Caroline Lucas MP arrested for protesting

Caroline LucasGreen MP for Brighton Pavillion and former leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas has been arrested at Cuadrilla’s Balcombe site under the Public Order Act. 

Lucas (pictured right) and her son were among around 30 protesters arrested in West Sussex yesterday (19 August), after demonstrating outside the gates of energy firm Cuadrilla's oil drilling site in Balcombe in opposition to hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking

Although Cuadrilla is only currently drilling for oil (and the drilling has been temporarily suspended), campaigners are wary that this may be followed by fracking, which they say prolongs the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, contributes to climate change, causes air pollution, and can contaminate drinking supplies with methane and toxic chemicals and trigger earthquakes. 

However, the Environmental Permit issued to Cuadrilla for the Balcombe site in July reads: 'The permit covers the management of extractive waste from the prospecting for hydrocarbons (oil) and the Waste Management Plan explictly states that no hydraulic fracturing will occur and does not through its incorporation in the permit allow for the management of any waste from hydraulic fracturing. Additionally, the DECC permission authorising exploration does not include hydraulic fracturing'. 

‘Peaceful direct action can be legitimate’ 

According to BBC News, Lucas had said earlier in the day that she was prepared to be arrested: "They've stopped their exploratory drilling but as soon as we've gone they'll start again," she said. 

"This isn't just about Balcombe, important though that is, it's about a whole new government policy to do with getting more and more fossil fuels out of the ground. 

"The government is not listening so I think there are times when peaceful direct action can be legitimate." 

Sussex Police served a notice under section 14 of the Public Order Act because they believe the crowd of people might cause public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community. 

At around 2pm on Monday, Sussex Police tweeted: “Protests at #Balcombe continue. Safety of protesters, site staff and our officers is paramount. Law breakers will be dealt with accordingly.” 

Lucas’s arrest was captured live on television at around 3.30pm.

Speaking of her arrest, Lucas issued the following statement: “Along with everyone else who took action today, I’m trying to stop a process which could cause enormous damage for decades to come. 

“The evidence is clear that fracking undermines efforts to tackle the climate crisis and poses potential risks to the local environment. 

“People today, myself included, took peaceful non-violent direct action only after exhausting every other means of protest available to us. I’m in the privileged position of being able to put questions to the government directly and arrange debates in Parliament, but still ministers have refused to listen. 

“Despite the opposition to fracking being abundantly clear, the government has completely ignored the views of those they are supposed to represent.  When the democratic deficit is so enormous, people are left with very little option but to take peaceful, non-violent direct action.” 

Lucas has now been released on bail and has told the BBC that she would know next week whether she will be charged.

Protest background 

Activists, including those from campaign group No Dash for Gas, are currently taking part in a six-day Reclaim The Power action camp in Balcombe after Cuadrilla began carrying out exploratory oil drilling at the site. Operations have been suspended during this action camp, which kicked off yesterday with a 48 hours of ‘direct action’. 

On Monday, protesters blockaded the headquarters of Cuadrilla in Sheffield while others superglued themselves to the London office of Cuadrilla’s PR firm, Bell Pottinger. A group of around 20 protesters also demonstrated outside the constituency office of Balcombe MP and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude. 

Cuadrilla has said: "We condemn all illegal direct actions against our people and operations. What we are doing is legal, approved, and safe, and shale gas is essential to improve our energy security, heat our homes, and create jobs and growth. Cuadrilla is rightly held accountable for complying with multiple planning and environmental permits and conditions, which we have met and will continue to meet." 

Supporters of shale gas, such as the Institute of Directors, have estimated that natural gas from shale could reduce the amount of gas the UK has to import in 2030 from 76 per cent to 37 per cent, as well as creating 74,000 jobs across the industry and its supply chain. However, shale gas reserves are known to be notoriously difficult to estimate accurately. 

Although the UK coalition government has been vocal in its support of shale gas exploration (while introducing the Spending Review for 2015/16 in June, Chancellor George Osborne said he wanted to “put Britain at the forefront of exploiting shale gas"), other UK governments, including Northern Ireland, have been less supportive of the process. Indeed, Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said last week that agreeing to fracking at present would be ‘reckless and irresponsible’. He said: “I am not going to make any decision until all the facts and scientific evidence are established. To do otherwise would be reckless and irresponsible. Do we need to extract shale gas? Can it be done safely? Would it be done responsibly? These are the responsible questions. All facts are not in. The scientific evidence is far from being established. No fracking for Fermanagh, no fracking for Northern Ireland, as things stand.” 

Read more about fracking in Resource 71.

Images courtesy of No Dash for Gas