The links between Poland and Britain go back a long way. Quite apart from the trading links with the Hanseatic League1 dating back to Medieval times, in the 19th Century, long before Polish people came to Britain seeking work, we exported (or more accurately deported?) our surplus farmers from the land clearances2 and inclosures3 in Scotland and England to Poland – where Polish landowners were eager to take them4, displacing local peasant farmers, in order to modernise agriculture. Locally Banbury, which now has a large Polish community, has had a Polish community since the Second World War, when free Polish soldiers5 settled here because they did not wish to return to a Soviet-dominated state. Today, quite apart from the cream of Poland's skilled manual worker's we've imported to support the educational flaws in our own economy, we've something else that unites us – a political establishment hell-bent on fracking the countryside, irrespective of any reasonable evidence to the contrary that the policy will not work as intended.
Reading panel (l-r): Cllr Rob White, Elise Benjamin, Doug Parr, Emil Jablonski, Keith Taylor MEP, Paul Mobbs, Marjory Bisset, Lech Kowalski
For the last couple of days I've been helping out the Green Party6, acting as "professional talking head" for Keith Taylor MEP's7 tour with the film Drill Baby Drill8 (see trailer on Vimeo9). It's been really hot for the last few days. Crammed into the heat and humidity of the RISC10 meeting room in Reading last night, I was reminded of the meeting I attended in similar climatic circumstances at Tower Street Correctional Centre11 in Kingston, Jamaica (another, longer story involving computers12). It too was in a hot and oppressive room, but what later transpired13 made it worth being there. I'm hoping the events of the last few days will prove similarly fruitful.
Each evening on the tour Keith has been screening a short animation14 made by the Greens/EFA group15 in the European Parliament on the dangers of shale gas. Then, after a short introduction, the main film was screened. The film hasn't been officially released yet, and will hopefully be completed in the coming weeks. However, that hasn't stopped the Polish government preventing the screening of the film on Polish TV.
Lech Kowalski16 – who has also made ground-breaking films such as DOA17 (an old favourite of mine) – has put together a truly beautiful film. Unlike a lot of recent documentary films, which tend to promote a position or the cause of the director, what's he's done is far more like the older, and now seemingly unfashionable, "fly on the wall" model of documentary making. He acts as our eyes and ears, reflecting what he sees, but more importantly he directly translates (literally – much of the dialogue is in Polish) the experiences of the group of small farmers he is observing. He initially went to Eastern Poland to document their lives and work but, arriving at the same time as the first wave of construction vehicles surveying the area for shale gas, ended up making a documentary on the grassroots view of how extreme energy is impacting people 'in the field'.
Accompanying Lech was Emil Jablonski, the mayor of the little town of Żurawlów18 where Chevron, with the full political and economic backing of the Polish government, want to test drill for gas. In 2012 the farmers and local townspeople resisted Chevron's attempt to drill19 in the area. Chevron's contractors turned up at the beginning of March 2012 and started to clear a site for a frack pad – even though the law prohibits construction work on farmland because of the effects on protected bird species (something with Chevron itself had identified in its own environmental statements, meaning that they began the work knowing it was unlawful). The villagers immediately blocked the road and the field entrance, and a stand-off between the local people, the contractors and local authorities commenced. At the end of that day the local county official declared, the necessary paperwork having not been supplied, that the work could not go ahead. Chevron left; the local people had won.
Now, a year later, Chevron are back20. At the beginning of June the construction equipment returned at the end of the bird nesting season. Immediately the local people blockaded the site21, and ever since the stand-off has continued. This time there are more police. Chevron are also carrying out surveillance of local people, and then broadcasting the images for their workers to scrutinise on Chevron's password-protected private Youtube channel22. At the national level, all of the local groups opposing shale gas exploration are being branded as "agents of Gazprom", and are being subject to state surveillance as potential terrorist suspects (just as campaigners over here23 are targeted). For example, the surveillance footage shot by Chevron is being used by state security officials to bring charges against Emil and his associates opposing Chevron's development. Even so, the Polish campaign is spreading nationally24, and is gaining international support25 from groups around the world, and that in turn has raised their profile26 in the global media.
At the end of the session in Reading, Lech translated Emil's words as he summed up his few days in Britain. And unfortunately, given the political history of each country, what he said was very true. In Poland they had opposed the government's efforts for 48 days, and were still standing at their blockade in defiance of that policy. In Britain he did not believe we'd last for more than a day or two until the authorities attacked and removed us by force. What our co-operation over the last few days exposes is a very simple truth about the modern world. It doesn't matter if the government leans to the left or to the right, or is democratic or despotic – any government that fails to listen to its people, and fails to consider the reasoned evidence27 which stands against the government's policies, instead promoting an ideological vision of "truth", will always become alienated from the people it claims to serve.
That is the reality we face today. As our Government changes planning28 and environmental29 laws over the next few months, and as they correct the flawed environmental documentation30 issued previously, they are going to begin directly supporting31 the efforts of energy companies who want to undertake the last big land and resource grab in Britain. And in the interim, planning applications32 are still coming in for new sites in England, Scotland and Wales. It's no longer enough that the surface of the land has been appropriated by agribusiness, its habitats destroyed and soils eroded. Now they're after whatever remaining fossil fuels can be forced from the ground – even though recent research says that most carbon resources must stay in the ground33 if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.
Locally, after more than two years of circulating information, the newspapers have finally become interested34, and have even produced a lengthy article35. However, they're still unwilling to print the full documentable facts which show that the whole fracking gig in Britain – just as in Poland – is a political bandwagon36 funded by corporate interests37. For example, you might think from the media that shale gas will reduce gas prices38. There is absolutely no evidence of this whatsoever! – it is an irrational speculation from the available data. If we look at 'real' (inflation adjusted) residential natural gas prices39 in the US, apart from global crises/bubbles in the energy market during the early 1980s and late 2000s, they currently stand at near the highest levels of the past 45 years! – and official US forecasts40 state they are likely to double by 2040, in part because new extraction technologies are significantly more expensive. Likewise, although Government officials (in both Britain and Poland) state that there will be strict regulation of these activities, why does the Australian company Dart Energy say that it has sold-up its Australian assets41 and is moving its focus to Britain42 because the regulatory system is less stringent here?
If you'd like to know more about the situation in Britain then see the two sheets I have written for the Free Range Network:
There is a third Free Range sheet in production, probably not available until the Autumn as I've been so busy of late, that will investigate the various "claims" of the Government point-by-point, and show why/how they are wrong. In the Autumn I'll also be doing another speaking tour, looking at extreme energy and other matters. If you're interested in hosting an event locally, please get in touch – mei☮fraw.org.uk.