Over the last few years I have been drawn into the controversy over fracking in Lancashire. Initially I was hostile to it having picked up thinks by hearsay. I was finished off by earthquakes as I found the claims of earthquakes so silly as if a Mag 2.3 could do damage. After that I looked into all aspects and concluded that anti-frackers were like Creationists – either culpably clueless about science or downright dishonest. I still can’t decide which, but then I can’t for Creationists.
Well, here is a serious “social Science” study of the effect of fracking applications on local communities in Lancashire causing collective trauma etc.
My response may be summed up in this meme
Well, here is the paper.
Geoforum is published by Elsevier, a highly respected publisher of journals. Among others it publishes The Proceedings of the Geological Association, one of the flagship British geological journals. I was pleased to have a paper published in it some years ago but this has taken the shine off it for me. (My paper was on the discovery of Ice Ages in North Wales in the 1840s)
At present you can download Short and Szolucha’s paper. I shall give some extracts and make comments, which are informed by my close observation of the progress of fracking in Lancashire over the last five years
Fracking Lancashire: The planning process, social harm and collective trauma ☆
- Under a Creative Commons license
To date there have been very few studies that have sought to investigate the crimes, harms and human rights violations associated with the process of ‘extreme energy’, whereby energy extraction methods grow more ‘unconventional’ and intense over time as easier to extract resources are depleted. The fields of rural sociology and political science have produced important perception studies but few social impact studies. The field of ‘green criminology’, while well suited to examining the impacts of extreme energy given its focus on social and environmental ‘harms’, has produced just one citizen ‘complaint’ study to date. It is vital that more social and environmental impact studies become part of the local, national and international public policy debate. To this end, in the following paper we seek to move beyond perception studies to highlight the harms that can occur at the planning and approval stage. Indeed, while the UK is yet to see unconventional gas and oil extraction reach the production stage, as this article shows, local communities can suffer significant harms even at the exploration stage when national governments with neoliberal economic agendas are set on developing unconventional resources in the face of considerable opposition and a wealth of evidence of environmental and social harms. This paper takes a broad interdisciplinary approach, inspired by green criminological insights, that shows how a form of ‘collective trauma’ has been experienced at the exploration stage by communities in the North of England.
Keywords; ‘Fracking’; Extreme energy; Planning policy; Corporate influence; Social harm; Collective trauma
The key words “extreme energy, social harm, collective” indicate the stance of the authors. To the authors Fracking is a “bad thing” as the authors of 1066 and all that would say!
Damien Short is a Reader in Human Rights and Director of the Human Rights Consortium at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. His latest book, ‘Redefining Genocide’, was published by Zed Books, 2016. Currently he is researching the human rights impacts of the process of extreme energy.
Anna Szolucha is currently a postdoctoral Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, Norway. She is researching the intersections of energy and democracy in the context of shale gas developments and renewable energy in the UK and Poland. Her recent publications include: a report on the social impacts of shale gas in the UK: “The Human Dimensions of Shale Gas Developments in Lancashire” as well as “Real Democracy in the Occupy Movement: No stable ground” published by Routledge.
The paper takes an “Extreme Energy” perspective and thus is opposed to fracking by definition. They give their objections to it and are dependent on opponents like Moobs, Ingraffea, Smythe and others and do not interact with those who are more positive towards it like the RS/RAE report of 2021 or the wealth of materail from Refine, BGS, EA, and many academics, who are air-brushed out.
however they consider those whom they refer to as experts like Mike Hill or David Smythe, despite their arguments being generally rejected.
They are very critical of the LCC planning officer’s dossiers and do not mention the activity of Friends of the Earth in Lancashire from 2011, except for the advice taken from FoE lawyers at the hearings in late June 2015. I gave a paper on the history of fracking exploration in Lancashire in Barcelona last year and gave a very different story, particularly on how Friends of the Earth conned and manipulated local communities thus infecting them with collective trauma
Friends of the Earth also sought independent legal advice and, following pressure from the resident’s groups, eventually LCC officials relented and said that such new legal advice could be circulated at the Monday hearing.
This is not what many at the meeting perceived. Many were appalled at the emotionalism and inaccuracy from those opposed to fracking. Further the committee refused other legal advice, which was seen as the committee showing a bias against fracking. I was appalled at their behaviour and reckoned they mocked local democracy, by their refusal to listen to the planning officer, who is maliciously rubbished in this “academic” study.
I give comments on some sections;
6. Exploration stage harms: collective trauma
From our work with the communities resisting the applications in Lancashire it seems that sociologist Erikson’s (1976) work on collective trauma is an appropriate description of the collective harms experienced. Collective trauma, according to Erikson, is ‘a blow to the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people together and impairs the prevailing sense of communality’; it ‘works its way slowly and even insidiously into the awareness of those who suffer from it,’ and while ‘it does not have the quality of suddenness normally associated with trauma, but it is a form of shock all the same’ ( Erikson, 1976:154). From the data collected in interviews, participant observation and numerous conversations, and the subsequent analysis it became clear that many particular narratives and descriptions that emerged can be equated to the experience of collective trauma Erikson describes.
It is difficult to take this seriously. I see induced “collective trauma” reflected in the mantra of one district councillor who repeats on social media “I am frightened”. Well, they would be if they swallowed the false horror stories from RAFF and FoE.
7. Application and Planning Officer report analysis
While the ‘rejection’ outcomes of the Lancashire hearings rightly pleased many in the anti-fracking movement, the process up to that point was deeply concerning on a number of levels, which do not bode well for local citizens who wish to resist future fracking applications. Specifically, there were key areas where the fracking company was clearly favoured at the expense of the views of, and evidence presented, by the local objectors and their expert witnesses. Moreover, the deciding Councillors were effectively threatened with legal action if they refused the application. They were told that to refuse the application would be tantamount to breaking the law, as it would be an ‘unsustainable’ decision lacking evidence, and would expose them to high appeal costs at a time when councils are badly affected by austerity. We will deal with each of these points in turn.
This does not say who threatened the committee, though LCC lawyers pointed out they could be liable if they rejected the PO’s report. The meeting was heated and fraught. however the charge of threatening the committee needs to be substantiated. I saw no evidence of it at the meeting, but I did witness the appalling pressure applied by anti-groups and it was clear that there were fiends pulling the strings.
7.1. The Planning Officer Report
The Lancashire County Council Planning Officer’s (hereafter PO) report published by LCC on 15 June 2015, which is meant to provide an unbiased appraisal to assist the Development Control Committee (DCC) reach a decision was, at best, fundamentally flawed and inadequately researched, and, at worst, biased and disrespectful. Development Control Committees give considerable weight to PO reports, especially when much of an application concerns material that is both highly technical and hotly debated. Thus, the PO bears a huge responsibility to evaluate the application, via a reasoned summary of the best available evidence, in an impartial and responsible manner. Unfortunately, in this case the PO reports fell so woefully short of such standards that they raise the obvious suspicion of undue political and/or industry pressure and influence.
To describe the report as “fundamentally flawed and inadequately researched, and, at worst, biased and disrespectful.” is simply unjust. What the PO did was to weigh up arguments on both sides, which he did admirably. He concluded that the arguments put forward against fracking in Roseacre and Little Plumpton were very flawed.
This alone makes this paper to be totally flawed and showing an extreme bias.
To conclude, it was evident from the interview and observation data, and can be seen from these excerpts, that evidence from the USA and Australia is having a strong effect on local residents. It is galvanising resistance and allowing people to organise opposition around certain key harms that have been experienced elsewhere. During the interviews it was striking how well informed the respondents were. In making their objections most respondents were aware of recent academic studies and were able to cite their findings. Being able to inform the planning process with evidence-based objections undoubtedly contributed to the successful result – notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s intervention in favour of the applicant. Even so, the whole process took a considerable toll on the local population. It was apparent from the research that a form of ‘collective trauma’ was experienced by the affected communities. This is an under researched phenomenon and we suggest more studies are conducted into the social impacts of, not just sites of extreme energy production, but also areas subject to industry exploration applications. This data should then feed into all public policy discussions around unconventional gas and oil developments.
The need for such studies in the UK is even more critical now than in the past. At the time of writing (early 2017), Cuadrilla have moved in and started work to prepare the PNR site despite pending legal challenges launched by local residents. After the Secretary of State’s decision to override local democracy and approve the applications in Lancashire the residents have engaged in direct action by “slow-walking” the trucks bringing building materials to the site. This has the effect of slowing down the works but also means that the residents as well as the police are present at the site every day, witnessing and reporting potential planning breaches, so far to no effect. This situation will have significant and long-lasting impacts on the local community, contributing to the collective trauma already experienced by the residents living in the vicinity of potential fracking sites in Lancashire.
The political and legal pressures brought to bear on the LCC Development Control Committee highlighted by this research could be a taster of a new normal if the highly controversial EU/US negotiated (neoliberal par excellence) Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is resurrected, no doubt through a rebranding, repackaging process, or a post-‘Brexit’ US-UK version drawn up. Indeed, it is deeply concerning that neoliberal austerity ravaged councils, such as LCC, will be under immense pressure to permit fracking operations, despite the considerable risks of environmental and social harms, because under recent government guidelines if they reject an application and lose an appeal they will have to pay costs. On the other hand, if other councils, backed by committed and organised anti-fracking constituents, continue to object it may be that the prospects for a fledgling unconventional hydrocarbon extraction industry in the UK are bleak (Browne, 2017).
I am speechless.
One thing is very clear. The sample interviewed for this study was very limited and almost selected to give the conclusions required.
Why didn’t the two researchers contact a wider cross-section of people?
I am afraid this academic paper has not raised my opinion of sociological studies as it demonstrates an extreme bias to the left and simply prejudice against fracking.
It calls to mind some of the crazy things which are highlighted on the twitter account @RealPeerReview
Here are some;
First a Ph D thesis from Salford Univ
The travelling gamer : an ethnography of video game events
Ethnography is the latest sociological study and auto-ethnography is when it is just done by the sociologist doing to be observing. (Check it on wikipedia)
and lastly to get my claws in, a study of nail salons.
If any reader thinks I am cynical about autoethnography or ethnography they might possibly be correct