A North West Green Party candidate has accused the UK government of allowing the ‘industrialisation of the countryside’, as the Barton Moss fracking site prepares to ‘frack’ for gas.
The comments came as 1,200 anti-fracking protestors took to the streets of Manchester in what is thought to have been the biggest protest of its kind in the UK.
But now Judge Mark Pelling QC has told protesters they have until midday on Tuesday to leave the camp. The campaigners are expected to appeal against the decision.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of directing a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to release the natural gas inside the rocks.
Barton Moss in Salford is one of a number of test sites across the North West where fracking has been granted to test the controversial method.
In June 2010 Salford City Council granted the energy company IGas planning permission to conduct exploratory drilling for coal bed methane at Barton Moss.
The North West Green Party candidate Laura Bannister told MM that she sympathised with the council’s stance.
She said that perhaps perhaps they didn’t realise the controversial nature of the proposal. However, she had concerns over the public consultation process.
She said: “People didn’t know this was happening at the early stage of the consultation, it has not been an open process and people should be able to have their say in their full numbers.
“There has also been some very muddled information being released to the public, for instance at first saying Barton Road is a public road, when it is a private one.
“If people don’t know much about the issues, I’d say go and do as much research as possible, look at the government reports that don’t say fracking will provide fuel.
“If not for protesters fracking would be happening now. We need to grab hold of that moment and leverage everyone’s opinion.”
MARCH ON: Protestors make their way through the city centre
Protestors from Frack Free Manchester have been camped at the site since November, when IGas began work on their 10,000 ft exploratory well.
Today, Peel Holdings, the company who own the IGas site, have had a possesion order upheld by a judge, forcing the protestors to leave by mid-day tomorrow.
This follows large-scale demonstrations accoross Manchester over the weekend, starting with a rally in Piccadilly Gardens at midday featuring speakers from The Green Party, Manchester People’s Assembly and the Barton Moss Camp.
The protest, which police later put at 1,200 people, made its way to Cathedral Gardens where further speakers addressed the crowd.
Police officers told MM said the crowd was far bigger than the 400 they had been told to expect.
Some protesters wore gas masks and others could be seen making their way along the route on huge stilts.
Slogans on placards included ‘Send Fracking Packing’, ‘Manchester: Not For Shale’, and, ‘Frack Off’!
David Cameron was depicted as ‘Fracula’ on some protesters banners, while a club-coloured football themed message proclaimed ‘Manchester a City United Against Fracking.’
FRACK OFF: Some people don gas masks in protest
The Barton Moss Fracking is the first of its kind in in Greater Manchester, but as of yet no actual fracking has taken place.
Ms Bannister said: “There are no good reasons to pursue this development in fossil fuel. There have been a lot of false, spurious claims by the fracking industry.
“The government’s own report says there will not be any reduction in gas prices. There is no pretence by the fracking companies that it will.
“There is no closed UK energy market – they will sell their fuel to the highest bidder.
“The comparisons with the situation in the US don’t translate here due to different market conditions – energy companies can sell gas to the European market.
LAURA BANNISTER: North West Green Party candidate leads the way
Penny Hicks, from Manchester People’s Assembly agrees: “This is about taking energy into private hands. It’s not for the benefit of the UK.
“Fracking produces very few jobs, and there’s now very clear evidence of the damage it has caused in the USA.”
“This is all for the financial benefit of companies like Shell. You could call it casino fracking.”
To date, Fylde near Blackpool is the only site to have been drilled and fracked in the UK.
In April and May 2011 the area experienced two earthquakes, which is the cause for much of the concern around the controversial method.
A report later commissioned by Cuadrilla, the company who conducted the operation, found it was ‘highly probable’ their activity caused the tremors.
Concerns about the impact fracking has on the surrounding areas have been at the heart of all the anti-fracking campaigns which have taken place in the UK.
Ms Bannister, who lives in Whalley Range, believes that this “industrialisation of the countryside” is being forced on communities without their consent.
Despite George Osborne telling the Daily Telegraph that there is ‘very, very good regulation’ in terms of environmental protection, she says a certain level of risk is inherent in the process.
“This is water laced with carcinogens and only a half to a third of the water comes back to the surface, the rest leaks back into the rocks,” Ms Bannister said.
“You can’t ‘unpollute’ water that deep. We don’t use groundwater in Manchester’s water supply, but if it’s needed in future, we’ll have ruined a natural resource.”
UPBEAT: Protestors in good spirits as they march through the city
The issue of water contamination compelled expectant mother, Tina, 31 to take to the streets to protest against fracking.
“I think the prospect of water contamination is a big deal, a really big deal, and people should make a song and dance about it,” Tina told MM.
“I’m due to give birth on Thursday, we want our children to have the same opportunities we did, don’t we?”
Tina displayed the message ‘Don’t Frack My Future’ on her belly to emphasise her point about our obligation to future generations.
Julia Willis, 35, a Project Officer from Salford, told MM that the long-term damages caused by fracking could be devastating.
“I’m terrified. Shale gas comes at a cost we can’t afford to pay – just look to the communities in the USA that can no longer drink or bathe in their tap water because it’s so polluted,” she said.
“Fracking leaves huge volumes of chemicals to transport and dump somewhere. There will be spills and sooner or later these chemicals will find their way into the water or food supply.
“It’s still a new technology, we can’t even imagine what the long term damage will be.
“It’s not even a long term energy solution – in 20 years we’ll need another energy source but who knows if the ecological damage can ever be reversed.”
It’s not just individual members of the public that back the anti-fracking lobby, however.
The cosmetics firm Lush, which has two stores in Manchester city centre, was the single biggest backer of the ‘Frack Off’ campaign last year.
While this year they have given them the chance to put designed window displays in all British stores and distribute Frack Off leaflets to customers.
PREGNANT PROTESTER: Tina shows her commitment to the cause
Jen McAllister, 35, the manager of the Market Street branch said that around 12 members of staff from the Manchester store and others in the North West had visited the Barton Moss Camp.
“They handed out things like soap, massage bars and pampering packs, as the camp is not a pleasant place to live,” she told MM.
“A lot of employees will just go down off their own bat as we employ quite a few activist types and Lush is a very politically conscious company.”
Protesters at the camp have come into the conflict with the police, however.
And following a number of complaints an independent panel has recently been set up to examine the way GMP deal with protests and demonstrations.
Ms Bannister, who has been to the site at Barton Moss on numerous occasions, told MM that she understood the police had a job to do but believed at times they were acting almost like a private security firm.
“It started off quite balanced but recently there has been a change of tone on the blockades,” she said.
“You can’t avoid the irony of police maintaining they are there to facilitate our right to protest, when they move people along.
“It doesn’t feel like they’re facilitating our right to protest.”
On the subject on the Mayor of Salford’s refusal to be drawn on whether he was pro or anti fracking, Ms Hicks said: “Obviously, I wish he would come out against it.
“But this gives us an incentive to win him round, we need to make supporting fracking an untenable position.”
Ms Bannister agreed. She said: “If people don’t know much about the issues, I’d say go and do as much research as possible, look at the government reports that don’t say fracking will provide fuel.
“I’m not for protesters fracking would be happening now.
“We need to grab hold of that moment and leverage everyone’s opinion.”
Photography by Nick Statham and Mihaela Ivantcheva.