'Cuadrilla Were in My School Today' — Fracking Company's New PR Trick

Cuadrilla bib

As tensions continue to rise between Cuadrilla, police, and anti-fracking campaigners in Lancashire, Cuadrilla continues looking for ways to buy local people’s support.

One of its main targets for advertising? Young children.

Throughout Lancashire, shale gas company Cuadrilla is promoting its brand and putting its logo in front of hundreds of children through the sponsorship of sports clubs and school competitions.

Cuadrilla-sponsored sports teams pose a unique ethical dilemma as fracking has been linked to air pollution. A 2016 study found that young children and infants’ lungs, hearts and immune systems especially were at risk if they lived near a fracking site.

Five children have been pulled out of local Weeton St Michael’s primary school by their parents after the children were banned from talking about fracking, according to one mother. Concerned parents also claim they weren’t consulted over safety fears of the school being within one mile of the fracking site.

By accepting funding from Cuadrilla, schools and sports clubs are able to provide more opportunities for local children to succeed. But this funding comes with a moral dilemma as fracking damages the health of local people and the planet and so many argue it is inappropriate for a fossil fuel company such as Cuadrilla to sponsor children’s activities.

In early October 2016, Cuadrilla was given the official green light to start fracking at the Preston New Road site. Cuadrilla's application was initially turned down by the Lancashire County Council due to the potential for noise and more traffic in the area, but the company appealed and the national government approved the plan.

But Cuadrilla’s presence in Lancashire has not gone unnoticed. At the Preston New Road site that Cuadrilla intends to frack there have been constant protests since January aimed at slowing down production. During July, the protests have stepped up with campaign group Reclaim the Power joining locals for daily actions at the site.

A strong presence in schools

With such strong opposition from local people, Cuadrilla is trying new ways to win hearts and minds.

Cuadrilla sponsors a Young Engineers school competition. The competition was founded five years ago by Cuadrilla in collaboration with Fylde College, Centrica and the Blackpool Gazette, and sees schools compete to win a £10,000 prize provided by Cuadrilla to be used to buy new STEM subject related equipment for their school. The scheme also comprises of a STEM club competition where the best school STEM club can win a further £1,000.

The Blackpool Gazette is the main local news source for coverage of shale gas development and fracking protests in the area.

Cuadrilla staff members are also reaching out to local schools. Cuadrilla geologist Lucy Craddock recently gave a presentation on fracking to GCSE students at Kirkham Grammar School.

Targeting sports clubs

Cuadrilla also sponsors local children's football training club, Train Like A Pro, run by local charity the AFC Fylde Foundation.

Cuadrilla's support allows a select number of children to 'train like a pro', while also getting the corporate logo on related promotional material. Train Like A Pro is in partnership with Cuadrilla and Centrica, which owns a 50 percent stake in the Preston New Road fracking site — both have their logos printed on the front of the children's football shirts.

Both Cuadrilla and AFC Fylde promote Train Like A Pro widely on social media. Team photos show children proudly lined up in front of goal posts but are flanked on each side by large Cuadrilla banners.

The degree of Cuadrilla’s involvement in Train Like A Pro extends to Cuadrilla employees attending training sessions and interacting with the children. In one tweet from 2016, two rows of children can be seen holding a banner with Cuadrilla's logo that reads “Unlocking Lancashire's energy''. AFC Fylde Foundation declined to comment for this story.

Cuadrilla project engineer Danny gets the heads up on the @afcfct 'Train Like A Pro' scheme from Layton Jnrs. @CuadrillaUK @centricaplc pic.twitter.com/osuAOvpo8N

Lancashire resident, Claire Stephenson, took her children out of Weeton St Michael’s Primary School and moved them to a different local school due to concerns over Cuadrilla's involvement. Stephenson claims the pupils there were banned from talking about fracking during school before the 2015 Lancashire County Council decision.

DeSmog UK reached out to the school for comment on the issue, however it did not respond in time for publication.

Stephenson described AFC Fylde, who also go into schools to provide sports lessons for kids, as having “serious funding issues” because it receives money from Cuadrilla.

Stephenson said children in particular are being targeted because “they are more impressionable.”

It’s a nice way to ease a brand into a community as children will go home and say ‘Cuadrilla were in my school today’,” she told DeSmog UK. “It’s a softer way to do it. Whereas more critically minded adults wouldn’t have that image pushed upon you so easily.”

Cuadrilla also sponsors the local Lancashire rugby team. In 2015 Cuadrilla spent £15,000 on sponsorship looking to specifically develop a junior rugby club with Fylde Rugby. The club declined to comment for this story.

Anti-fracking campaigner Tina Rothery said: “If this was really such a great thing for our community, then why such a strong PR message? If it’s something we should all be jumping at because the jobs are so great and it’s going to bring prosperity to the area with no harm, then why do they have to try and convince us?”

They try and win over young people so they go home and the conversation about fracking is normalised. The aim is to get the conversation into households through children where it will then go through us.”

Cuadrilla did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Social License

As opposition to fracking at Preston New Road steps up, companies are looking for ways to buy a social license to frack in Lancashire and continue battling campaigners.

It provides an unwelcome dilemma for local schools and clubs with stretched resources. Stephenson said: “It’s a difficult area because you want your kids to progress and if there’s something available that’s great, but a lot of people don’t care where that money has come from.”

It’s all about [Cuadrilla] getting their foot in the door, in really inappropriate ways,” she added.

Kirkham town councillor Miranda Cox said: “The branding and association with sports and education clubs is a deliberate attempt to create an acceptable public image.”

Cox believes that branding aimed at children should alert adults to the actual motives of the company. She said: “By associating themselves with acceptable projects such as sport and education the implication is that fracking is safe and of benefit to the community.”

It is an attempt to gain a social license,” she added, “and if people don't look too closely at the issues they may well believe that the company is benign.”

Photo: Screenshot of AFC Fylde Foundation tweet