Green Party leader Caroline Lucas visited the fracking site at the vanguard of the UK’s burgeoning shale gas industry, saying she wanted to “thank the courageous people who are here day in, day out” protesting against the practice.
A crowd of over one hundred turned out to listen to the speech on Monday, held in front of the gates of the Preston New Road site where activists have been protesting Cuadrilla’s activities since January. Cuadrilla began exploratory drilling at the site last month after breaking the terms of its planning permissions to get the drill on to the site.
In the speech, which was met with cheers and applause from the protesters, Lucas said: “Never ever doubt, my friends, that you were on the right side of history. Never doubt that your courage will make the final difference, and together we will defeat the frackers.”
Sandra Bach, a protester from nearby village Staining, said: “It was just what we needed. It was nice for her to come today, and we’ve had a lot of people turnout. Hopefully this will bring more attention to what we’re doing.”
Protesters who have been on the site since January were grateful for Lucas’s support. Tina Rothery, one of a group of protesters known as the Lancashire Nanas, said: “Caroline’s speech was very inspirational. It’s very easy here to feel forgotten about, so it’s nice to know our voice is being heard in Westminster.”
Local business owner, John Tootill, who has been hosting protesters on his land since the action began in January, said: “It was very inspiring, I was very touched. It’s important that there are people in positions of influence who are able to get our message across.”
Lucas is the latest in a line of high profile politicians visiting the PNR site including Labour Party MP John McDonnell, former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, and Lucas' Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley.
Fewer police were in attendance than was usual for the heavily policed actions. Green Party member and long-time protester Anne Power, said: “it’s such a joy for the first time that the police aren’t outnumbering the protesters. We’re delighted that Caroline is here as well to lend her support.”
Lucas told DeSmog UK: “I wanted to come to share my solidarity, and the solidarity of the Green party with people here who I think are absolutely on the front line of the battle against climate change.”
She said the protesters knew “fracking is going to be driving the climate breakdown that is coming our way.”
“For me personally it is the climate concerns that are the highest,” she said. “Obviously there a lot of other concerns, the local environmental impacts, the water pollution, the air pollution, the water quality issues.
“Fracking is basically a whole new fossil fuel industry at exactly the time that scientific evidence is telling us that what we need to be doing with fossil fuels is leave them in the ground, not try to extract more of them.”
In her speech Lucas also touched on the democratic deficit facing Cuadrilla at the site in Lancashire: “One of the reasons so many people are willing to come out here and take this peaceful, non-violent, direct action is because they have tried the democratic process and it hasn’t worked.
“It is shameful that local people make their voices heard, the local council listens to that, they say no to fracking, yet then the government, a government that it supposed to standing up for localisation, what this government does is to basically run a coach and horse through that democratic decision, and I think that leaves people feeling very, very disillusioned.”
The protesters have tried a variety of tactics to slow work at the site, including locking themselves in tubes on the road, prompting police to block part of the road and leaving some residents delayed and unhappy: “People need to understand that those of us who take this peaceful action are not doing it lightly I can promise you that all of the people here would prefer to be doing something else today,” Lucas said.
“This is not because people enjoy doing this, it’s because it’s a necessary defence, both of the right to peaceful protest, but also crucially to a safer future and a safer environment and for us and for our kids, and I think that is something worth doing.
“I’m sorry for people who feel inconvenienced by that, but ultimately I think the inconvenience of climate change is going to be a hell of a lot bigger.”
Lucas and Bartley are the only party leaders to visit since the Protest started in January this year, but Lucas wants to see more politicians getting involved: “I’m glad now that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have joined us in opposing fracking, I would like to see them being even more high-profile about it, but I think it’s indicative of the fact that public opinion has changed, and political opinion has to catch up with it,” she said.
“What we need the government to do now is to listen to all of those voices, to deliver on its promise about localisation, and to be true to the democratic process, people do not want this, it is not necessary – there are cleaner, greener, cheaper, safer, better ways of generating our energy, and it’s quite extraordinary that they’re going ahead with it in the face of that.”
Lucas plans to return to visit the site, and wants more MPs to visit as well: “I will continue to do everything I’ve been doing in parliament. I’ve been putting down parliamentary questions, I’ve organised debates, I’ve visited ministers. I am doing everything that I can inside parliament to try to change the government’s position, but I think what will really change it is facts on the ground.
“What will change it is when more and more MPs see groups of people like this who are committed come sun or rain, to be out here doing what they believe in, which is to say, they want to protect their communities, their families from climate threat and from the environmental threat that fracking poses.”
Main image credit: underclassrising.net via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0