To the casual United States reader of newspapers and captives of the TV news, any complaints about shale drilling may appear local and peculiar. Anyone who digs deeper realizes this is not the case. It is a worldwide phenomenon, present anywhere shale drilling takes place. New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, the Karoo desert in South Africa (a most unlikely place for an industry that takes so much water), Romania, Poland, and others. Each reaction, and there is always a reaction to what happens, has a separate story. Each uses different methods, to protest the same, identical complaints, but there are two constants: non-violence and largely unpaid workers in the anti-fracking response.
While the industry pays $80,000 to $125,000 to what the Chinese call “perception management” employees, people in the opposition work for free, out of conviction. Yes, a few of the long established environmental groups support paid employees, but they have a variety of interests, not just opposition to shale drilling. The reason people work for free is that when they see the facts they are energized.
I saw a man I have known for years today, but hadn't talked to for years. First he mentioned the expansion of the Industrial Park at Jane Lew, our home town. Had I seen it? Yes, I’d observed a stoned road to it, wide enough to lead to a major airport, off Berlin Road. He told me the price of the land, $1.5 million, paid to the not-affluent family that had mostly let the plateau grow up. As our conversation continued, I became aware that he understood the game very well. The short lifetime of the wells, the need for continuous drilling to maintain production of a field, and the fact Jane Lew’s industry would be a burned out hulk, like the rust belt after steel, in two or three decades. This from a man who observes, but does not read much.
The character of the resistance varies by country. In Europe, more densely populated, and familiar with organized young people in droves going up against police charged with maintaining “order,” there are lots of big demonstrations. Demonstrations against Cuadrilla in the United Kingdom at Balcomb involve hundreds of well educated young people. The drilling site was surrounded with chain link fence, topped with razor wire, just like American jails that have a yard, but the protesters resolved to go over it. Here is a BBC video. Notice the attire of the police. Try this in the U. S. and you’ll get heavily armed police, perhaps a Swat Team. I went to an informational meeting in Normantown which was about as tame as a church business meeting and someone had sent two deputy sheriffs.
In Romania about the whole population was involved. They had parades with big brass bands. Protest is a way of life in Romania, and they did this one right, but did not shut Chevron out. Bulgarians with similar tactics were more successful.
Eastern European countries are very anxious to wean themselves away from Russia, which has abundant supplies and laughs at the U. S. shale effort. As usual, the Russians are more than a little heavy handed, demanding lots of money (relatively) and political concessions. Poland was quite receptive to shale drilling technology, with relatively minor and local protests. ExxonMobil, Talisman and Marathon drilled about 40 wells, but only four were fracked. You see figures like 20% to 50% nitrogen, so it was unfit for fuel. All three have pulled out.
Canada is much like the U. S., with perhaps an even more powerful energy sector. Provinces in the East, with dense populations, have very strong movements. Quebec has locked the practice out. In the West, Alberta is a mess, with both tar sands and fracking coal seams. Jessica Ernst, a high-profile, Alberta-based environmental consultant, has released a comprehensive summary of science, facts and documents relating to groundwater contamination from the controversial practice of natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking). It is part of a $33 M law suit. The culmination of ten years of research, the 93 page report “The Science is Deafening- Industry’s Gas Migration” is sure to cause a stir with the energy sector and its critics. Groundwater contamination has been a key concern everywhere, world wide.
The powerful oil and gas industry has governments in it’s hand. “We’re Being Watched“ is an article which tells how corporations and government classify the environmental movement as a danger similar to violent groups. Opposition to “Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders” seems to be the problem with those expressing environmental concerns.
In spite of the loss of water and contamination of land, health problems, inconveniences, loss of property values, danger to workers and ugliness of the industry, there has been virtually no violence. Exceptions are some threats in England, and Romania and Wiebo’s War in Alberta and British Columbia. The later is worth a few hours of study for its curiousness alone. A blurb on the documentary movie of that name ends ” Their footage of confrontations with gas workers and police, and its stark contrast with media reports, raises a critical issue: when politicians and police become sock puppets for private interests, is vigilante action justified?”
When so much is taken from so many, a really high ethical stance is required for there to be no violence. For so many to work so hard on the basis of conviction without pay means something real is going on. And it involves a dispersed leadership in response to eyeball observations all over the world! Think about it!