persons unknown

Ms Harrison said the injunctions were particularly concerning because they were brought against persons unknown. She said this was a departure against ordinary legal process:

“If you don’t have an individual, who are going to be the defendants? Who will come to court and say this wrong and this unacceptable?”

Anyone who becomes a defendant in an injunction case risks having costs awarded against them.

Dave Timms, of Friends of the Earth, said:

“The risk of huge legal costs has a massive deterrent effect for anyone opposing these injunctions and means the legal process is already stacked in favour of the fossil fuel industry, and against the concerned public.”

The highway as a place of protest

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Protest outside Biscathorpe oil site, 3 January 2019. Photo: Jane Rushby

Ms Harrison said the injunctions sought to rewrite the common law on the use of the highway as a place of protest, prohibiting actions that cause inconvenience or disruption. She said:

“They do not want people in large numbers on a regular basis being present outside these sites raising the profile, keeping the pressure on, continuing to draw attention to these activities of such concern.”

The injunctions had also resurrected an ancient tort of conspiracy to injure, Ms Harrison said:

“Its purpose is to bring in anybody who is involved in the campaign by making them liable for the actions of others because they can be said to be combining.”

She said this could include the very effective campaign tactic of discouraging members of the supply chain to work with onshore oil and gas companies.

“Communities must have a voice”

The injunctions come as the government is considering speeding up decisions on fracking and shale gas applications by taking decisions away from local council.

UKOG challengers

Vicki Elcoate, second left, with the women challenging the UKOG injunction.

Vicki Elcoate, of Weald Action Group and one of six women from Sussex and Surrey involved in the UKOG appeal, said the court orders had deterred people from protesting:

“At a time when the government is seeking to fast track fracking, it’s even more important that local communities have a voice.

“Across the South East, oil companies are pursuing a programme of extreme extraction using unconventional methods like acidisation. These far-reaching injunctions are being used by these companies to silence dissent.

“The law shouldn’t be there to protect the oil and gas companies against the overwhelming opposition of the people to this threat to industrialise the countryside and pollute our environment”.

“Gaming the legal system”

Joe Corre and Joseph Boyd Ian R Crane

A defendant in the Ineos appeal, the fashion designer, Joe Corre, accused the industry of “appearing to buy the law by gaming the British legal system.”

Mr Corre, pictured left with fellow Ineos challenger, Joe Boyd, said the companies initially brought their injunction cases at secret court hearings.

“The reasons they were able to bring these cases to a secret court is because they painted a picture of local people as hard-core fanatics. Not only is that a lie, it is also incredibly upsetting to local people.”

They told the courts they needed injunctions to control these unreasonable people, Mr Corre said.

The barrister, Paul Powlesland, who represented Ian Crane in the IGas injunction case in December 2018 said injunctions should not be allowed where there was an existing criminal law. If that type of injunction were allowed the penalties for beaching them should match the costs of breaking the criminal law.

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general and former director of Liberty, accused companies of privatising legislation. She called for practical suggestions on how a Labour government could act quickly to protect what she described as a “creative abuse of power”.

“Bringing people together”

Dennis May, an anti-fracking campaigner from the east midlands, said an unintended consequence of the Ineos injunction was that it had brought people together.

“This threat to democracy is one of the reasons why fracking is a Rubicon that cannot be crossed.

“It’s not just about gas. It’s not just about energy. The way it has been imposed on our communities is intolerable.”

Steve Mason Of Frack Free United, one of the organisers of the meeting, said.

“This meeting has reflected the huge amount of concern of these draconian injunctions. In this current political climate, I am encouraged by the fact we had representation of all the English parliamentary parties and the SNP shows there is a real political willingness and cooperation to oppose the threat to basic rights and to fracking as a whole.”

Additional reporting by Paul Seaman


Reporting from this meeting was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers

34 replies »

  1. Disrupting legitimate business or disrupting the highway is not lawful. Period.

    Learn how to protest lawfully or pay the price.

  2. R8 LMX entirely misses the point about these injunctions. If something is not lawful, then it should be dealt with under the current law of the land, such as trespass, obstruction of the highway, etc. and sentences are then delivered as per judicial guidelines. These injunctions seek to effectively privatise the law by adding on an extra layer of penalties, such as seizure of assets or imprisonment for non-violent offences, which are over and above the law of the land. Never in the history of the UK have such draconian injunctions been put in place against ‘persons unknown’, even in places where there isn’t even any fracking or drilling yet. The should be removed immediately and if people choose to peacefully protest against fracking – or indeed against anything else – they should be able to do so without the threat of having their house seized. Obviously the anonymous RX LMX doesn’t live within miles of a fracking well-site and therefore does not understand anything about these injunctions.

    • I have to disagree Ellie. Most people don’t break the law because they don’t want to have a criminal record etc. The law is there to keep people from attacking others, in one way or another, and for the most it works. But it stops working the moment anyone decides they don’t care about the repercussions. We can see that with bulglary etc. Some criminals just don’t care about minor sentencing, for why everyone has a definition that is personal to themselves because everyone gets to decide what they are willing to put up with (fines they can afford, prison time they don’t care about etc). For some burglars, they really don’t care about 3 months in prison etc. They make enough burgling people’s homes to afford the time.

      So, the question is whether the conditional discharges and small fines are enough to put activists off breaking the law? The very obvious answer is that they are not. That is obvious because it does not. Though the level of punishment for breaking these laws puts off most people, it doesn’t put off the activists in the way it is supposed to for everyone. They have declared themselves separate from the normal legal system in that they have declared that the consequences of what they know to be breaking the law (since, after all, they are being found guilty etc and fined/charged) are something they have decided, personally, isn’t enough to stop them.

      That doesn’t mean that the law cannot respond to this situation. That the law must somehow be fixed to only ever do one thing even if a group of people appear that state that they don’t care about the consequences that would normally stop most people doing the same. The cause is irrelevant. I might decide I disagree with you here enough to blockade whatever company you work for for any legitimate reason I can come up with (its work vans still use diesel, its building heating is gas powered, it hasn’t fitted solar panels etc – whatever). But the law must respond if I start severely impacting everyone around me.

      The contempt of court rules are very serious. I would be fine with some sort of increasing fine system up to thousands or tens of thousands (since these groups raise that through crowdfunding and so that is something I think of as their revenue stream). If that doesn’t work then imprisonment would work until people start protesting peacefully. However, it should be gradational and build up towards whatever level of punishment is required to stop these people impacting those that don’t deserve it.

      Whatever the issue with oil and gas (hell, we’ll use enough of it over the next few decades no matter what). Stopping fracking doesn’t really impact anything because its just a well type. Stop a well being produced using fracking and another well type gets constructed somewhere else instead. It’s inevitable. So people can protest. Do it peacefully. They have no right to tell their victims how to feel about it. No persecutor does. It is for the victims to say how they feel about it. That means it is for the people stuck in their cars for hours because a road was blocked to say how they feel about it – not for the activists to say that they feel it is important enough. Because innocent people, some of whome agree with fracking and some who do not, get caught up in it there must be some sort of legal system to protect them all. A legal system cannot work if those committing crimes decide they don’t care about the price of the punishment. The activists do no care. A night in jail, a small fine that is paid for through paypal donations – it all means nothing. I.e. the legal system here has stopped working and normal people are caught in the middle. There must be a punishment that the activists are scared off.

      • “Stopping fracking doesn’t really impact anything because its just a well type. “. Garry, you seem to be in complete denial about how harmful fracking is for our environment and public health. Evidence from the USA and Australia shows that fracking adversely affects the local area, aquifers and connected water, the air we breathe, as well as anywhere the radioactive & toxic waste fluids are treated and dumped. People who Google fracking health and pollution are astonished that this industry is allowed at all. ☠️

      • One of the speakers at the meeting suggested that if companies don’t like the current laws and the way they are implemented. they should go to their MP who can then try to get parliament to change the rules for everyone. This is a public process, which everyone can see and attempt to influence.

        Injunctions may be allowing companies with the money to bypass this process and effectively create a shadow legal system, privatising the law and affecting long-held rights without any proper public scrutiny.

        • what does it matter where the fracking & oil extraction takes place we all share the same planet the same air the same water so by banning it here & shipping it in from abroad, you geniuses exspain how that makes any difference other than delaying our exposure a good Example was chenoble look how the radiation from that went round the world. so I don,t see how its helps doing it in your neighbours back yard instead of your own

          • In a sense Gasman, you’ve answered your own question.
            If you keep using something that has the potential to go cataclysmicly wrong then you therefore keep the potential for problems to re-occur (to use your analogy) Chernobyl.
            There have been problems with fracking /acid fracking in a number of countries the regulations have been ignored. The “gold standard” regulations in the UK have been ignored. Problems have occurred and it’s only just in the infancy stage here.
            Join the dots Gas man!

          • Gasman- Because unconventional oil and gas resources require extreme forms of extraction which are themselves very energy inefficient. They require many more wells which deplete quickly, the energy requirements to clean the contaminated wastewater itself means that both the economics and the carbon footprint of the process are hugely different to conventional O&G (some say there may be no net financial or energy gain if environmental standards are maintained Conventional O&G with also has a far lower rate of fugitive methane emission and the science tells us we must leave the majority of existing discoveries in the ground to avoid climate tipping points.

            It’s also wrong to ignore the additional harm caused by horizontal drilling through Europes heavily faulted geology, we are right to factor in the risks to water supply, earthquakes and harm to public health from the industrialisation.

            There is an obvious practical argument for continuing to import less damaging conventional O&G while we rush to phase out fossil fuels, instead the government has cut back subsidies to develop renewable energy but still subsidises the fossil fuel industry. We should be embarking on urgent study to develop best practice in renewable energy supply plus a massive phase of infrastructure renewal making the country fit for the future, like wiring up coastal tidal projects which we should have all around our coast, installing hydroelectric turbines where there were once mills etc.etc. Instead our leaders bury their heads in the sand.

            • I’m not quite sure how one considers unconventional extraction to be more extreme than much conventional extraction. Just think about conventional reservoirs such ass those in the deep water GOM; they can be in upwards of 2 km of water, the drill then has to go through 7 kms of sediment including salt. The reservoirs are often very overpressured and compressible so extremely high mudweights need to be used. If something goes wrong the wells are then very difficult to control (e.g. BP GOM – Maconda). In safety terms, give me onshore unconventional any day.

              In terms of economics, many companies (e.g. ConocoPhilips, Chevron) are very much moving to unconventionals because for example, the fully economic costing of extracting oil from new conventional assets is around $85/barrel whereas unconventional comes in at $45/barrel.

    • TW, it’s not about making up the rules. As Ellie perfectly pointed out, it’s allowing peaceful protest on issues where there are legitimate concerns for protest such as fracking/ acidising. As pointed out previously, there are already laws in place for for activities deamed illegal such glory surfing, lock-on’s etc.

    • There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience.
      It supercedes all other courts.


  3. Interesting that we have foreign, likely US-based pro industry, anti freedom to protest comments here (ie the use of the word ‘period’ in place of ‘full stop’ – R8 LMX). By all means comment on the UK situation, but lack of familiarity with long standing features of common law, such as the right to protest, reveals a disinterest in basic human rights.

    • Of course there are no overseas anti comments on here, or reference to US comments, GR?? And whether from UK or elsewhere, the discussion is not about the “right to protest”.

      You seem to want to design the goal posts and move them!

  4. This is not directed only to fracking. Ellie tries to suggest it is but UKOG are not involved at all. However, that still did not prevent the disgusting scenes recently at HH. Rather than make false statements against those she disagrees with perhaps sticking with the reality of the issue might help. But, that is the whole basis of the argument trying to overturn these injunctions and why the challenges keep failing. There are now thousands of pages of evidence, reels of film (or digital equivalent), and hundreds of arrests (and growing) detailing what has been going on and what the police, the companies and their employees have been subjected to whilst they conduct an authorised activity.

    It may help to excite to tag that INEOS are owned by UKs richest man-except it is owned IN PART by UKs richest man, but the majority still like to watch Man. City and Chelsea play football. Equally, you could consider how Sir Jim made his £ billions, from very little, and get a nice warm glow that the guy knows what he is doing, and then check what he might be doing individually with his share of the income, starting with the £110 million donation to fund the America’s Cup challenge, moving on to his financial support for health projects in the UK and elsewhere and then on to financial support of environmental projects. But, no, as we have seen on DoD repeatedly, the focus will be upon yachts and where he lives-much more exciting-but, and key, not to the Courts.

    • Pretty weedy evidence to grind out the old “evil-empire, big bad American interference coming over here oppressing us” paranoia mantra. The use of “Period” is an Americanism that is as commonly heard over here now as it is over there. And also in an international industry, and you might not know this, but other people travel the world picking up language from many cultures.

      • Oh gosh hear we go again… yet another dilousionist, self promoting “I’m more knowledgeable than anyone on this site”. When the science proves with irrefutable evidence that on-shore fracking/acidising is dangerous and does have a negative impact on land and water as proven in Australia and the US and here in the UK. The more wells being forced upon communities the wildlife gets affected.

        Regards to protesting, when all ways of normal communication for protestesting get shunned. What other measures can be done. When a government subsequently ignores the will of the people and scientific evidence simply because of the obvious desire to put economic gain over environmental and social justice, the people of the areas whom are most effected have a right to protect against the potential harm that will no doubt effect future generations. Trying to make it illegal to up the anti with balance so long as no one gets hurt or injured or property be damaged as a result, then yes the laws already in place, I repeat already in place should be sufficient. Otherwise it crosses the line of becoming a dictatorship.

  5. Martin, you do have an odd way of looking at the situation. Are you forgetting preece hall? This was when the seriousness of what fracking proved can happen thus followed concern over the industry. It took six months for Caudrilla to own up to what happened, there’s been countless tremors at PNR, a “gold standard” was meant to be implemented and highly regulated, non of which has happend. In this time of irrefutable climate change and of course the huge potential of risk to aquifers being poisend and earthtremors (as felt in Surrey a few months ago) and furthermor the insanity of industrialising the countryside and the impact it has on wildlife, you wonder why people aren’t concerned? You wonder why people aren’t prepared to fight against these companies. How would you feel if your house developed cracks due to seismic activity brought on by this form of oil distraction. You try getting insurance for your property if you’re living in close proximity to a fracking site. In fifty years time when the wells structural lining has broken down and lost it’s strength integrity then what? The government’s own inspector Proffeser Styles said this shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

    So protesting over this industry is fundermentally important and people whom will be effected the most should have their voices listend to. It is a fundermental right to be able to protest lawfully so long as no one is harmed or property destroyed. Delays caused by peaceful protest should be deamed acceptable and legitimate.
    It is important to understand the facts of the reasons why people are wanting to protest. The people are informed and insiteful to the hazzards/potential hazzards that this industry can produce. You can’t argue with the facts and science…

    • Preese Hall was an excellent example of how well Cuadrillas construction was; the fact is that the well was deformed at depth and there was absolutely no issue with well integrity. There is also no evidence of houses being cracked due to hydraulic fracture stimulation. The ground motion associated with the tremors was far less than associated with common activities such as trains or lorries passing.

  6. No, you can’t argue with facts. Peaceful protest has achieved nothing so unlawful protest has followed. It is all documented, and that is why the injunctions became necessary and are being upheld. If the antis need to attract certain elements to ramp up their voice, then you need to be responsible for the consequences. That is not just my view, the warning was given by some of the antis a while ago, and ignored.

    As a group you have been unable to draw any boundaries that are adhered to, so the Courts will do it for you. Yes, it limits peaceful protest to a certain extent but that is another form of collateral damage that some antis have been all too eager to inflict upon others going about their legitimate business. I did my share of protest but that was marshalled and controlled and I knew if I stepped outside of that then others would find their ability to protest was impacted.

    If you want to be free to protest then control the behaviour. Freedom to protest is not freedom to protest in any way you choose.

    No, the people are largely not informed. I have observed much of the comment on this site for some years. It largely features those who are not informed, some who would like to excite that lack of knowledge with inaccurate information and a few from industry who provide some factual stuff which is then ridiculed by antis to censor it with more inaccurate information. You show it very well yourself with comments about earth tremors and wild life. Absolute tosh. No earth tremors since oil extraction started at HH-does that say then the earth tremors have stopped since oil was extracted, therefore that is what is needed? Wild life? Many on shore oil sites in the UK are havens for wild life-visit a few and you will see. What would be there instead? Probably monoculture in some areas.

  7. Article 11 of the Human Rights Act states: “I have the right to peacefully protest.”
    That means that we must be allowed to take part in peaceful assemblies like marches, protests and demonstrations

    • 4foxandhare, you seem to have overlooked, ignored or not understood the responsibilities and boundaries that your rights to peacefully protest entail.

      Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights clearly states the rights and boundaries.

      “No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder and crime.”

      It is the activists who lack the responsibility and are then surprised and complain about the consequences.

  8. Well, if you do that 4, no problem. But, that is not what “we” have been doing, hence the injunctions. You may not be aware of what evidence there is for that, but many are, including the Courts.

  9. The behaviour we saw at Horse Hill this summer was not lawful protest and included at least one of the appellants taking a significant part in unlawfull action

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