FAMA 2018

Slinging mud: inside (and outside) the UK's biggest fracking site

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Credits: photo - Christopher Thomond/for the Guardian

Slinging mud: inside (and outside) the UK's biggest fracking site

As horizontal drilling starts in Lancashire this month, the Guardian talks to protesters and staff at the Cuadrilla well

Mike Hill, sitting in his living room a few miles from a fracking site outside Blackpool, is brandishing a government letter brushing aside his concerns about the industry. “You, Theresa May, overruled democracy to force fracking on the residents of Fylde,” he says, referring to his own letter to the prime minister, in which he urges her to heed experts’ calls for tighter shale gas regulations.

“And then you won’t pay attention, the slightest attention, to anybody in regards fracking regulation, fracking monitoring, public health risks, risks to indigenous industries,” says the chartered engineer, who used to work in the oil and gas sector.

“I’m not really a protester – I’m an engineer,” adds Hill, who won 12% of the vote in the 2015 general election running as an independent candidate in Fylde to raise awareness of fracking locally.

Despite his efforts, this month will see the first ever horizontal drilling in the UK to recover gas trapped in shale rock. The shale is thousands of metres underneath a farmer’s field between Blackpool and Preston.

The moment, which will mark a milestone for the domestic fracking industry, will be overseen by UK company Cuadrilla, a local firm backed by international investors and Centrica, the owner of British Gas.

Cuadrilla site off the Preston New Road is the country’s biggest and most important shale exploration site, due to its sheer scale and its use of a drilling technique that could unlock many more sites across the country if it proves successful.

Since ministers overturned the county council’s rejection of fracking here, it has also been the most contentious, acting as a lightning rod for Britain’s national anti-fracking movement.

A “rolling resistance” by opponents this summer saw almost daily road closures in July, and a policing operation of about 100 officers a day, at a cost of £2.3m so far. With autumn’s arrival, the level of protest has quietened as drilling operations have intensified.

“There’s a bit of momentum,” said Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, referring to his firm’s progress and to imminent drilling or fracking by companies including Third Energy, Ineos and iGas. “But it’s still in the exploration phase. It’s one step at a time.”

Entering the fortified site, which the Guardian is the first national newspaper to access, the reality of this potential future energy source is mundane rather than revolutionary.

Well-casings lie in rows near cement mixers and sealed skips. There are few staff – about 40 on a typical day. Behind two noise-insulating walls stands the 35-metre high drilling rig which was brought in at night, breaching planning permission but defended by the company as a way of minimising disruption.

So far, one well has been vertically drilled 1,300m deep, and the other 1,200m out of a target of 3,500m down. Both are small, around the size of a manhole cover. Later in the month, if all goes to plan, the drilling will turn horizontally, with the wells heading westwards towards Blackpool.

Hydraulic fracturing kit – essentially, a lot of pumps – will then arrive, to pump water, sand and chemicals at high pressure underground to fracture shale and release gas.

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Source: The Guardian


The Alternative World Water Forum will take place on March 17 – 22th 2018 in Brasilia – Brazil -, at the University of Brasilia’s campus.

It is a democratic event aiming to gather organisations and social movements from all over the world that struggle in defence of water as an elementary right to life.

See here manifesto below.
Click here to see the entities that make up the National Coordination of FAMA (in Brazil)