Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is described by its supporters as the solution to our energy needs for decades to come. By forcing water and chemicals deep underground, creating fractures in the rock that release natural gas, countries with large underground gas reserves – the US and UK included – will no longer be reliant on oil from Saudia Arabia. Not only that, but we can dial down our reliance on nuclear power and stop building bat-chomping eco-crucifixes wind turbines all over the country, which scar the landscape.
At least, that’s the theory. It turns out that quite a few people are opposed to this new method of sourcing energy. Their protest efforts have so far been focused on the fracking plant at Balcombe in Sussex. Some people uncharitably claim that they’ve chosen Balcombe, out of all the possible fracking sites, because it’s the easiest to get to from London. But I was sure there must be more to it. So I went to meet them, to find out what all the fuss was about.
The first person I met was Tom.
Why are you here?
Tom: “Fracking is a major problem up in the North West. We’ve had earthquakes and lots of disruption. And I’m an anti-capitalist campaigner.”
Have you protested before?
Tom: “We’ve done solidarity things for fracking and I’ve been an environmental and anti-fascist campaigner for many years.”
Are you against all fossil fuel exploration?
Tom: “Yes. It’s costly, inefficient as well as environmentally damaging. It’s going to lock us into a carbon future that’s not only destructive in terms of climate change but also it’s incredibly expensive and will increase the fuel poverty that we see.”
So what’s the solution?
Tom: “I’m not particularly fond of pretty much any idea [the Government] has had, but it’s a fairly simple programme of renewable building within communities. Communities can easily, depending on where they are, work out how to provide energy for their own community, and become net exporters.”
Next, I ran into two companions called Regan and Conan, from East Grinstead and London, respectively.
Why are you here?
Conan: “Just to support the protest.”
Regan: “To have a healing experience with the rest of humanity, and to learn to live and love together.”
Would you like to see an end to fossil fuels?
Conan: “Yes, ideally.”
Regan: “Why are they called ‘fossil’ fuels? Aren’t fossils those other things?”
[Conan then explains what fossil fuels are, in considerable scientific detail.]
Regan: “Oh, that makes sense now.”
So are you supportive of solar power?
Regan: “I think when the power of love overcomes the love of power, then we shall find peace. You might want to look that up on the internet to make sure I got it right. I think it’s Gandhi.”
Next, I met Prajna, who described himself as a “free spirit”. “Prajna” means “wisdom or understanding” in the Buddhist tradition.
So tell me about yourself.
Prajna: “I’m basically retired. I do a bit of tech support for a web hosting company. We live on the road. Well, we live on the side of the road. This is just a temporary thing. We’ve got a number of actions against the police. Once they’ve all gone through, we should be able to buy another motor home again. They took it unlawfully. This was over in Cheshire.”
Why are you here?
Prajna: “We’ve come partly because we’ve got a number of friends here, partly because this is the front line of the peace and freedom movement. The problem is we’ve got a whole lot of crazy bankers out to destroy the planet.”
Have you protested before on energy issues?
Prajna: “Well, no. But I’ve designed a few energy things. I’ve designed an internal combustion engine that only has two moving parts, which is far too efficient to produce, otherwise oil companies would kill me. I’ve had some top engineers working on it. My great uncle designed a perpetual motion machine. But he was busy looking for something that would insulate between magnets in order to produce it. Well actually I’ve had a look at the design since. I looked into buoyancy. I did all the maths on buoyancy.
It never seems to quite work, does it?
Prajna: “Well, this is the thing. It does work. It balances perfectly.”
Are you against the extraction of all fossil fuels in the UK?
Prajna: “Do you know, it would be a wonderful start if they just stopped suppressing free energy and starting encouraging it. But they’re not about that.”
If you were the Government, what would your solution be?
Prajna: “I wouldn’t be the Government, because the best Government is that Government which governs not at all, according to Thoreau. Responsible people don’t need a Government.”
How long do you plan to stay here?
Prajna: “Well, when I was parked up in Sussex, they sent their gypsy traveller liaison officer. And she said, ‘Hi, I’m Jean, I’m the local council’s gypsy traveller liaison officer. Do you consider yourself to be a gypsy or Romany traveller?’ And I said, well, actually I don’t consider myself to be anything, because as soon as I consider myself to be something, the Government uses it to control me. So she said, ‘Do you intend to stay?’ And I said, I don’t intend to stay, I don’t intend to leave… I actually have no intentions at all. At the moment I’m here, and that’s the way it is. Then she ran out of steam. It’s the same thing here.”
Next up at the site, I met a Druid priestess who called herself Guinevere.
Why are you here?
Guinevere: “I came down here on Monday. We did a Druid ritual. We felt that there was angst and tension, so I decided to come and have a safe space, just away from all the confrontation, so that people people who feel stressed or anxious or upset can come and sit and have a quiet space.”
Do you worry that if fracking doesn’t go ahead that nuclear will be invested in instead?
Guinevere: “That is a bit of a worry, I must admit. But I think after a short transition most people would be happier with a windmill in their garden than a nuclear bunker.”
I then ran into someone whose first priority wasn’t energy policy, Paul Barbara.
Why are you here today?
Paul: “I came down because it’s an anti-fracking demonstration. I mean, I’m anti-fracking. But I have a number of other things that I wanted to inform other people about as well. Here, everyone knows about fracking. But some of the other things they don’t know about, like 9/11.”
What particularly about 9/11?
Paul: “Well, 9/11 was in inside job!”
Would you like to stop all fossil fuel extraction?
Paul: “No, any oil wells they’ve already got in place, that will carry on, as far as I’m concerned.”
Do you worry that if fracking is stopped, the Government might pursue nuclear energy?
Paul: “Not really.”
And then, of course, there were the protest tourists in their trendy specs and nicely ironed t-shirts.
Why have you guys come down here?
“To check it out. It was on the news.”
“Learn a bit about it.”
So you haven’t come down to protest?
“Don’t know yet.”
“See what happens.”
At that point, avoiding the chickpea tea, vegan stew and yoga, I made my way home – but not before capturing a few more pictures.