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Fracking: the answer is not in the earth

By James Copley

Militant protesters in the mid-Sussex town of Balcombe have temporarily disrupted energy firm Cuadrilla’s exploratory drilling for oil. Perhaps more importantly, they have brought to public attention the controversy around hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking”.

Through persistent acts of civil disobedience and camping out on the site of the drilling, courageous activists from No Dash for Gas have combined with local residents to drive their message home; fracking causes local earthquakes and subsidence; the earth cannot sustain more gas and oil burning.

On one side of the debate stands Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who was arrested on one protest on 19 August. On the other is Tory peer and Chancellor George Osborne’s father-in-law Lord Howell of Guildford, who briefly embarrassed himself and his party by suggesting that fracking should be conducted only in the “desolate” North East of England.

What is fracking?

Fracking involves pumping water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to extract oil and gas trapped between gaps in shale and other rocks. It has been linked to increased risks of earthquakes and tremors, as well as the potentially health-damaging pollution of the water table. Oil company BHP Billiton only recently settled a court case in Arkansas with residents who claimed that earthquakes caused by fracking had damaged their homes. It is a measure of how shockingly weak the regulations surrounding the industry are that even Cuadrilla thinks that they are too lax!

Our current reliance on fossil fuels and the huge rise in energy prices have combined to make fracking, normally an expensive method for extracting petrochemicals, into a profitable proposition. With good storage and a relatively low production cost, “black gold” remains capitalism’s preferred energy source.

In addition to the opportunity for capitalists to make profits in an otherwise unexploited market, increasing political volatility, the UK’s dependence on Russia for energy supplies and the possibility of oil-rich Scotland voting for independence have ensured that companies pursuing fracking opportunities have received the political support and encouragement of the state.

Prime minister David Cameron has argued that “We cannot afford to miss out on shale gas”, claiming that fracking would cut energy bills, create jobs, bring money to local communities and not damage the countryside.

Tactics

No Dash for Gas has done a fantastic job of raising awareness about the dangers of fracking, forcing a national debate to take place. They have also contributed to the debate about potential alternative energy sources. However, they lack a strategy for bringing an end to capitalism’s reckless profit-driven exploitation of our natural environment.

The tactics of militant direct action, of “climate camps” and the occupation of planned fracking sites, power stations and other actual or potential hazards to the environment cannot – by their nature – involve the millions of people affected by the issues concerned. For that, they need to be a component part of a mass political campaign, one in which the trade unions should reject the standard “good for jobs” blackmail and try to represent the interests of the working class as a whole, communities as well as the sectional interests of some workers.

In particular, we should argue for energy production to be nationalised under workers’ control and without compensation to the former owners who have raped the world’s resources for decades, and for workers in polluting industries to be re-skilled in the course of a planned shift towards sustainable and renewable energy.

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