In the rural county of Somerset, not known for having a radical reputation, a coalition of concerned individuals and active local groups has been growing quietly and subtly across the county, organising together to oppose one of the most controversial forms of fossil fuel extraction - fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing is a method of extracting gas in shale rock. It uses pressurised fluid to free trapped gas. Wells are drilled and the fracking fluid injected into them under high pressure to crack the rock. The toxic fracking fluid consists of water, sand and a massive amount of chemicals. Millions of gallons of water (and hundreds of tons of chemicals) are used to frack a well. The process has the potential to contaminate the land and water supply for generations.
Somerset coalfields are being targeted for coal bed methane production but UK Methane said they intend to re-apply for planning permission for full production (including fracking). Somerset is covered by four Petroleum Exploration and Development Licenses (PEDL). One of these combined with cooperation from a landowner and local planning permission, not forgetting an injection of corporate cash, gives a company the means to frack.
"Fortunately at present we have the ability to resist applications at a local level," says Laura Corfield from Transition Keynsham. "This right could get taken away by the new energy bill that proposes to override local decisions in major infrastructure decisions related to energy."
And when they say resist, they mean it. Over 700 objection letters were submitted to company UK Methane's first application for test drilling in December and hundreds more signed the petition online.
"We want to show UK Methane that wherever they go in the county they will be met by strong local resistance and opposition," continues Laura. In the last 9 months over 23 groups have formally joined the Coalition and declared themselves to be in support of a Somerset free of fracking.
Now the Frack-Free February month of action has been launched to step efforts up a notch. More than 22 events are taking place including public meetings, film showings, street theatre, benefit gigs, community action training, workshops and more. An army of door droppers are ready-and-waiting to deliver 50,000 leaflets to homes across the licensed areas, as soon as more funds have been raised.
"We want every single person living in an area at risk of unconventional gas developments to be fully informed about fracking and coal bed methane extraction. Once fracking takes place, contamination of land and water is inevitable. You cannot do it safely", says Louise Somerville Williams, an organiser from Glastonbury.
"Communities in the United States and Australia are working tirelessly to stop Coal Seam Gas drilling while contending all of the negative impacts on their health, land and communities. We have an option in Somerset to prevent it from starting in the first place."
This mammoth effort to generate regional participation, resistance and action is in response to the county's unenviable exposure to a potential 2000+ fracking wells; the number it would take to meet industry claims for potential production in the county.
The month of action is kicking off this Saturday with a workshop focusing on Community Resistance to Extreme Energy, looking at movements and campaigns from around the world to survey their approaches, tactics and lessons that could be applied in Somerset and across the UK. Over the last year 22 groups have sprung up around the Country in response to fracking threats.
"We decided when we started that we wouldn't just focus on fracking, we'd start conversations about safe energy solutions - the kinds that don't pollute your drinking water, make you ill or harm your local environment", says Helen Moore from Sustainable Frome. Many of the groups are involved in transition-orientated work, whether that is running community energy projects or demanding energy equality through DIY solar panel workshops and more.
"We're trying to show that as a community we have self-determination over meeting our energy needs. All the excuses of energy security, jobs and cheap gas have been shown to be invalid and we are taking the chance now to take a stand not only against fracking, but for the world we want to live in."
By Nicole Vosper
Nicole Vosper is a permaculture design and will be exploring how permaculture principles can been applied to campaigning to create effective models in Permaculture issue 76 out in April. Never miss an edition! Subscribe here.
To get involved, find your local group on Frack Off's website.
For a list of activities taking place in Somerset or the South West, please visit: www.frackfreesomerset.org
Links to evidence and reports:
1. Resources on Frack Free Somerset
4. 'Shale gas: a provisional assessment of climate change and environmental impacts' (Jan 2011 – Tyndall Centre)