Fracking on trial verdict

An environmental activist who climbed a drilling rig in a protest against fracking in December last year was today found guilty under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act at Preston Magistrates Court. She was ordered to pay a £250 fine and £750 costs.

Yesterday two other defendants were cleared of charges of aggravated trespass as part of the same court case. (1)

On 1 December 2011, protestors from Bristol Rising Tide occupied the test drilling rig, at Cuadrilla Resource’s Hesketh Bank site, Lancashire, shutting it down for 13 hours. (2) (3)

During the trial, it emerged that Cuadrilla had continued drilling for two months after their planning permission had expired.

In her final submission, the defence barrister, Farraht Arshad said of her client:
“As a concerned citizen no other avenues were open to her.”

She justified this statement by the evidence given in the trial by DECC (4) and Lancashire County Council. DECC, the licencing authority, uses the off-shore oil regulations to licence on-shore fracking operations and
stated that they are not interested in policing breaches of environmental law which is the job of the local planning authority and the Environment Agency.

The local council planning officer made it clear in his evidence that he only had limited resources and few powers to police developers. The general expectation from these regulators is that companies will regulate
themselves.

It was clearly established during trial that Cuadrilla Resources had flouted the period of their planning permission by two months, and had failed to comply with their own method statement related to the protection
of birdlife from the nearby Site of Special Scientific Interest. As a result they were potentially in breach of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Neither DECC nor the local council appeared to be concerned about taking action to prevent this crime.

Despite these facts, Judge Ward rejected the defence’s argument that the activists were preventing a crime.

The convicted activist said:
“This verdict confirms my view that the regulatory authorities are hopelessly inadequate at their job and don’t have the protection of the environment as a priority. Companies like Cuadrilla are allowed to flout their obligations with impunity, while concerned citizens are criminalised.”

Hydraulic fracturing is a method of extracting gas in shale rock. Huge amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals are forced into the ground at high pressure, a large proportion of which are never recovered. In the
United States numerous spills of these fluids have contaminated irrigation water, affecting food supplies, and the health of surrounding communities. (5) (6) (7)

There are twelve licenses to frack for shale gas in the UK, five of which are held by Cuadrilla resources in Lancashire. (8)

*Notes*

1. To have committed the offence of aggravated trespass (section 68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) it needed to be shown that the defendants had:
* Taken disruptive action beyond just trespassing on private property. The prosecution failed on this first point.
* Disrupted a lawful activity, in this case the drilling operations of Cuadrilla.

2.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/the-northerner/2011/dec/01/fracking-lancashire-hesketh-bank-cuadrilla

3. Photos of the action are available at:  https://secure.flickr.com/photos/71113300@N08/

4. DECC – Department of Energy and Climate Change is the licencing authority for fracking operations and all fossil fuel exploitation in the UK.

5. ‘Cracks in the Fa├žade: EPA Traced Pollution of Underground Water Supply to Hydraulic Fracturing’ (Aug 2011 – EWG)
 http://static.ewg.org/reports/2011/fracking/cracks_in_the_facade.pdf

6. ‘Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing’ (May 2011 – Duke)
 http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/cgc/pnas2011.pdf

7. ‘Shale gas: a provisional assessment of climate change and environmental impacts’ (Jan 2011 – Tyndall Centre)
 http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/sites/default/files/coop_shale_gas_report_final_200111.pdf

8.  http://frack-off.org.uk/new-homepage/bad-guys/locations/

*For more information see:*

www.risingtide.org.uk
www.frack-off.org.uk
www.frackingontrial.org