Fracking protesters dump wind turbine blade at Manchester drilling site
Anti-fracking protesters near Manchester dumped a huge wind turbine blade at the entrance to a drilling site on Monday, temporarily blocking access to the heavily fortified area.
The site, at Barton Moss in Salford, is run by energy company IGas, which has been given permission drill a borehole up to 10,000ft below the ground.
Fifty campaigners, some dressed in Santa hats, put the 1.5-tonne, 17-metre long blade in place at around 5.30am and wrapped it in a big red bow.
Sandra Denton, one of the protesters, said: “We’ve delivered this early Christmas gift to IGas to remind them that we don’t need damaging, risky and polluting energy sources like oil and gas to power the UK. The government and the big energy companies are planning to build a new wave of gas-fired power stations, partly fed by thousands of fracking wells across the British countryside.”
Aneaka Kellay, a Manchester resident who is part of the No Dash for Gas campaign, said Monday’s early morning action had three aims. “We want to show solidarity with the local community; to blockade the site, even if only temporarily; and to inspire others who might be tempted to take creative direct action.”
Police soon arrived and shunted the blade a few metres up the road so that it neither blocked the gates to the drill site nor the public highway.
Protesters said it was the same blade used by the Liberate Tate group in a stunt at the Tate Modern in 2012, in protest at oil company BP’s sponsorship of the gallery.
Greater Manchester police said no criminal offence had taken place but that it was an issue for Salford council, which is responsible for keeping the roads clean. The council said they had no plans to remove the blade and the protesters claimed the blade cannot be moved without large numbers of people or specialist equipment. It was removed shortly before 4pm by persons currently unknown – neither the police, council or activists say they removed the blade.
Sixteen people have been arrested at Barton Moss since an anti-fracking camp was set up there around six weeks ago, police said, 11 for obstruction of the highway, one for obstructing police, and the others for “ongoing investigations.”
The protesters tried to stop lorries delivering equipment to the IGas site, which is the size of a football pitch and located by the M62 motorway in Irlam.
A spokeswoman for IGas said on Monday that the protesters had succeeded in slowing down the test drilling, which began a few weeks ago. She said the original plan was to collect samples over an eight- to 12-week period via a borehole 20 inches in diameter.
Both iGas and Salford council were keen to stress that the firm was not yet engaged in hydraulically fracturing (fracking) but searching for shale formations capable of producing gas as well as coal-bed methane.
Salford city mayor Ian Stewart said earlier this month: “This is exploratory drilling. Should the company or anyone else wish in the future to engage in ‘fracking’ then they would have to seek separate planning permission from the council.
“Any developer would also require permits from both the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency, which are the regulatory authorities for these issues.”
Around 30 tents are now pitched at the Barton Moss camp, as well as caravans and three composting toilets.
One of the protesters, who has braved sub-zero temperatures in his tent in recent weeks, said the aim of the camp was the same as that which disrupted exploratory drilling in Balcombe, Sussex, this summer. “We want to raise awareness of the dangers of fracking. When people find out what is going on, they are generally opposed to it.”
This weekend a leading energy industry executive warned that investment in the British shale gas market is being threatened by “scaremongering” green campaigners. Chris Faulkner, a US executive known as the ‘frack master’ in his home country, told the Observer that the standoff involving shale gas explorer Cuadrilla in Balcombe this year had caused concern across the sector with widespread coverage of clashes between police and protesters.
Allan Campbell, the Australian founder of Cuadrilla admitted last week that the firm had “underestimated the political aspect” of the company’s operations in Britain “by 100%.” “Mate,” he told a Sunday Times reporter who asked if his firm was winning the information war with protesters, “We are getting smashed.”