Human right to peaceful protest

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Here I was, exactly five years ago in Balcombe, peacefully lorry surfing!

On that day, a coalition of local people and environmental protectors celebrated oil company Cuadrilla leaving Balcombe having run out of time to test the well they had drilled. Back then, protest here in Britain was clearly still a human right.

In the high court in London, Angus Energy has been trying to stifle public protest against oil and gas exploration in our village, along a four-mile stretch of road, and the same at their site in Brockham, Surrey, to which Angus will move soon.

It’s part of a pattern nationwide of stifling protest. Brave, peaceful protesters are now in jail on 18 month sentences for principled opposition to oil and gas activities. IGas have also been in court. UKOG and the giant gas and plastics company INEOS have likewise sought draconian, wide-reaching injunctions – against ‘persons unknown’, that’s you and me, communities and individuals who care about the environment and the future of the planet.

In contention is the kind of geology, the kind of oil and gas exploration, that will require a multitude of wells, perhaps eight per site, with sites spaced every few miles across our countryside. This is not a NIMBY issue. Whether acidising or fracking, this kind of oil and gas exploration will industrialise our landscapes.

There will be air pollution from flares, generators, traffic and other equipment. There is a risk of water pollution via well bore, spills and faults, a risk of earthquakes, especially if in the future the companies reinject liquid waste into the ground - toxic waste that no one knows how to treat safely and economically, waste of super-high salinity laced with radioactivity and heavy metals. Using and destroying fresh water for this process is scandalous. In the USA and Australia local people’s and animals’ heath has suffered - skin and hormone, lung and heart complaints; the old, infirm, young and as yet unborn are particularly at risk.

The oil and gas industry has brought stress and strife to our village. The same will happen across great swathes of the country, if the Tories are allowed to gratify their fracking fetish.

This government has contorted law and planning guidance to pursue this senseless ideological road to conflict with communities who care about their environment. They plan soon to go further still, to make exploratory drilling ‘permitted development’, requiring no planning permission, and making oil and gas production sites ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, to be decided at national level, not by local people and their local councils.

We have a duty to protest. We have a human right to protest. These proposed injunctions are yet another manifestation of bullying and oppression by the oil and gas industry and their close friends in government.

Kathryn McWhirter

London Road, Balcombe