BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, Britain may have been fracked for the first time since the first abortive attempt in 2011, which caused two earthquakes and radioactive wastewater to be dumped in the Manchester Ship Canal - and a Swiss petrochemical giant may have won its legal battle to criminalise protest.
Perhaps this is an over-pessimistic prediction: alternatively, perhaps Theresa May's government will abruptly ban fracking, as fracking is now banned or suspended in almost every country surrounding England. It is banned outright in Ireland, suspended in Wales (with moves within the Labour Assembly to move a Bill to ban it), Northern Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain, and suspended indefinitely in Scotland. And just maybe, the judge who is considering a challenge against INEOS's blanket injunction on anyone who comes close to its operations or suppliers to face major penalties, will recognise this erosion of human rights by a Westminster-backed Swiss corporation.
The Maybot still spouts the same pro-shale gas line in the Commons, despite the national security in “indigenous energy supplies” mantra being undermined by INEOS, the largest licensing stakeholder in England wanting the gas to make plastic rather than keep pensioners warm in winter. Yet the government's just published Clean Growth Strategy does not mention shale gas or fracking. Perhaps the future of fracking hangs in the balance, seen by some in power as a lost cause?
Not only has the redoubtable Dennis Skinner taken the government to task on fracking at PMQs, representing his Bolsover constituents, but Tory grandee Baroness Anne McIntosh in the Lords has opposed fracking on behalf of her former constituents in Ryedale, North Yorkshire - which the current MP, Kevin Hollindrake, continues to promote.
Even Daily Mail readers can identify with locals at Kirby Misperton turning up in tractors and tweed suits, and be outraged at a major police operation to forcibly remove two octogenarian tea-and-cake suppliers from the entrance to the site which aims to be the first to frack. This is not playing out well in the Tory heartlands, and both the Rothermere and Trinity Mirror press seem more sympathetic to anti-fracking while the Guardian tends to tread a neutral ‘realpolitik’ approach, sometimes leaning towards industry.
Local BBC and ITV are at all the frontlines - that is, the Sussex- Surrey Weald, Lancashire, East Midlands and South Yorkshire, and North Yorkshire. The latest worrying development is the freedom security staff seem to have been given by the unholy trinity of government, industry and police to assault protesters in the road on their way to work at the Barclays-funded Third Energy site in North Yorkshire. This seems a repeat of earlier security brutality in Lancashire, including running over protesters in vehicles, which remains unprosecuted.
Another reason to question the justification for the major police operation on the grounds of keeping the public safe is that a large Saturday demonstration only needed a couple of officers, while police forces from across the country are mobilised to facilitate deliveries and truck movements to and from the site on weekdays.
At Preston New Road in Lancashire, where Cuadrilla is currently paying out a £100,000 bribe shared between residents within one kilometre of the site - a maximum £2,000 per household - the site often resembles a lake which requires tankers to drain and dispose of the run-off. Cuadrilla has also been ticked off by Lancashire County Council for numerous planning breaches, yet not penalised by any enforcement.
In Woodsetts, South Yorkshire, INEOS carried out seismic tests using thumper trucks and explosives, and immediately afterwards neighbours' tap water turned brown. Severn Trent Water said the silt invasion was unconnected with INEOS operations, but residents are unconvinced.
The current situation is one of localised action while nationally the latest government opinion tracker shows support for fracking has reached a new low of 13%. While only 22% of those surveyed have never heard of fracking, 52% have no opinion. I suspect the industry would prefer this figure to be higher, ignorance being bliss. As it is, to form an informed opinion requires a lot of reading - the independent and reliable journalism of drillordrop.com is the best place to get started.
The concern for those who have found the time and inclination to delve deep into the subject is that for the industry to survive it will arrive on a great many doorsteps. It took hundreds of wells around Bentley, New South Wales, for a community of 10,000 people to eventually see off fracking by sheer numbers on a blockade. Our hope is that Parliament finds the political will to impose a fracking ban before we reach this stage.
is an activist and independent journalist