Activist Guide: Fracking

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There’s a lack of knowledge and awareness of key environmental issues in parts of the radical left. Despite key victories in the fight against fracking, activists still must face down the might of influential drilling companies. In our latest activist guide, we speak to Frackwatch about why the issue matters and how readers can get involved…  

Why is fracking such an important issue?

There’s a great deal of evidence emerging from the USA and Australia concerning the environmental and health impacts of fracking and other forms of unconventional oil and gas extraction. Given the legacy of what has happened in these countries, there’s general agreement that the industry simply can’t be regulated safely.

As campaigners, we take the position that the focus should be on the development of renewable energy and that money should not be wasted in further fossil fuel extraction that will only add to the current inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. This is particularly drastic in light of the 2015 UN Paris Agreement, which stipulated a 1.5 degrees celcius limitation on global temperature rise.

Why should socialists engage with the issue?

Fracking is the latest extreme extraction industry that arrives, destroys the environment, destroys workers’ health, takes what profit it can derive and then leaves society to clean up. Fracking is bad for people’s health and it’s bad for the planet, and it’s being expanded to produce not just to keep people warm but also to produce plastics, as is the case with INEOS (more on that to come).

For socialists, capitalism’s war on the ecosystem is another form of class war. If we’re going to save the ecosystem, we need to transcend capitalist commodity production – production of surplus value that is – and start to focus on production of use values by what Karl Marx called a “free association of producers”.

What is Frackwatch?

Frackwatch started off as Frackwatch Glasgow. Our initial remit was to campaign for a frack free Glasgow. The main reason for this was that one of the Petroleum Development License (PEDL) Areas bordered a part of the city. Part of the licence area intersected two parts of the city at Robroyston and Milton. We focused our campaigning there during the run up to the Scottish Government’s consultation on fracking in Scotland. An active local group was formed called Milton Against Fracking.

And what is a Petroleum Development License Area?

This is an area where a company has permission to engage in ‘exploratory drilling’. PEDL 162 covers a big part of the central belt, including North Lanarkshire, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk and West Lothian. At the time of campaigning, there were six live PEDLs issued in Scotland.

So what inspired you to start this campaign?

In early 2015, the Scottish Government announced a moratorium on fracking. During this period, they commissioned several investigations into the feasibility of engaging in fracking in Scotland. Prior to this, there was already an active campaign against fracking in Scotland. A group of us then formed a local campaign group that would focus on Glasgow and the surrounding area. We decided to campaign any proposal to frack, as well as raising awareness of the issues involved.


What actions have you taken so far?

As well as our actions listed above, we spend a lot of time running stalls in both Glasgow city centre and locations threatened by drilling. We also screen films related to fracking to raise awareness of what has happened elsewhere. We had dialogue with Glasgow City Council during the key campaigning period around the Scottish Goernment’s consultation on whether fracking should take place in Scotland.

The Scottish Government recently banned fracking following that consultation. So, what work still needs to be done?

INEOS, the company that runs the Grangemouth refinery (shown on the cover image), has announced it’s taking legal action against the Scottish Government in the form of a judicial review. This will likely run for a few years. This is important because INEOS controls the PEDL licenses in Scotland and several in England. It’s effectively the largest license holder in the UK.

It’s also importing fracked gas from the US to be used as a feedstock for its plastic manufacturing operations. These gas supplies are being shipped from the gas fields of Pennsylvania via a so called “virtual pipeline” that consists of a fleet of ships bringing super-cooled gas up the Forth to be offloaded at a specially built terminal.

Since the ban, we have transitioned from Frackwatch Glasgow to Frackwatch in order to extend our remit. As such, we’ll support communities facing an industry that’s still backed by the UK Government. We’ve also linked up with campaigners in Pennsylvania and will continue to target INEOS in our campaigning.

Part of this will involve engaging in campaigns against single use plastics, which have been picking up considerable momentum over the past year or so. Such a campaign would indirectly target INEOS as this is the mainstay of their business.

How can readers get involved in such a campaign?

There’s still much to be done and we’d encourage people to connect with us via Facebook and Tumblr. If anyone would like to become more involved, we meet at the Electron Club in Glasgow’s CCA every second Monday of the month.


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