The Rift - Fracking in the UK
Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ as it is more commonly known, involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high-pressure deep underground to break apart rock, and extract natural gas and oil. Some support the practice, viewing it as an opportunity for job creation, energy security, and even a ‘bridge fuel’ to a renewable energy future. Others are deeply concerned.
This first chapter of this ongoing project on fracking in the UK is set at Preston New Road, a site midway between Preston and Blackpool, two towns in the North West of England. Preston New Road is the epicenter of the UK's fracking resistance, and where fracking first occurred in October 2018, midway through this project.
Though fracking has really just begun in the UK, the process has provoked nationwide debate for almost a decade. The issue initially entered into public consciousness when Cuadrilla hydraulically fractured the UK’s first shale gas exploration well at Preese Hall in 2011. Two earthquakes were detected and a moratorium on the process enforced. This was only lifted in late 2012 after the introduction of a new regulatory regime geared toward monitoring and reducing seismic risk. Since fracking began more than 60 tremors have been detected, several significant enough to halt operations.
Many of the locals feel that their democratic rights have been infringed – with the local (Lancashire) county council rejecting plans for fracking to go ahead, only for central government to overturn their decision. This served to further reinforce much of the ideology that underpinned the area's dominant Brexit vote – that London was its own entity and the wishes of the rest of the country were being forgotten.
At Preston New Road, locals join forces with climate campaigners to protest against the process on environmental, social and political grounds. Opponents stress the potential environmental and health impacts: earthquakes; water wastage; air and water pollution leading to cancers, birth defects and damaged reproductive health. Other concerns include its detrimental effect on house prices, noise pollution and the industrialisation of the countryside. Ultimately, it represents a continued investment in fossil fuels at a time when eliminating our reliance on them is crucial.
This project focuses on the community that has grown up around the fracking resistance, and particularly the environmental protectors who reside at the two permanent protest camps at PNR - Maple Farm, and New Hope Resistance Camp. The aim is to give a human face to the numbers of arrests quoted in local and national papers, to push the individual stories front and centre. Why do people care so passionately about a practice that is largely invisible?
Many of the protectors I met were doing this for the future of their children, and in fact, involved their children in their activism. Many were first time protestors, and many, until now, had always trusted the police. This story of resistance comes at a pertinent time in the UK, with activism and mistrust of the government's authority at an all time high.
To redirect the narrative away from the traditional image of protests, I wanted to get to the heart of the issue, and lived in a tent alongside protectors at Maple Farm for several months. My aim also, to make visual the as-yet invisible environmental issues that many fear fracking will inflict. These I depicted by processing selected film images with a constituent chemical of fracking fluid. In the UK, operators must declare what chemicals they use. Cuadrilla fractures shale rock by pumping a mixture of water, sand, and a chemical called polyacrylamide through a horizontal well. Although the Environment Agency has assessed polyacrylamide as being non-hazardous to groundwater, it is a controversial ingredient given its ability to degrade and secrete acrylamide: a known toxin and carcinogen.
I combined this with water from Carr Bridge Brook, the nearest watercourse to the site. In 2017 the Environment Agency recorded two separate incidents of water, which contained silt, leaking into the brook from Preston New Road. Both instances breached Cuadrilla’s permit conditions and a discolouration of the water was observed. Many fear that contaminated water could runoff from the site and pollute the surrounding area.
Film chemistry relies on clean water to be able to be processed properly. By employing a disrupted aesthetic, I allude to the potential threats of the practice on the landscapes and lives of those pictured. I wanted to create something beautiful from something damaging. In some ways, this duplicity creates more discussion, and will hopefully raise awareness of the process involved in fracking.
The well at Preston New Road is only the start. It is not a commercial site: the gas will be flared not captured. An estimated 20 to 40 wells will be needed to ascertain the commercial viability of the process. But, if the industry does take off, the UK’s countryside will be covered. There are already plans for further exploration at nearby Roseacre Wood, across North West England, Yorkshire and the East Midlands. This summer, the UK Government set up a consultation on whether shale gas development should become ‘permitted development’: a category usually reserved for activities like putting up a garden shed. This would enable fracking companies to drill at will without applying for planning permission.
Fracking is more common in the US where it has revolutionised the energy landscape: over 100,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled and fracked in the country since 2005. Despite Europe being projected as the new ‘fracking mecca’, it has been largely unsuccessful: the process is not permitted in France, Germany or Bulgaria; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all placed their own suspensions on it. In the UK, estimates suggest that the amount of shale gas lies between 2.8 and 39.9 trillion cubic metres. According to former Prime Minister David Cameron, if only 10 percent of those reserves were extracted, this would provide the equivalent of the country’s total gas needs for 51 years.
In May 2018, the UK Government introduced a number of measures to help facilitate the practice, including a £1.6m fund for planning authorities to speed up fracking applications.
What is happening at Preston New Road may seem insignificant but it is an indication of our continued reliance on fossil fuels on a global scale and the myriad environmental issues these cause. Midway through this project, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report pointing to the importance of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5C, stating that we have only a dozen years left to do so. Carbon pollution would have to come down to zero by 2050 for us to achieve this.
Blackpool is a city in the Lancashire, in the North of England, colloquially known as "Vegas of the North". Blackpool was once the UK's premier holiday destination, but thank to cheap flights, it has now fallen from favour. At night, the lights still shine, and the casinos are filled with holidaymakers on coach trips, and stag and hen parties. By day, the tarnish is on show as the streets are littered from the antics of the night before. "Keep Blackpool Tidy" is stencilled on the wall in this picture, just in front of the iconic Blackpool Tower, and behind the dirtied streets.
With the decline in tourism and jobs, Blackpool is another Northern town with extreme levels of deprivation and poverty. Blackpool voted overwhelmingly for Brexit, a move seen as largely driven by a protest against the visible austerity and government cuts. To some in Blackpool itself, any new industry that promises jobs is welcome, despite the possible negative impacts on the city's main income: tourism.
As one person I met noted "Blackpool is an easy target for exploitation. We have bigger fish to fry than fracking. It's all short term here, it's hard to see the future. We're sort of shown that there isn't one".
On Blackpool promenade, the vintage trams take holiday makers up and down the strip. It is a quintessentially British sight. A number of people I met did worry about the impact that fracking could have on tourism. Without tourists, would Blackpool survive? But without new industries, would the youth stay? It is this sense of confusion and the 'catch 22' that has led to a rift between those for and against the practice.
Prime Minister Teresa May's image peeps from behind a fencing pole at Maple Farm protectors camp on Preston New Road. She is a deeply unpopular figure in the anti-fracking community.
In July 2018, the UK Government caused controversy when it gave the final go-ahead for fracking to begin at Preston New Road on the last day of Parliament before the summer recess. The first frack went ahead on 15 October 2018; midway through the project. The process has caused numerous tremors to date, a number of which have stalled operations in line with government regulation. A minor earthquake that occurred on Tuesday 11 December 2018, when Cuadrilla resumed fracking after a one month break, was far higher than the government’s regulatory threshold and on par with the tremor that led to a moratorium on the practice in 2011. In 2019, an application to relax the rules surrounding tremors was quashed.
87 year old Anne Power lives in Chorlton- cum-Hardy, a suburb of Manchester. Each week she drives herself as many willing supporters as she can up to the gates at Cuadrilla's fracking site to protest.
“I am very prone to get angry; that saves me from getting scared”
“I did not realise that this was going to change my life so fully.” Anne made headlines when police dragged her across Preston New Road outside the fracking site after she refused to move from the entrance “I have got to 87 [she was 85 at the time] without ever being injured on the road; I know how to manage things for heaven’s sake.” Anne’s grandfather was a policeman. He died after sustaining injuries while saving children
from an oncoming cyclist. “I had such a respect for the police,” she says. This is no longer the case.
Anne has been demonstrating against fracking for five years. At least twice a week she drives back-and-forth, between the site and her home in Manchester. Often, she travels through the night to ferry people from site to site. Last summer, 2017, she spent four nights in her car on the roadside, just beside Preston New Road. A group of protectors built two towers at the gate. “I was watching while I was dozing; I couldn’t tell whether they had built it on the bonnet of my car or not.”
“I have done things that I would have never expected,” says Anne, who originally, if not reluctantly, trained as a teacher. Disillusioned by the curriculum, she retrained as a personal counsellor and started her own practice in 1981 in a small cottage in the hills of Lancashire. That same year she joined the Green Party. “My life dovetailed in that way: I found a political philosophy for the first time and a personal philosophy that really suited me.” Today, Anne devotes the bottom floor of her house to the activities of Party members.
“I got involved in the fracking resistance because it started at Barton Moss, very near to where I live.” she says. “I had just moved house and had the stair carpet laid. I went to an anti-fracking meeting in Eccles; the next day I went to the protest camp and from then I was just there every day, relentlessly. I never finished moving into my house.” This year, Anne has, in her own words: “focused on making more of a nest for herself.”
The area surrounding the fracking site is a rural farming community. Maple Farm itself is owned by a local, John Tootill, who set the business up with his father. Maple Farm is a working nursery and John's business has taken a hit since he became involved in the anti-fracking resistance.
John's work trailer is emblazoned with anti fracking messages, including images of his own arrests - seemingly unlikely, when you meet him. He is a mild mannered man in his late 50s, who had never had so much as a parking ticket.
He has now given over his roadside site to become the central anti-fracking hub and has allowed protestors to set up camp, and allows them to use his water and electricity.
A few hundred meters from John's main site on Moss House Lane (where this image was taken) are the homes of various families who have leased their land to Cuadrilla and are in support of the practice. John himself refused the £2000 payout he was offered by Cuadrilla (the highest payout amount for inconvenience, based on proximity to the site). John, a man whose life revolves around nature, is concerned about the environment and the unknown damage fracking causes. His work relies on clean water.
This image, taken on the road leading towards the back entrance to the fracking site, was taken on a roll of 120 film, before being soaked in a combination of polyacrylamide (the chemical used by Cuadrilla in its fracking fluid) and water from nearby Carr Bridge Brook. Carr Bridge is a stream that caused controversy when Cuadrilla was found to have been using it to dispose of excess water sitting on the well pad. By showing the damage the chemicals can cause to film itself, perhaps we can allude to the impacts of contaminated water supplies - one of the main causes for fear.
The entrance to John Tootill's office at Maple Farm's main site on Moss House Lane features a laminated drawing by his daughter that reads "Downt Frac With My Futcher".
This image was taken on a roll of 120 film, before being soaked in a combination of polyacrylamide (the chemical used by Cuadrilla in its fracking fluid) and water from nearby Carr Bridge Brook. Carr Bridge is a stream that caused controversy when Cuadrilla was found to have been using it to dispose of excess water sitting on the well pad. By showing the damage the chemicals can cause to film itself, perhaps we can allude to the impacts of contaminated water supplies - one of the main causes for fear.
Daniel Whiteside outside of the caravan in which he lives with his mother Debs Whiteside, and his brother Matthew. A third brother, Tom, lives in a tent up the field.
“It is like an extended family. Everybody treats the children with respect. They are part of the community as they should be”
Debs: “I am originally from Longbridge, a nearby town, so I go back and forth, but I have basically been living here since July,” she says.
She has never engaged in direct-action, choosing instead to support those involved in it. “I never thought I would get involved in something like this,” she says. “I was already disgruntled with the government. When they overruled the democratic decision of Lancashire County Council that was what tipped me and brought me here. I am staying until they have gone.”
Debs studied Health and Social Care at Preston College, before beginning a part-time MSc in the subject at the University of Bolton. She has just been awarded a distinction for her first module. “I actually did my dissertation on the industrialisation of the countryside, so I fused my degree and the experience of being here,” she says. “It is difficult sometimes. I don’t have any Internet access so it can be a bit hard getting on with stuff. But, occasionally, I do nip home and have what I call an ‘office day’.”
Protestors, or 'protectors' as they prefer to be known, use coloured fabric strips to weave elaborate designs into the fencing that surrounds the Cuadrilla site. As you approach the site from either direction, snippets of bright yellow cloth act as warning markers, increasing in frequency through the approach. Yellow is the background colour of the Lancashire county flag, a flag adopted by Frack Free Lancashire for all of its protest signage. The yellow is meant to symbolise a golden field, a hint at Lancashire's arable fortitude, today, however, wealth flows through selected Lancashire fields for a different reason. Local dairy farmer Dave Wensley has leased his field to Cuadrilla for £36,000 a year. To many locally, he is now considered a traitor, especially since a high court injunction now prevents many of his neighbours from even passing his property. It is not only the shale rock being split by fracking, but the community that surrounds it.
Kai and Callum, Maple Farm.
“When you do a 12 hour night shift at Gate Camp you have to keep yourself awake somehow; I try and read my books for university”
Kai, 20, and Callum, 22, are a couple who met at Maple Farm Camp. “I was doing a photo project during the summer when I stumbled across this,” says Kai, gesturing to Callum. “I thought, ‘he is nice to take pictures of.’” The two now share a tent in Maple Farm’s backfield.
Every Wednesday the couple take the night shift at Gate Camp; for 12 hours they sit and monitor Cuadrilla’s activities in and out of the main gate. Kai is studying a BA in Photography at Blackpool and the Fylde College and stays awake by reading. “When I was by myself I used to get panicky with my coursework: topics and big words that I did not understand,” she says. “But, living in this community, I can just ask someone and chat through it. I find it a lot easier.”
Kai’s mum brought her to the site for the first time. “She wanted to come down, but she is quite ill and needs help walking. She was anxious so I was like I’ll come too,” says Kai. “The next week she didn’t come; she got really ill. So I came down by myself, and again the week after that, and I just never really left.”
Both feel disillusioned with the preoccupations of many people their age. “When you are protesting something like this, a lot of conversation can seem quite pointless – talking about I’m a Celebrity, Love Island e tc.” says Callum, whose mum, Katerina Lawrie, is also a resident of the Maple Farm Camp. “I got really passionate about it very quickly,” says Kai. “I had a big group of friends and none of them understood at all.”
Site specific artwork created by local artist Jayne Simpson for the project Golden Repair. In her words, created to "recognise the resilience of the people of Blackpool. [using] Kintsugi (Golden Repair), a technique developed in 15th century Japan which belongs to the Japanese Philosophy Wabi-Sabi (an embracing of the flawed and imperfect)." Jayne used the method to "embrace the cracks in Blackpool’s urban landscape, particularly on pavements, roads and walls and embellish them with Kintsugi... a quiet demonstration, a metaphorical rebellion of the constant negative scrutiny we continually and publicly endure as a northern seaside town. It will demonstrate that we heal and we carry on. We endure the knock backs and neglect, and move on; after all we are at the edge of the land and at the mercy of the sea, but that’s ok.”
Today these golden cracks seem to hint at something other - the fractured rock, and the hopes of wealth that could arise from it.
Jag (Just another guy), at home on new Hope Resistance Camp.
“They could frack with unicorn piss and what came out would still be toxic”
“What got me involved in this was the fact that I realised it was a clear and present danger to my kids – I would sooner die than let anything happen to them,” explains 'JAG', an ex-soldier from Preston, who incidentally hasn't seen his kids in years.
Jag (his name, incidentally, is his way of negating his male dominance) has been involved in the fracking resistance for 18 months, since March 2017. “They are trying to bully us into submission. You can’t negotiate with bullies, you have to face them head on,” he says.
Jag was cycling around the country when he first became aware of the situation at Preston New Road. “This is Cuadrilla’s finest hour, this is as good as it is going to get for them, and they are a good ten months late and millions over budget,” he says. “It has taken them damn near two years to get this far because we have been delaying it.”
Jag is currently preparing to defend himself in court for three separate charges lifted against him for engaging in protest activities, including a lock-on that lasted 41 hours. “It seems strange to me that a corporation’s right to pollute trumps my right for them not to pollute. And that the planet they are choosing to pollute has no rights whatsoever.” He has spent weeks compiling research for his defense from his cabin in a secluded corner of New Hope. For Jag, the court cases provide a further opportunity to raise awareness around the issues
he locked-on to protest against: “I am defending myself because the law can’t do it, so I might as well call attention to that fact.”
Josh Daniels sits outside of the communal tent at Maple Farm Camp, wearing fabric destined for the fence artwork outside of Cuadrilla's site. Josh lives on site for his summer holidays, alongside his older brother, Caleb, and sister Paige. His mother, Becky, is the niece of Tina Rotheray, the knitting Nannas UK main spokesperson and media liaison, and his grandmother Julie Daniels, is the group's main behind the scenes organiser.
The knitting Nannas were first established in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales, Australia, in June 2012, in response to a growing awareness of the exploration for unconventionally mined gas in prime agricultural land. They now have an extensive national and international membership, including the Lancashire group.
Knitting Nannas Against Gas draw on a broad history of knitting used as a tool for non-violent political activism. They also usually knit in yellow and black to identify with ‘Lock the Gate’ triangles that are mounted at the entrance to many properties, and their motivation is to save the planet for future generations, including their own grandchildren like Josh.
This group of women are a force to be reckoned with, as Tina once said: "“If you want to slow a truck down, have someone with a Zimmer frame walk in front,” she says. “The police don’t want to manhandle an old lady who looks like she has brittle bones or a colostomy bag. They don’t want the mess on their hands, literally.”
Richard Roberts is a softly spoken piano-restorer based in London; he specialises in reviving old, neglected pianos: “It’s a trade my father taught me, and his grandfather before that.” Roberts has been deeply concerned about the state of the environment for years and devotes much of his time campaigning to protect it; he has made adjustments to his personal life in line with his beliefs. “I had a vasectomy three years ago because I don’t think that the world needs my kids,” he says. “What it needs is more volunteer work and, since I’m a rather slow chap and rubbish at multitasking, I didn’t think I’d be able to support a family and do much volunteering at the same time.”
Roberts felt frustrated and disempowered by the speed and scale of planetary destruction until he met Reclaim the Power: a UK-based direct action network fighting for social, environmental and economic justice. The movement, which is open to anyone, works in solidarity with frontline communities to effectively confront environmentally-destructive industries and the social and economic forces driving climate change.
In July 2017, Reclaim the Power hosted a month of action at Preston New Road as it became increasingly apparent that attempts to challenge fracking through democratic and legal avenues had been exhausted. “Industry and government PR always serve up the same old line: ‘We need gas to heat our homes. If we don’t frack for it, we’ll have to import it, which is not good for our energy security or our economy,’” he says. “But we all know that we need to rapidly wean ourselves off fossil fuels now to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.” Roberts outlines the myriad alternatives, including improved housing insulation and renewable energy. “I could see that this was the first of potentially thousands of fracking sites, locking another generation into fossil fuel dependence, so it was important to send a strong, deterrent message that the UK government needs to change tack on energy policy,” he says.
Alongside Blevins, Roberts was one of the two other campaigners who climbed on top of a lorry delivering equipment to Preston New Road during Reclaim the Power’s month of resistance. The action was wholly unplanned and saw him sentenced to 16 months in prison in September 2018; he was swiftly released after it became clear that the judge had links to the oil and gas industry. Roberts has since become a spokesperson for the anti-fracking moment. “[I feel] undeserving and unqualified,” he reflects. “Hundreds of people made it possible for dozens of people to stop that convoy of fracking equipment for four days … many of them are much better spokespeople than I ever will be!”
Again, this image was taken on a roll of 120 film, before being soaked in a combination of polyacrylamide (the chemical used by Cuadrilla in its fracking fluid) and water from nearby Carr Bridge Brook. Carr Bridge is a stream that caused controversy when Cuadrilla was found to have been using it to dispose of excess water sitting on the well pad. By showing the damage the chemicals can cause to film itself, perhaps we can allude to the impacts of contaminated water supplies - one of the main causes for fear.
Simon Roscoe Blevins, 26, has lived in a housing co-op in Sheffield for the past two years; he has lived in the city for a total of seven. He studied an MSci in Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, where he now works as a research technician. “My MSci was a significant turning point,” he says. “Through your research you are aware of what is at stake and you feel the need to start putting yourself on the line for it.” The development of a number of proposed sites near his hometown, including one at Tinker Lane, also spurred Roscoe into action. On a personal level, he did not want to see the local landscape destroyed. “I love going wild camping and swimming; hiking and running, that sort of stuff,” he says.
Roscoe did not plan to climb on top of the lorry, delivering equipment to Preston New Road, which saw him and two others sentenced to 16 months in prison. He was later released after the Lord Chief Justice ruled the sentence was ‘manifestly excessive.’ “It was a split-second decision,” Roscoe says. “I climbed up expecting to be taken down within one or two hours by the police. No one came so I stayed. Still, no one came, so I stayed.” He remained on the lorry for 73 hours.
“The most striking thing was the unique perspective it gave me,” he says. “Being elevated allowed me to see how many people are involved and how many people care about fighting this.” The support offered by fellow campaigners and locals was incredible. “Residents from Carr Bridge Park, where lots of elderly people live, came over and offered support – from blankets and jacket potatoes to their thanks,” he remembers.
Roscoe remains dedicated to the anti-fracking campaign. “We need to stop framing fracking as a singular issue,” he explains. “People often start protesting through nimbyism. But, through getting involved they learn more about climate change and realise that fracking is part of a much bigger issue.
“We are out of prison, in part, because we are outspoken, educated, middle-class, white-people. If we were not, then the media and the general public might not have taken so kindly. This is not fair or just.”
Myth busting signage, created by a local man who has almost completely dedicated himself to at the anti-fracking cause on Preston New Road. Cuadrilla has spent much time attempting to ‘buy’ the local community’s favour, by painting the church hall, by funding local football kits for children, etc. The local paper has also been ‘bought’, as Cuadrilla is now one of the main paid advertisers. The protestors see it as their duty to educate the public on the risks that fracking poses, and see Maple Farm as an information centre – all are welcome at any time.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, photographed in Islington, London. “The fracking protesters are real heroes: they are people who have protested day and night for many years,” says Sauven. “They have sacrificed a huge amount. And, in the case of the three sent to prison, sacrificed their liberty for something that they believe in.”
In January 2019, one of the anti fracking protestors at Preston New Road died due to ill health, in part brought on by the hardships of camp life. This is a cause for which many are willing to die, though their numbers are never counted.
Tiga (not his real name.)
“Everyone is entitled to come and ask questions about us. They should find out about the history of the individuals who are here, instead of just tarnishing us with the same preconceptions all the time”
“My Dad gave me this hat,” he remarks, pointing to a baseball cap on which his real surname is written. Originally from Leicester, Tiga has lived between both camps for the past year. “My home is miles away from Blackpool,” he says, “but, when the UK Government said frack the desolate North, I said no. It ain’t the desolate North. People live here; this is their livelihood.” Despite his dedication, Tiga’s family are indifferent. As if fate had willed it, later that day, I walked past his estranged brother in Blackpool – a policeman.
Tiga winces: he had his tooth pulled the day before. Life on the camps is not easy. “You have your ups and downs, especially during winter with the heavy weather, high winds and torrential downpours,” he says. “Cooking, cleaning, washing, tidying – we all just chip in and help each other out when we are struggling.” This sense of community extends throughout the anti-fracking movement; Tiga has campaigned at other camps located across the country: “Normally there are about 50 to 100 of us in one core group fighting the same industry.”
Tiga has been involved in environmental activism for seven years. “I gave up my life to become an activist; an activist for the people who cannot stand up and have their voices heard, whether it is because they are working or something else,” he explains. “If there is no one fighting on the front line they will get away with this. So I am fighting for the people who cannot get to the frontline.”
Tiga is photographed here on the dunes at Lytham St Anne’s – a short drive from Blackpool. From the top of the dunes you can see Cuadrilla’s rig. Film negative corrupted with water from Carr Bridge Brook and polyacrylamide. Behind her you can faintly see the protest artwork she helped to create.