Grapes of Rathlin

3rd July from SccNEWS Convoys of trucks carrying equipment descended on West Newton yesterday, where Rathlin Energy are commencing their exploratory fracking drilling. As the first major activity at the East Yorkshire site kicked off, a handful of protesters and many more anxious locals could only watch in horror as the fracking trucks made their way along the long single track lane towards the well.

The convoys were protected by hundreds of police and riot vans, while local residents were blocked from accessing their own homes and one elderly resident burst into tears at the scale of what was happening.

West Newton is one of two locations in East Yorkshire that Rathlin are attempting to frack. At both West Newton and Crawberry Hill, Rathlin have had planning permission for exploratory drilling since 2012. Earlier this year they also got Environment Agency permits that last until September, in the case of Crawberry Hill, and longer in the case of West Newton. “We knew they were due to do the tests at either site at any time”, says our source from campaign group HEY Frack Off.

Small protests camps were set up at both locations in May. Crawberry was the larger, with number averaging at 20: Not only was it looking likelier that Rathlin would hit there first as the permits ran out sooner, but it's nearer urban centres like Beverley and Hull. Crucially, it is in the area of the massive underground aquifer that is relied on for drinking water for much of the population of Hull and East Yorkshire: “If that were to be contaminated it would be an absolute catastrophe”. So far, Crawberry Hill has yet to see any significant activity.

Over at West Newton, the protection camp has been tiny but doggedly persistent. The villagers in the very rural area have been slow on the uptake but now seem to be waking up to what's about to happen on their doorsteps. At first, they'd been bizarrely anxious about the camp and upset about the protesters' presence, rather than their villages surrounding a hellmouth of the environmental armageddon.

“It's an unbelievably conservative area. Some people didn't even want to contact HEY Frack Off because of our 'controversial' name!”, says our contact. “Most of the local residents have swallowed Rathlin's line and their PR hook, line and sinker.”

But recent well-attended public meetings, and individual conversations, have shown awareness is slowly starting to sink in. Maybe the locals are slowly starting to organise?

Just to show how much they respect the local residents, when the convoys came onto site at West Newton yesterday, they “ran roughshod” over the planning conditions that had been agreed between the local council (East Riding of Yorkshire) and Rathlin Energy to sweeten the fracking pill for local residents.

Firstly, they failed to give the stipulated 14 days notice before any activity commenced. Sneaky, but not surprising given the momentum the anti-fracking movement's been gaining. Secondly, they spectacularly flouted the traffic management plan which promised local residents no more than one truck every ten minutes. Yesterday saw two massive convoys of lorries – around 65 vehicles entering the site. Needless to say, the well pad was crowded.

In terms of policing, our contact reports: “Police have said they have learned from the mistakes of Barton Moss and Balcombe where they allowed peaceful protest in the form of slow walking in front of vehicles down public highways. It's been made quite clear in East Yorkshire that anyone who gets in the way of a vehicle on the public highway will be arrested immediately.”

Police have even admitted to campaigners that it's a “game of numbers”, and that if there were as many protesters as police they'd have to review their tactics.

The location of the West Newton site is so rural that keeping up communications – from simple phone calls to live streaming – is difficult. The campaign is encouraging any potential protectors to get in touch. The camp phone number is 07773739937.