Guardian: Fri 1 Jun 2018
Energy firm obtains expanded injunction ahead of plans to begin large-scale fracking at Preston New Road site
A major energy firm has secured an expanded injunction against protesters after it took a big step towards starting fracking on a substantial scale.
Cuadrilla Resources went to court to obtain the injunction against all campaigners who opposed its drilling operations at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire. The injunction was granted on Friday on a temporary basis amid growing criticism of the corporate use of injunctions to counter protests. At least five companies have chosen to use them as legal weapons in this way.
Campaigners have condemned the legal orders as chillingly anti-democratic and draconian, and protesters have raised at least £40,000 from public donations to oppose them at legal hearings. Those who break the injunctions face being jailed, being fined or having their assets seized.
Evidence heard in one court case revealed that police had advised the fracking industry to take out injunctions against activists.
Cuadrilla is aiming to become the first firm to start large-scale fracking in the UK later this year after announcing in April that it had completed drilling on the UK’s first horizontal well. It is waiting for final consent from the government.
Not a single well has been fracked in the UK since 2011, when work was halted after it triggered a minor earthquake.
Polling has shown low support for fracking and there have been regular protests at sites such as Preston New Road.
Cuadrilla had previously secured an injunction in March last year, but it was due to expire this August. The interim injunction will be in place until a hearing on 10 July, giving four campaigners who opposed it time to prepare legal arguments.
The campaigners represented themselves in court as they argued against the granting of the injunction, which is wider than the previous one.
Bob Dennett, one of the campaigners, said: “We are disappointed. Just like the rest of the establishment, the courts, Cuadrilla and the government are intent on riding roughshod over us.”
According to Cuadrilla, the interim injunction will not only forbid trespass on the Preston New Road site and neighbouring farmland, but also prohibit unlawful obstruction of its entrance and a nearby road, and unlawful disruption of its suppliers.
It will also prohibit specific protest tactics such as walking slowly in front of vehicles coming or leaving the site.
Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, said: “This injunction does not restrict lawful and peaceful protest but is an important deterrence against unlawful protest.”
Another major firm, Ineos, secured a long-term, sweeping injunction last year, prohibiting all campaigners from interfering unlawfully with its fracking operations.
Ineos compelled to disclose document it used to justify fracking protest injunction
Last week, two campaigners won the right to challenge it in the court of appeal. One of the campaigners, Joe Corré, the son of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, accused Ineos of stifling and criminalising “legitimate and peaceful protest against their extremely dangerous plans to frack”.
He and another campaigner, Joe Boyd, had unsuccessfully opposed Ineos when it persuaded a high court judge to grant the injunction in November.
Ineos had argued that the injunction was necessary as it faced an “imminent and real risk” that campaigners would interfere with its legal activities.
The public has donated more than £22,000 to fund Boyd’s legal challenge against Ineos, which is controlled by Jim Ratcliffe. Reputedly worth £21bn, Ratcliffe was recently named Britain’s richest person in the Sunday Times rich list.
In evidence submitted to court last year, Ray Fellows, Ineos security consultant, said the fracking industry was “becoming increasingly concerned at the risks posed by militant activists”.
He added that industry representatives had met police officers who monitor campaigners in May last year. “At that meeting, the strongest advice coming from the police to prevent the unlawful activity was the use of injunctions through the civil courts, and … it was the view of the police that the industry collectively has enough evidence to obtain such relief,” Fellows said.
The Metropolitan police refused to release any documents about the meeting following a freedom of information request from the Guardian.
Kevin Blowe of Netpol, a group monitoring the policing of protest, said: “Public order police commanders and the onshore oil and gas industry appear to share the extremely narrow view that protest is only ‘peaceful’ if it registers symbolic opposition but causes zero disruption.
“No wonder, then, that the police have persuaded companies to rely more and more on the blunt instrument of sweeping civil injunctions, which are designed to completely stifle protest.”
Another court battle is expected in July over an attempt to issue an injunction by an energy firm, UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), which is seeking to extract oil in Sussex and Surrey.
UKOG has applied for a wide-ranging injunction to prevent all campaigners from organising protests that would unlawfully interfere with its operations at three sites.
Campaigners have raised £19,000 from the public to oppose the injunction in court, which they believe is oppressive and could curtail their freedom to protest.
Another energy firm, Europa Oil and Gas, has obtained an injunction barring protesters from entering a site near Dorking, Surrey, where it isplanning to drill for oil.
In February, HS2 Ltd and the Department of Transport were granted an injunction banning campaigners opposed to the construction of the proposed rail line on an area of ancient woodland in west London from “unlawful protest” on the site.
In addition, there has been controversy in Sheffield, where the city council got an injunction against protesters seeking to prevent the felling of thousands of trees.