The Cultural Impacts of Fracking

This is the approximate content of a talk I delivered at the Festival of the Celts on 24th July.
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Fracking has become one of those issues that gets under your skin (quite literally in some cases – more of which soon) and really energises communities of all sorts. This is symbolised in no uncertain way by this symbol on my t-shirt:
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Does any body recognise it? For those that don’t it is a symbol designed specifically for a pagan ritual held a couple of years ago called “Albion (or the Earth) Will Not Be Fracked”. It has however been widely adopted by fractivist groups and individuals around the world. Let me share with you some thoughts of the designer:

“This is the magickal sigil that will unite all our efforts……. Everyone involved across the world will focus their energies through this symbol to form a unified, magickal web of protection around Albion. ……. as the power of thousands of people flow through it, the Warrior’s Sigil (as it is named) will become fully energised and active in both the apparent and unapparent worlds.

Everyone should now prepare this sigil for the globe spanning work …….. Bless it with love and truth, honour and right-action, bravery and strength. Ingrain it into your subconscious. Becomes its friend and ally.

It has been designed to protect against ‘fracking’ – both fracking’s physical destruction to the land, and the violence and intimidation the state will use to protect its interests.

It is not a sigil of attack. It is defensive in nature. It is a shield, not a spear.

It can be used anywhere in the world to assist in protecting land, water and air from fracking, as well as all the peoples (both human and non-human) that call that land home. In particular, it can be worn as a protective talisman by those of you who physically stand against fracking’s fell greed. All those who wear it with good intent will be granted luck and protection as they fight against the bullying, violence and suffering that fracking companies, corrupt politicians, police and security firms unleash against them and their communities. Be of no doubt that, over here in Albion, Balcombe is only the start. State repression WILL increase. We must be ready. Our shield-wall must not crumble.

So when you go on demonstrations, or visit protest camps, or undertake more direct forms of resistance against the scourge of fracking, wear the Warrior’s Sigil to bring you luck and protection. Place it on t-shirts, on wristbands, on necklaces and rings, put up posters of it around where you live (especially if you reside upon a protest camp), hang it over your alters, carry it in your wallets or your pockets, you can even have it inked (either permanently or non permanently) directly upon your skin!

And as proof of that latter point, here’s mine (left), Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 21.17.13

and here’s Melanie Dawn’s (SWAFF organiser): 11780116_525431947615597_451942840_o

This is how strongly the issue grips and inspires people. It resonates with those that feel an affinity with the ground beneath their feet – not just pagans and environmentalists but artists of all types too.

Take Sarah Woods, for example. She is one of Wales leading current playwrights. She was inspired through her connections with the Co-operative Social Goals Campaigning department to set up the Co-ops Frack Free Futures campaign. She was also inspired to write a radio play for the BBC entitled The State of Water, not directly about fracking, but focussing on the need to guard this precious commodity, set in a Welsh context.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 21.46.02Then there is painting. An internet search reveals a few eminent artists that have found inspiration from the fracking issue, mostly in North America it has to be said. My favourite is Barbara McPhail. She has a whole ‘Hydrofracking Series’ of 40 or more canvases, available as prints online. My personal favourite is this one entitled ‘Toxic Plume’ (left).

Of course, this image of fugitive emissions bubbling from a river bed has become a familiar one. It attracts interest as it is a rare (but not rare enough) situation in which the fugitive gases are in a sense visible to us. We must not be misled by such images. There is nothing special about river beds. Fugitive emissions can come up through the ground just about anywhere, completely invisibly to the human eye. This gives the lie to the industry claims to be able to monior and prevent fugitive emissions. They struggle enough with this at their well-heads, let alone anywhere else.

It seems to be that this human dimension of claim and counter claim, subterfuge and conflict that inspires many of the poets. Again, there is no shortage of fracking inspired poetry out there – much of it of dubious quality, but all of it from the heart.

This is certainly true of a American blog entitled FRACKING POEMS but I do like the message of this short verse inspired by news of New York State’s fracking moratorium:

Frackenstein Has Been Vanquished!

Our Joy Is Without Equal!

But Don’t Most Horror Movies

Spin Off a Sequel?

We certainly don’t ever want to get complacent at a achieving moratoriums – as the poem eloquently emphasises, they are prone to being lifted and the nightmare resuming.

I have also been attracted to this effort (by Nick Strong) that I came across on the Hello Poetry website , perhaps because it has a celtic dimension to it:

Well, what a week, full of revelation

Enough to stir this talk of revolution

Makes your hackles turn on end

Then send you round the bend

The English southern gentry have found oil

Right beneath their derriere boil

Now most of us on this golden isle

Need not worry about this pile

Those who wear weekend country tweed,

Built their fortunes from housing greed

Have already decided

That it will be one sided

They’ll say it’s theirs, by rights

And if we argue, will read our last rites

The South will declare independence

In certainty of their full ascendance

Over the outer reaches of this nation

They pounded into servitude, by taxation

And if we have the nerve to debate, I’ll be bound

They’ll leave it horded in the ground, 

Then blame the anti frackin’ hound

Now I may need a political re – education 

In a 1984 establishment for rehabilitation

But I can see it coming a five-nation island

Southland, Wales, Scotland, N. Ireland, 

And the Detritus

Not to be outdone, I had a go myself, not so long ago. It is called What does fracking stand for? Check it out here.

Wherever there is poetry, there is likely to be song. Something about the fracking issue really inspires the musicians among us. Indeed, Frack Free Wales was founded my musician Frances Jenkins, and alongside Justin Preece, performing at this festival, they were the only Welsh people arrested at Balcombe, prosecuted but acquitted.

Eighteen months ago I put together a Top 20 of YouTube fracking musical hits. There is genuinely something for everybody, in terms of musical tastes. Among the highlights were:

  • Leo Sayer (remember him?) performing with Aussies Against Fracking
  • The hip-hop classic “My water’s on fire tonight
  • Cuadrilla Killer, to the tune of Talking Head’s Psycho Killer
  • Cardiff’s Cor Cochion in harmony with Canton Community Choir singing ‘This Land is All
  • Top Celt, Frank Molloy, with a great song, great video and great lyrics
  • Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono with Artists Against Fracking
  • The Hydro Fracking Song by LRevolution – a Linkin Park style anthem
  • The heavy vibe of ‘Freakin Frackin‘ by Op-Critical
  • Lock the Gate by Laura Doe and the Chaps – off theAustralian  ‘Whole Lotta Fracking Going On’ fundraising album
  • Fracking Gasholes‘ – dodgy title, but a great song with an excellent video, including lyrics

and last, but not least:

  • The Fracking Anthem (to Blake’s Jerusalem) with words by Balcombe resident, and professional poet, Simon Welsh.

Altogether now: (click image, and then click ‘Show more’ for the lyrics)

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Balcombe was, of course, the biggest and the best Community Protection Camp to date. These camps have become a cultural phenomenon in their own right. Barton Moss, Upton, Crawberry Hill, Dudleston, and Wales’s very own Borras, near Wrexham are all successful and mostly ongoing camps. It is hard to express just how inspirational these places are. Get and visit one, or at least support the first one in South Wales, which may well be with us before the end of the year.

Currently there are three sites identified as being most likely to see the drilling rigs turning up. These are near Bridgend, just outside the iconic village of Merthyr Mawr; Dyffryn, in the heart of the Vale of Glamorgan; and Llandow, near Llantwit Major. Subscribe to the Frack Free Wales newsletter to be kept abreast of all that is happening – via our website: http://www.frackfreewales.org/

All this community activism has also given rise to a lot of film making, both amateur and professional. The big releases have included the now iconic Gasland and Gasland 2 by Josh Fox. How many have seen Gasland? (Not many) Well, it is available on Netflix and youtube – so check it out!

The industry’s response to Gasland 2 was to give the notorious Celt, Phelim McAleer a pot of money to go and make ‘Frack Nation’. Do not watch this without watching at least one of the the other movies I am flagging up! McAleer has previous. He made “Not Evil, Just Wrong” on behalf of the climate change deniers, along with “Mine Your Own Business” in which he describes nasty environmentalists keeping a community impoverished by opposing a mine development. I’ll say no more!

The opposite side of that story is told in Promised Land, the Matt Damon / Gus Van Sant Hollywood movie, that shows an impoverished farming area ultimately rejecting the big bucks offered by the industry as the result of an heroic grassroots campaign!

Finally I would like to flag up ‘Split Estate‘, a film that predates all the others, from 2009. Narrated by Ali MacGraw, it is very similar to Gasland in content, but with one key difference – highlighted in the title. Split Estate is a reference to the situation found in many western states such as Colorado and New Mexico, whereby the state never gave mineral rights to the landowners, as happened in many of the eastern states such Pennsylvania and New York (that feature in Gasland), when they kicked the British out after the War of Independence. During British rule, the norm was what we have in the UK – mineral rights being held by the crown. Hence the split estate; landowners own the surface land, but the state effectively owns the minerals beneath the surface. The film examines the consequences of this in pretty chilling terms. I watched it for the first time this week here(I think the subtitles are Russian!)

Viewed in this post-colonial context, I think it adds weight to the case for Celtic independence from the English colonisers. It may be the only way to wrest the mineral rights from the Crown and give Wales, and the other Celtic nations, true control over its destiny and its land.

I would therefore like to end by inflicting a bit more of my singing on you. I have written alternative ‘frack off’ lyrics to Land of My Fathers’, and it goes a bit like this:

Our land and our water, are vital to us,
We’ll always protect them, whatever the fuss.
The frackers can ‘frack off’, get off of our land,
Our future must be in our hands.

Frack! Frack! Oh no you don’t, it’s not on!
Keep our water clear,
And the land we hold dear,
Pack up all your rigs and be gone!

Thank you!

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(Can you name all six?)

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