Protesters jailed trying to protect community against fracking

Imagine if you were put on trial and sent to jail for the crime of causing financial inconvenience to your fellow citizens. Your selfishness had caused local business owners to lose pocket; on the stand you were unrepentant, motivated solely by the unshakeable and “unswerving confidence” that you were justified in your actions.

You might just be an oil baron, except in this country we do not use the law to punish those who would continue – in the face of a gargantuan scientific consensus – to extract fossil fuels from the earth, to burn them and to pollute our shared environment. We do not punish those who prioritise next year’s performance bonus over the continuation of organised human existence. In fact, we help them. Because in October 2016, central government overturned Lancashire County Council’s rejection of Cuadrilla, and gave the oil and gas giant a licence to extract shale gas from two wells between Preston and Blackpool.

A local council decided, on balance, that it did not want Cuadrilla to blast open the shale rock beneath their feet with a toxic cocktail of water, sand and chemicals. The resulting controversy has seen hundreds of protesters camped outside the drilling site on the Preston New Road. Construction on the drilling pad began in January 2017, and since that date more than 300 protesters have been arrested. The only four to be jailed so far are called, in descending order of the number of hours they sat on a lorry to make a point, Richard Roberts (84 hours), Julian Brock (76 hours), Simon Roscoe Blevins (73 hours) and Richard Loizou (45 hours). These men blocked a convoy by each sitting atop a lorry, over the span of four days. Respectively, they will each serve 16, 12, 16 and 15 months in prison.

To be honest there is nothing wrong with the prosecution’s case. I believe Craig MacGregor when he said that the protest had cost the police £12,000, and Cuadrilla £50,000. That is indeed an injustice. However, I confess myself more sympathetic to the case made by Kirsty Brimelow QC at Preston Crown Court, when she argued that in this case the political process had been exhausted. She is right. That is undoubtedly the case, when a local council decided against an invasive, destructive fossil-fuel extraction method in its jurisdiction, and when a Tory central government decided that fracking was so overwhelmingly in the national interest that these concerns were irrelevant.

If the shale gas industry cares about the lives and livelihoods of local business owners in Lancashire, then it should stop drilling there. Even better, its members should find alternative employment; perhaps in the construction of tidal defence infrastructure in Bangladesh or Fiji. In 2035, when climate change has displaced 75 million people globally, perhaps then the executives of companies like Cuadrilla will stand trial. That will be a proud day for British justice, but I fear it may be too little, too late.

Image: River Rain, Reclaim the Power via Flickr

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