Presenting the ‘Fracktured Accountability’ report
to the police, Downing Street, March 2015
About Paul Mobbs & MEIR:
Phase IV, 2009–2018, ‘fracktivist’
Observing trends and events allows you to pre-empt, and thus define the agenda of a debate. Of all the issues I’ve worked on, ‘fracking’ was the first time I was able to use information and analysis to drive an issue rather than be reactive to events.
Speaking at the Manchester Gathering, 2012
From the video, FrakNet: Fracking Facts
I didn’t want the label, ‘fracktivist’. However, having had it applied to me, I used to as a means to redefine not only what the issue was, but also how the issue needed to change – to reflect the broader set of issues which were driving the development of hydraulic fracturing in Britain.
As a result of working on landfill and incineration in the 1990s, I was on Theo Colborn’s email list. It was a good source of the latest public health and epidemiology research. I was also on the (then) Department for Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) email list.
In early 2008 I received an email which made no sense at the time. DECC had just completed the 13th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round (yes, the fracking licenses people are currently campaigning against were yet another gift from New Labour’s time in office).
The map I produced in October 2011 to illustrate existing licenses, and the new 14th Licensing Round search area
I had a look at the list of licenses awarded but they made no sense geographically: Lancashire; South Wales; The Marches. They were not part of any of Britain’s known sedimentary oil and gas reservoirs (most of which had already been carved up since the 1960s). They were, for the most part, former coalfield areas.
As with most things like this, I mentally logged it as an anomaly – to be remembered whenever I found something else related to it in the future, because it must mean something.
In the Spring of 2009 I got an email from Theo Colborn, talking about her new research into hydraulic fracturing – or ‘fracking’. It was a new form of highly engineered oil and gas extraction that took place in low permeability sandstones, clays and shales… I then remembered the DECC email and made the connection.
I immediately started to learn more about fracking.
Over the second half of 2009 I found out more from the US about fracking, and the licensed areas in Britain. In 2010 I started to write information, and create a presentation, which I trialled with the Free Range Network. In early 2011 I started to offer the presentation to groups who I had already worked with in South Wales and Lancashire.
Then I started touring, seriously; using my contacts in the landfill and incineration campaigns, the Green Party, and public health groups, to set-up workshops wherever people would take me. I toured around England and Wales from fairly continuously from late 2011.
In March 2012, I took part in a regional training day in Manchester, launching another handout, ‘Fracking, Do Something!’, and giving a slightly updated version of my presentation – which was videoed by a film-maker and put on-line after the event.
I carried on doing this until pretty much the end of 2013. By then, people had gotten the message! However, by late 2013, that early message telling people about this thing called ‘fracking’, and how the system permitted it, needed to change.
In November 2012, David Cameron had given a speech to the CBI where he had talked about the need to further exclude the public from ministerial decision-making, and to reduce their rights to legally review government decisions in court. in parallel, they were closing down public oversight committees and commissions as part of their ideological, ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’. I had been pondering this as I walked out early one frosty December morning when I had a breakthrough ‘connecting’ all this information together.
On my return I started a new line of research. In May, 2013, I summarised that research into a more easily understood infographic, which became ‘The Fracking Organogram’.
People started to understand the bigger message about fracking being not about energy, but rather a corporate Ponzi Scheme that was being promoted by political lobbyists.
The Government had commissioned the Royal Society to write a report on ‘Shale Gas’ in 2012. It wasn’t much of a job because, honestly, they had very little research evidence to consider.
Then in September 2013, DECC issued the Mackay-Stone Review on the climate impacts of shale gas. In the space of a year the research base had changed, and it was obvious this report was a ‘dodgy dossier’. A short while later Public Health England issued a report on the health impacts which, again, took a woefully narrow view of the available research.
However, because these reports were so poor, it gave us a means to challenging the basis under which those reports were made, and the content they reviewed. This was the message that I focussed upon in the new presentation I began touring with in late 2013, ‘Going to Extremes’. I worked on this throughout 2014.
2014 was actually quite surreal as the national anti-fracking campaign exploded into life. I had a week on one of those strange rock-n-roll tour buses, going around the country with Joe Corre and Vivienne Westwood giving talks about fracking. Then I became the subject of an interview for New Left Review. Generally though, as everyone else was now raising awareness, I was free to concentrate my core work.
By late 2014 I had what I needed, and began a process of exhaustively going through every process of complaint. Then, at the end of February 2015 I received a tip-off.
I remember it well. The alarm going off on the 5th March 2015: I opened my eyes. My brain slowly adjusted from dreamland to reality. Why had my alarm gone off so early? I pondered momentarily. Oh yeah, I’m going to arrest the Cabinet today!
Most of my life I’m working for other people. I’m always aware that I am representing them, and so I have to consider what they want, and how they want it done.
What people fail to realise is that the events of the 5th March 2015 – as immortalised in the ‘Arrest the Cabinet’ video – are ‘the real me’, having a day-out in London, ‘for me’; acting truly from conscience, not just from a rational analysis of the facts.
Some people thought it a bit over the top, facing down police with guns; but I had to point out that I used to do that with the Americans in the 1980s to keep footpaths open:
Almost 30 years to the month before the video on the left, during my ‘apprentice’ era, leading a walk across USAF Croughton – from the Cruisewatch video,
The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier, April 1985
Presenting Fracktured Accountability to the police
outside Downing Street, March 2015 –
from the ‘Arrest the Cabinet’ video
What I was arresting the Cabinet for was ‘misconduct in a public office’; specifically, that they had allowed themselves to be corrupted and suborned by outside financial interests to approve a process (fracking) for which there was no objective evidence to support – thereby violating their Oath of Office and their Duty of Care to the public.
I had a beautiful day. I met some lovely police officers. And all the way through the day, I can honestly say that for the first time in years (even in van on the way to the nick) I felt that what I was doing was exactly ‘where I needed to be’. I even managed to blag a book into the cell in Charring Cross nick that evening, and so I was able to do a book review with the five hours peace and quiet I had in detention.
800 Years of Activism presentation, Parliament, May 2015.
Video produced by Occupy Democracy
My arraignment at Westminster Magistrates Court was on Polling Day – 7th May 2015. I get the feeling they wanted to exclude any opportunities for publicity!
I went, I plead not guilty (to the annoyance of the lead magistrate), and then I went to Parliament Square – where I had a fun hour giving my ‘800 Years of Activism’ talk in the middle of the election day mayhem. And to round the day off I walked out into North London, and had a picnic on Primrose Hill, before walking into Marylebone to ride home again.
Next up was the case management hearing. Ever since I was first arrested in the early 1980s, due to the excellent training I received back then from within the peace movement, I had always represented myself with the police and in court proceedings. That was a good thing, because legal aid had just been pretty much abolished for most people. Then I submitted my case, and began to get ready to go to trial for the date now set in August.
In the meantime I did more workshops, with the new presentation I had developed out of the ‘Fracktured Accountability’ work, entitled, ‘Beyond Fracking’. The title slide of that talk is a photo of the point on my walk in December 2012 where I had decided on the course of research that ultimately led to Downing Street.
Tellingly, that title was also a nod to where I was getting with the fracking issue as a whole; there was little more I could do.
Then a letter arrived a few weeks before the trial date. Case discontinued; all legal action dropped. Obviously they had gotten someone to look at my case in detail to see where I was heading – which if I had my way was to the Court of Appeal to clarify the issue as to whether the offence of ‘misconduct in a public office’ applied to Cabinet ministers. I don’t believe they thought it was “in the public interest” for me to attempt to do that.
All that work was not wasted though.
Fracktured Accountability began to do the rounds of interested legal-types. I gave a couple of paid briefings to lawyers over the next few months. Then funding appeared. In February 2016, I wrote a very short digest of the issues at the heart of the case in a new report, ‘Whitehall’s Fracking Science Failure’.
On the 6th March 2019 – four years and-a-day after Downing Street – that report (now less catchily called, ‘The Mobbs Report’) was accepted by the High Court as evidence of a failure by the government to consider public responses during a consultation process. The judged quashed the Government’s planning policy on fracking.
Truth be told, by that point I as no longer working on fracking. I kept telling people this, but the issue just wouldn’t let me go. With the final court victory, in May, I finally felt free to move on.
I had in the previous year or so returned to working with the peace movement, bringing my technical skills to bear on the old issues of militarism and conflict. That was creating some interesting new perspectives on their historic campaigns.
In 2013 I had written a chapter for a book, entitled ‘World in Chains’, which had highlighted the technological aspects of new military developments – from drones to mass surveillance. That had generated further opportunities for work.
In 2016 I was asked to produce a poster presentation about how USAF Croughton was connected with the technological networking of warfare. That produced an offer of funding.
In early 2018 I produced a report on USAF Croughton, examining its role in a network spanning from the USA, via Oxfordshire & Northamptonshire, to the Middle East – and how this supported conflict and the use of unmanned surveillance drones, armed drones, and special forces attacks, in countries where neither the US nor NATO were officially at war.
click image to download PDF of slides – click here for video
Since 2017 I had started to re-evaluate what I was doing. Revisiting some of my early research interests, like peace and militarism, was part of that.
In reality though I was searching for something that would lead away from not just from fracking, but more importantly progress the work from a decade or so before on energy and the environment.
As part of the fracking issue, within all the scientific and technical research I had done, I could see the same old patterns emerging – ones which I’d been following since the ‘Energy Beyond Oil’ and ‘Less’ work began at the end of the 1990s.
Even within the military technology issue, it was the geopolitical contest over access to the natural resources which support modern technology that was droving this – and which resource depletion and climate change would exacerbate.
What I found lacking in this approach was that while it softened the irritating message of the ‘Less’ issue, that detracted from the urgency of the message; likewise it lessened the focus on consumption, but that detracted from the fact consumption was at the root of the issue. Within these contradictions lay the solution to continuing with the ‘Less’ work.
One final note on 2018… A lot of the work I do is speculative. I have an idea, or see some evidence, and then try and construct an article or a research proposal around it and find an outlet that might pay.
Around 2017 I tried to pull together a book on ‘fracking’. As I did, I kept noticing a number of names which I also kept seeing within the (allegedly) impartial media or business debate over Brexit. The fracking book becoming increasingly unsatisfactory, in December 2017 I decided to follow-up this idea instead.
By February 2018 I had pulled together enough to get a view of the whole thing – which I now call, ‘The Tufton Street Brexit Nexus’:
The over March I extracted four or five articles from the ‘map’ and sent out a synopsis of the whole research project to likely news outlets. The result: Nothing. I mean, apart from automated replies, no takers, no enquiries, nada!. I know I'm not the only freelance experiencing this problem right now, either.
The Brexit paralysis doesn’t just consume politics; it infects all the institutions who exist around politics and who are supposed to hold it to account. They are failing because there are many issues – not just Brexit-related, but across many other troubling issues of public policy as well – which they will not touch, or devote resources to investigating in anything other than a cursory manner.
This was beginning to have serious implications for me because, as pretty much all my work involves one controversy or another, the effort it was taking to get an income from the work was beginning to outstrip the effort of producing it.
Slowly and inevitably, as other options dried-up, I began returning to the ‘Less’ work – albeit the chosen route, of wild camping and cooking on campfires, was a means of doing that without confronting people’s resistance to the core message of ‘Less’. I knew I needed to have a breakthrough on this issue. What happened instead was a far more radical turn of events.