Natalie Bennett: The anti-fracking movement is causing seismic waves

Fracking has energised and motivated a vast and cross-political resistance movement against it.


It is striking that the majority of people who are now the anti-fracking stalwarts have never been involved in politics or activism before.

It struck me yesterday morning, outside Rotherham council chambers, just how organised and smoothly coordinated the anti-fracking movement has become.

The wind was howling and the rain blowing horizontally with it, but no one was fazed.

There were a couple of sturdy gazebos to help keep the media dry (out in full force from ITV, BBC and several local independent radio stations), the banners were well weighted and durable, the spectacular Mission Springs owl perfectly balanced, the chanting ready on cue.

Contingents had come at 9am on this weekday morning from right around the North and Midlands, from Frack Free Lancashire to Bolsover Against Fracking to Frack Free Allerton Bywater, as well as the spectacular Mission Owl and the many groups from the area around Woodsetts that is the current national hotspot.

On social media everyone was using the #Iamwoodsetts hashtag, and a little corner of the library dedicated to making videos backing it.

A banner said “Peddling Plastic – Team Ineos”, making the link between the fracking industry and the plastics now choking our world, something on which public concern is at high pitch.

The frackers might not have succeeded in establishing an industry, but they have certainly unintentionally built a committed, resilient, effective movement of people who when distant Westminster finally bows to the pressure to ban this dinosaur fossil industry will be in a great position to move on and up to other issues.

I find myself regularly talking at anti-fracking events to people thinking of running for council and parliament, to groups plotting to get community energy schemes going in their communities, to people determined to build on the new solidarity, even just people connecting to each other, to create positive activities once the frackers have been driven off.

It is striking that the majority of people who are now the anti-fracking stalwarts have never been involved in politics or activism before.

The frackers arrived, and they found that communities and councils could say “no”, loudly and firmly, but that that was far from the final word, indeed had little or no impact. Or that councils could be bullied into a reluctant “yes” by the financial power of the multinationals.

And that got people angry, enlightened, and increasingly skilled in campaigning.

It was that familiar story yesterday, as we gathered for the planning inquiry resulting from Ineos’ appeal against Rotherham Council’s decision to block planned test drilling right on the doorstep of the village of Woodsetts (right beside the sheltered housing).

So familiar that when there were not enough seats or space in the room, and no sound system to get voices to the back, it was wearily pointed out that the same had happened in the last hearing in the same room for the Harthill development, where the frackers also wouldn’t take no for an answer despite ridiculous plans for banksmen to get their lorries through narrow roads.

So familiar that the local community group, Woodsetts Against Fracking, had raised the funds for a full legal team, properly represented alongside the council, and arguing a broader case than the council felt able to.

Most people knew that this hearing would be fought on incredibly narrow planning grounds – in this case on noise and highways.

They knew that if they couldn’t be there right through the long days of the hearing, the indefatigable Ruth Hayward would be updating events blow-by-blow on Drill or Drop.

It was the frackers who seemed uncomfortable, struggling, out of sorts, despite the resources of Ineos, continuing to profit hugely from trashing our planet.

They’d apparently had a panic a couple of weeks before the hearing, and suddenly proposed building a 270m-long, 3-metre high acoustic barrier between their drilling site and the public right of way (and the sheltered housing). Then they suddenly decided that wasn’t necessary.

Their last message on the subject came at 6.15pm on the night before the hearing – not reasonable time for preparation for their opponents.

As the Woodsetts Against Fracking rep pointed out, the proposed acoustic barrier would be a major structure, one that would have significant visual impacts on now unimpeded views across countryside, woodlands and the skyline, and that surely would need specific permission. With the westerly winds, it would need a concrete foundation.  And this in the greenbelt.

The WAF barrister had the right legal language about the “noise-sensitive residents” in the sheltered housing – this was struggle between the residents of a small village and a giant resource company.

I’m often asked what can be done to discourage support for the rightwing demagogues who’ve done such damage to our body politic, the Nigel Farages, Boris Johnsons and Donald Trumps.

My answer is that we need encourage people to understand that politics should be what they do, not have done to them.

The anti-fracking movement has discovered they can do that. And when they finally win, they’ll be moving on, to even bigger, tougher targets. And winning on that too.

An inspiration and a guide for a way towards a truly democratic Britain – that’s the anti-fracking movement that was on display in Rotherham yesterday.

Natalie Bennett is the former leader of the Green Party.

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One Response to “Natalie Bennett: The anti-fracking movement is causing seismic waves”

  1. Mike Short

    Knostrop Treatment Works, Leeds – treatment of fracking flowback waste water. We at Frack Free Allerton Bywater are trying to find out why the public of Leeds and Surrounding Areas have been deceived in relation to the use of Knostrop in treating fracking flowback waste water and discharging it into the River Aire. We have evidence that FCC Recycling (UK) Limited at Knostrop Leeds has engaged in the treatment of radioactive and toxic materials contained in fracking waste from Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site. Despite numerous local residents making multiple contacts with The Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water, MPs and local councillors to gain assurances on behalf of all communities living along the River Aire that Knostrop would not be used for such activity we are now informed that contaminated waste was treated there sometime between November 18 and April 19.

    Based upon information received that fracking wastewater was being transported off site in November 2018, we organised for constituents to write to all 5 MPs whose constituencies are both impacted by Fracking Licence, known as PEDL 275 and the potential of contamination of the River Aire which passes through each of their constituencies. We now have a letter from the Environment Agency sent to Yvette Cooper MP confirming our worse fears. We received a copy of the letter from Francis Lowe, Area Environment Manager Yorkshire dated 3rd April 2019 on 23rd May 2019.

    “I can confirm that some of the waste flowback fluid from hydraulic fracturing at the Preston New Road site near Blackpool has been taken for treatment at the FCC Recycling (UK) Limited facility at Knostrop, Leeds. The waste flowback fluid is a brine solution containing dissolved metals, hydrocarbons, other organic and inorganic compounds, and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).”

    This letter raises a number questions that we are seeking answers for. Could you help?

    Our principal concerns are;
    • constantly being told that we had been misinformed about Knostrop treating fracking wastewater
    • Yorkshire Water’s claim that they had no knowledge of FCC carrying out such treatment work – their public website still stated on 3rd June 19 that they were “ currently unaware of any firm proposals by FCC Environment to send waste water from the fracking process to our Knostrop… Treatment Works”.
    • Nigel Adams MP letter to his constituents claiming they had been misinformed about Knostrop handling fracking wastewater
    • Tankers leaving Preston New Road with radioactive materials and yet not displaying signage to indicate they were

    Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water involvement

    1. Was the composition of the flowback liquid from the Cuadrilla fracking site at Preston New Road tested by the Environment Agency before it left the site?
    2. Does the Environment Agency know if this flowback waste contained NORMs after the audit they said would be conducted? They referred to this in response to a FOI request by Helen Hart?
    3. Which companies transported the flowback waste containing NORMs from Preston New Road to FCC Recycling in Leeds?
    4. Did these companies have a permit to transport radioactive waste? If so are copies of the permit available?
    5. Did the tankers transporting the radioactive waste display radioactive symbols? We don’t believe they did and we have footage of them leaving Preston New Road to prove it.
    6. Were the tankers containing radioactive waste transported directly to FCC Recycling in Leeds or were they stored elsewhere after leaving Preston New Road? If the latter, where were they stored and how long were they stored for before leaving for Knostrop?
    7. Can the Environment Agency confirm that Knostrop was the only treatment plant used? Were any of the other 4 potential treatment plants used?
    8. Once FCC Recycling in Leeds received this flowback, how was the radioactive element of the composition extracted and once extracted how was it disposed of?
    9. Did FCC Recycling separate the NORMs into a liquid or solid form or both? If both how is this liquid and solid each disposed of?
    10. Has this flowback waste now been processed and discharged into the sewer by FCC?
    11. Did the Environment Agency test the effluent that was discharged into the sewer by FCC to ensure the permit conditions were met?
    12. Did Yorkshire Water test the effluent after FCC’s discharge into the sewer?
    13. Did this contain traces of radioactive waste?
    14. Did Yorkshire Water and/or the Environment Agency test the levels and composition including radioactive waste that entered the River Aire?
    15 What other heavy metals and chemicals were contained in the waste from Preston New Road? How was thes treated and discharged?
    16. What were the final levels of each composition in particular the NORMs that were discharged by Yorkshire Water from the sewer into the River Aire?
    17. Was any of the effluent discharged by Yorkshire water discharged as sludge? If so did this sludge contain traces of NORMs? Was this sludge used on arable land?
    18. Why did the Environment Agency reply to a FOI from Helen Morea to say that data will be available on this website
    and yet there is no sign of the audit on the fracking waste?
    18. What are the links between the companies FCC Environment and FCC Recyling (UK) Limited

    MPs and Council involvement
    1. Why did Yvette Cooper take 8 weeks to forward a copy of the letter she received on 3rd April to the constituents who wrote to her?
    2. What action is Yvette Cooper MP now taking as a result of receiving this letter?
    3. Why did constituents of Nigel Adams MP for Selby, in response to their request for help, receive a letter on 30th November 2018 saying “With respect to the other point you raise about treatment of waste water, I think that the information you have been given may be incorrect. Yorkshire Water, who operate the sewage works at Knostrop (Waste Water Treatment Works), have confirmed that they have not been approached about handling waste water from fracking operations”
    4. Why did local councillors receive verbal assurances from YWA that Knostrop would not be handling fracking wastewater?
    5. Is the notice dated 28th March 2017 and which remains there to date on YWA website a dereliction of duty? “Yorkshire Water cares passionately about its customers and the environment. We’re currently unaware of any firm proposals by FCC Environment to send waste water from the fracking process to our Knostrop Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) in Leeds. Any treatment of waste by FCC Environment would have to be to a standard that we were able to treat at Knostrop WWTW. If FCC Environment cannot treat waste water to acceptable levels it will be returned back to the waste producer or to an alternative disposal facility. We have stringent quality standards we have to meet before we can discharge waste water safely back to the environment from Knostrop. We would like to make it clear to our customers that Knostrop is a waste water treatment works (a sewage works) and has no role whatsoever in the production of drinking water supplied to local homes and businesses”.

    Organisations impacted by water quality of River Aire
    1. Was the RSPB informed by YWA that the activity was to take place and impact upon St Aidan’s Nature Reserve which acts as a flood plain for the River Aire ? The RSPB is opposed to fracking.
    2. Are the various fishing clubs that have rights to fish along different parts of the River Aire aware of this activity? Have they noticed any impact on fish stocks?
    3. Were the Canal and Rivers Trust informed?
    4. Were Canal boat and other boat users informed?

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