Why we should celebrate the fracking moratorium - and fight for more


Guest post by Kim Hunter, Frack Free Scarborough (writing in personal capacity)

Late last Friday night, Britain's Tory government announced an immediate moratorium on fracking until it finds 'compelling new evidence' the industry won't have 'unacceptable impacts on the local community'.

Anti-fracking activists cried with relief, then uncorked the wine, told long-suffering family members they would finally spend quality time together and started organising well-side parties. And then they took to social media to question the Tories' integrity. 

They have none. 

Boris Johnson hasn’t suddenly become an ‘uncooperative crusty’ (as he called XR activists). He hasn't, after all, made 'people and planet before profit' the guiding principle of his election manifesto. The moratorium doesn’t include other forms of unconventional oil and gas, not even processes like acidisation, which in 2015 were excluded from the definition of fracking by political sleight of hand. The fracking moratorium falls into the same category as other populist pre-election measures.

But it is fracking that Johnson chose to sacrifice on the altar of his party's political ambition. He hasn't decided to renationalise the railways, or raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour. Fracking must fall because campaigners have so completely menaced the industry, so thoroughly countered its attempts to create positive PR, that it has become a political liability.

The apparent trigger for the moratorium was the Oil & Gas Authority finally deciding it's not possible to predict the severity of earthquakes associated with fracking. The magnitude 2.9 event at Cuadrilla's Preston New Road site on 26 August so far exceeded agreed levels that the company has already cleared out much of its equipment.

But this isn't about the sudden discovery that fracking 'impacts' on the local community. Local communities have been telling the government that for well over a decade. 

No, the moratorium is our win - a huge win, against all the odds, against the world's biggest corporate lobbying sector, the multi-trillion dollar fossil fuel industry and its government backers. This is a win for all those who leafleted, petitioned, held a public meeting, showed a film, or lobbied (or occupied) their council. It's a win for those who marched, camped, protested (some day in, day out), blockaded, locked on, slow walked and defied onerous industry injunctions, for the many arrestees and their supporters, for those brave souls who went to prison, those who marched to get them out again, who researched, prepared legal cases, raised funds, baked anti-fracking cake and dressed as anti-fracking nanas. It is a win for imaginative campaigning, for creative ways of drawing in people new to protesting, for the 'geriactivists' arrested and manhandled by the police.

This is a win too for the trade unionists in the Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign, who funded bus-sized posters linking police violence against miners with violence against anti-fracking protestors. It is a win for trade unionists who organised solidarity days, friends in the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union, Unite, Unison, PCS, RMT and others, and the North Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union, who refused to help the police arrest protestors. For all those who forged solidarity links between fracking and other campaigns and who broadened the anti-fracking fight into a fight against climate change. 

This includes Campaign against Climate change and its trade union group, who fielded and invited speakers and helped rally organised workers to the anti-fracking cause. Thanks to CACCTU we had a leaflet to give to workers at fracking sites and in supply industries, and the One Million Climate Jobs pamphlet provided solid counter arguments to the industry's ridiculous 'jobs versus the climate' campaign.

Thanks to these thousands of people the Tories won’t easily get away with developing an industry that accelerates climate change, causes earthquakes and creates unacceptable local pollution.

Broader political strands are also important. The anti-fracking campaign was, albeit in a narrower field, campaign forerunner to the huge school strikes and Extinction Rebellion. The explosion of climate activism since the IPCC report makes it necessary for even a Tory government to tinge its face green; it will make it harder for the Tories to reimpose fracking whatever their 'compelling new evidence'. 

So too will the changing complexion of the climate movement, which in the run up to the 20 September climate strike involved organised workers on an unprecedented scale. The demands for climate jobs pioneered by the One Million Climate Jobs campaign have become a broad demand taken up by trade unionists and Green New Deal activists and are party policy for Labour and the Greens.

But any gain can be wrested back. We need to be both on our guard and ready to pounce now, while our enemy is on the back foot. Concessions sometimes revive electoral fortunes, but they also increase confidence on our side. We must use this moment to deepen the links between climate and trade union activists and strengthen international solidarity, especially in the run-up to next December's COP26 summit in Glasgow.

Campaigning against climate change has taught us to fight for a just transition that also meets the needs of people in the global south. It is not enough for Britain's government to 'take a presumption' against issuing new fracking licences in the UK while using £1bn in export finance to help UK companies invest in Argentinian shale. I hope this is something fracking campaigners will take up. 

Neither can we rest until other forms of unconventional oil and gas are included in the moratorium, and indeed until the moratorium becomes a ban. So far, it only covers activity defined as fracking by the 2015 Infrastructure Act. Yet earthquakes close to acid stimulation sites in Surrey have measured above three in magnitude. The fight to apply the moratorium to all forms of well stimulation, including acidisation, has already begun. So too has the campaign to ensure communities are not left with the clean-up costs when fracking firms go bust. 

There is much to do. But right now it's time for a toast: here's to anti-frackers and their supporters everywhere. What a glorious bunch you are. Solidarity.