Fracking firm in law bid to cut protests
Fracking firm Cuadrilla is aiming to extend its court injunction at its Preston New Road site to cut protests there.
Along with some local farmers, it has filed papers to the High Court, for a hearing in Manchester on May 31.
Cuadrilla, which has also now applied to the Secretary of State to start fracking, currently has an injunction banning trespass on the site and neighbouring fields.
But now it wants to “prohibit unlawful obstruction of the site entrance” and adjacent A583 by having the injunction cover “lock-ons” (people chaining themselves to an object or another person to block the entrance) and climbing onto, or slow walking in front of, vehicles accessing or leaving the site. It also wants the injunction to cover the premises of its supplier businesses which have also had protesters blocking their entrances.
Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, said: “Whilst we fully respect the right to peaceful and legal protest, unfortunately over the last 18 months we have seen an extraordinarily high level of unlawful protest activity.
"This has been directed at and impacted not just our workers but also our suppliers and other law-abiding citizens using the main road passing our site for their normal daily activities.
"Such unlawful conduct cannot be permitted to continue, and we hope that if we can secure this injunction it will deter this unlawful behaviour which is reckless and continues to cost local taxpayers millions of pounds.”
The move has been welcomed amid shale gas industry supporters in the county.
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “Whilst we fully accept that there exists differing opinions on fracking, it is quite wrong on all counts to intimidate, harass, bully and disrupt small, local firms who are simply getting on with their daily lawful business.
"The A583 is a key route for their customers travelling to and from their premises. There have been many and varied disruptions to businesses caused by the tactics of activists protesting against the Preston New Road exploration site.
"From road closures, to traffic management contraflows including personal verbal assault from activists when in a vehicle and held up in such traffic control – all have a serious disruptive effect on customers/potential customers.
“There are well-established democratic channels to voice concerns instead of causing unnecessary and unwanted disruption to local communities in Lancashire”.
A Lancashire For Shale spokersperson said: "We welcome today's news that Cuadrilla is seeking to provide greater safeguarding for local businesses that want to play a role in the developing shale gas supply chain.
"Over 700 local businesses have expressed an interest in supplying the industry, and, already, Cuadrilla's activities at Preston New Road have seen nearly Â£9m spent with Lancashire firms. The protection that this injunction would provide for local businesses will allow even more to engage without fear of being targeted.
But environmentalists have cried foul over the legal move.
A spokesman for Frack Free Lancashire said: “We are wholly unsurprised that Cuadrilla needs to resort to the desperate lengths of an injunction that assaults our basic human rights of meaningful protest, under sections 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
"The only surprise is that it’s taken them so long to attempt to buy the law. When you have forced a dirty industry past all manner of democracy and the refusal of local communities, protest and dissent is expected. This industry and its inflictors are both toxic and unwanted. Protest will continue, regardless of the industry trying to manipulate the law.”
Helen Rimmer, North West campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “This is desperate stuff after 7 years of failure in attempts to get fracking started. As the industry themselves have to admit, there is nothing wrong with peaceful protest.
"People have exercised their right to protest every day since January last year when work started at the site; that’s democracy in action. The simple truth is people don’t want fracking. ”