‘Frack-off’ – that’s the message from anti-frackers to an energy company seeking their eviction from a Chester protest camp at a court case on Friday.
Activists established the camp in a field off Duttons Lane, Upton, in 2014 to prevent IGas from drilling a coal bed methane borehole fearing it could lead to the controversial extraction method known as fracking.
Lawyers for the energy firm – the leaseholders – and landowners Tim and Peers Dutton have predicted there could be trouble in documents submitted to Manchester County Court following earlier clashes ahead of the eviction notice hearing.
But apprehensive campaigners, who will attend the case while keeping some people back at camp, claim any demonstrations will be peaceful.
Phil Whyte, who will be in court, told The Chronicle: “We will let the briefs do their thing and we’ve got good arguments but if that doesn’t work there are other ways and other means. That’s all I can really say on that.
"We are not just going to walk away from the site. This is our home and it’s not only our home it’s our community and it’s part of the community.”
The activist, who suspects campaigners would be given 48-hours' notice to leave the site if the eviction order was granted, added: “I’d like to say to Igas - frack off!”
He said local supporters had written letters in their hundreds to the judge in the case with many travelling to the hearing by coach to take part in a protest outside. And nearby residents would help defend the camp if necessary along with reinforcements from across the country.
Phil, speaking in a hut at the camp, explained: “There are going to be people here and most people are going to be locals, middle-aged ladies, old gentlemen, young and old, everybody from Upton that feels strongly about this will be here. They are not going to be violent but they are going to protest, which they have a right to under the Human Rights Act.”
Biggest fears are around air, ground and water contamination from the extraction process.
Phil continued: “All three are going to be contaminated with methane and all the chemicals they use because these wells break down. And they haven’t got a duty of care afterwards. Once they’ve done it, they walk away.”
Former camp resident Issy Bish, originally from Hampshire, claimed there was evidence of contamination at other drilling sites including Barton Moss in Manchester and also in Yorkshire where she alleged locals ‘were getting ill with sore throats and things’.
Issy said the anti-frackers would tap into their national support network: “People are coming up from the south because what happens here is going to affect what happens elsewhere in the country. It’s not just about one field.”
Camp resident Adam Biggs is frustrated at the timing because he says the licence to carry out the drilling runs out next May.
“It’s one of them, we always knew the day was going to come but since the licence is so close to running out in May next year, it’s only five-six months away,” he explained.
Adam argues the pursuit of fracking across the UK will deflect investment away from renewables like solar energy which had sustained the camp.
The anti-frackers say surveys show 85% of local people are opposed to fracking with reservations expressed by Cheshire West and Chester Council and Upton Parish Council. “But they still insist on going ahead. There is no democracy. The corporations are riding rough-shod over people’s feelings and desires, added campaigner Phil.
IGas spokesman David Petrie said: “We respect the right to peaceful protest however it has been made clear to the protestors they are on our site illegally and without consent. Having recently taken ownership of the lease for the site, we expect the protestors to cease occupation and leave peacefully.”
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