Fracking: tiny protests, major panics

Ben Lazarus

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On Monday, anti-fracking protesters in central London blockaded the headquarters of the PR firm Bell Pottinger, which represents energy company Cuadrilla, the main company trying to use ‘fracking’ to extract shale oil and shale gas in the UK. Cuadrilla’s own headquarters in Lichfield, Staffordshire were also blockaded. Meanwhile, other environmental campaigners protested outside the constituency office of Cabinet minister Francis Maude.

At approximately 8.30am, six environmental activists glued themselves to the entrance of Bell Pottinger’s HQ. They were supported by several other activists, who patrolled around the doorway area, ensuring that not only was protester-freeing solvent kept at bay, but that nasty journalists didn’t ask anything inappropriate of their brave comrades.

Despite the pathetic size of the protest, news coverage of the ‘event’ was widespread, as if some kind of large-scale civil disobedience had occurred. For instance, the story featured (to name but a few) on the homepage of BBC News, The Times, the Independent and the Guardian.

Unfortunately, while today’s protests were utterly minuscule, that hasn’t stopped Cuadrilla from responding rather defensively in the face of recent anti-fracking protests. Following a week or two of protests in the village of Balcombe and police warnings of potential trouble, Cuadrilla announced at the weekend that it was scaling back its exploratory drilling work at the site, a decision it said was made on police advice.

Such institutional cowardice is depressing, but not surprising. While it is all too common to hear about the bullying nature of large corporations, Cuadrilla, like many other big organisations in recent years, has seemingly cowered in the face of marginal protests with little support among the wider population. Even worse, the police, who are supposedly paid to uphold legitimate legal activity, were more interested in a quiet life than in protecting workers and private property.

That’s the real import of today’s protests: so timid are today’s institutions and corporations that a handful of middle-class protesters occupying corporate doorways and a few hundred people walking through the Sussex countryside are capable of provoking a serious and often cowardly reaction.

What is most concerning, however, is that as a result of this, the interests of the wider population are being impacted upon. In the most recent YouGov poll on fracking, for example, a majority of 41 per cent to 33 per cent believed that Britain should frack, while 26 per cent of the population said that they were unsure as to where they stood on the issue. At a time of escalating fuel prices, it is surely in everyone’s interests to maximise the opportunities for energy production. But that interest is being circumvented by the feeble response to a tiny minority of bellicose environmentalists.

Ben Lazarus is a recent politics graduate at the University of Bristol and is currently interning at spiked. He tweets at @BLazarus1.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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