No Social License to Frack in Ryedale

While all attention is focused on how ‘alive our democratic process’ is, with regard to the EU vote, the charade of democracy was played out in full colours with trumpets, tea and cake, at North Yorkshire County Council in Northallerton. The almost festive gathering in the county gardens, of around a thousand people, were there to protest the controversial planning application by Third Energy to ‘frack’ at the village of Kirby Misperton’s, KM8 site.

The arguments against Third Energy’s application to frack in Ryedale are local, national and international. On the local level, residents face large scale industrialization of the countryside. The economy of Ryedale is largely based on tourism, farming and quality food products. The rural highways are not designed to carry the volume of heavy traffic required for full production of hydraulic shale gas extraction from well sites. For this business to be economic it requires around a thousand wells with thousands of heavy vehicle movements 24 hrs a day. The British Medical Association has warned of health risks to residents and, in particular, raised concerns for unborn babies and children. Where fracking has taken place there have been reports of illness and death to animals, both domestic and livestock. There are risks of contamination to land, air and water. Our drinking water supplies come from an underground network of lakes that are interlinked. Like the butterfly wings what impacts on one, ultimately impacts on all of us.

This application sets a precedent to open the gates for fracking in over 64% of the U.K. Already Caudrilla, are setting dates to restart fracking in Lancashire after it was halted five years ago when fracking triggered two minor earthquakes. Applications cover most of Yorkshire, Lancashire and beyond – hence the festive atmosphere of protest when Lancastrians joined with Yorkshire in a heartfelt demonstration of ‘uniting the red and white roses’. However, it was not just from Lancashire that supporters came. People came from around the UK and America, while others offered support from all parts of the globe. Protesters represented people of all ages, skills, professions and wealth in a classless gathering of solidarity. There were professors, doctors, mothers, residents, a former diplomat on climate change, a baroness, and a knight of the realm.

All the village councils had made statements to not allow fracking. Ryedale district council had already rejected this application. We all believed that, with the weight of democracy clearly on our side, we could protect our environment from this toxic, last ditch effort by the gathering energy giants to bleed the earth of fossil fuels. Ryedale was suddenly seen as the front line. ‘Friends of the Earth’ spoke on the effects of methane emissions on global warming. Frackfree Ryedale and individual residents presented well researched warnings on the damage fracking would do to our rural environment. ‘Greenpeace’, ‘War on Want’, ’38 degrees’, ‘The Sum of Us’ and many other human and environmental groups all gathered evidence and pledged to stop this risky unconventional drilling.

With 4,375 letters of objection, including one from Flamingo Land and only 36 in support, the scales were heavily weighted against this application going through. Having campaigned against bombing and military occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, I’m as cynical about our nihilistic governmental leadership as one can get… yet when I left on Friday evening (the first of two days of hearings) I believed we could win this step in blocking the corporate giants’ trying to occupy and industrialize our land. It didn’t seem possible that councillors (who are charged to represent their constituents and not central government or energy companies) could let this application go through. Yet, by Monday gloom returned. By ignoring the volumes of evidence, the mass of written objections, the spoken objections and the garden full of impassioned protesters, seven councillors did just that. With smiles for Third Energy’s John Dewer, they approved the application and opened the gates to fracking applications all over the UK.

This is a battle that goes beyond stopping fracking and protecting people and our environment. It raises questions about the death of democracy itself. Neither Yorkshire, Lancashire or anywhere else for that matter, are prepared to become sacrifice zones for Westminster.

A smile that summed this charade up:

Heather Stroud, the author of The Ghost Locust and Abraham's Children, has been involved in human rights issues for a number of years. She lives in Ryedale where she is increasingly drawn into campaigns to keep the environment free from the industrialization and contamination of fracking. Read other articles by Heather.