Saturday, 31 August 2013

Fracking protests & measures of success

The fracking protests at Balcombe have been going on for over a month now, and to mark this occasion, BBC Radio Sussex Breakfast Show interviewed me on 30/8/13 as part of their coverage (significant points in the 3 hour programme are covered below & should be available on BBC iPlayer until 5/9/13).

The focus of the interview was whether or not companies can be put off taking on environmentally contentious projects, because they may fear the negative publicity (and extra security costs) that direct action protests can generate. I spoke after a representative from a drilling company involved in similar projects to Balcombe in Sussex, and I suggested that whatever they may say publicly, such protests may mean that private companies are more cautious about taking on similar projects in future. This got me thinking about how success in these campaigns can be measured by those involved, and that outright 'victory' is not the only way that protestors can gauge the effectiveness of their actions.

 Previous posts I have done on the protests at Balcombe have looked at campaigners' sense of collective identity, and their perceptions of legitimacy, but there has also been research done into how those involved in such campaigns feel about the success (or not) of their actions, and any resulting empowerment (Cocking & Drury, 2004; Drury et al 2005; Drury & Reicher, 2009). Common sense might suggest that people would not get involved in such protests (which can result in a great personal hardship and/or sacrifice) if they did not think that they would achieve something through their actions. However, not achieving the immediate visible objectives of direct action protests (e.g. to delay or even stop the particular scheme that they're protesting about), does not mean that protestors will necessarily consider their actions as 'failure'. In a previous post on the protests against the Bexhill to Hastings link road, I looked at the concept of quiet victories vs. noisy defeats in direct action campaigns, where protestors often defined their success in how they successfully raised public awareness about the specific issue, and/or how their actions often deterred other future schemes from happening. This certainly happened with the anti-roads movement in the 1990s, where the £21 billion road building scheme initially proposed by the Major government in 1992 was slashed after huge direct action protests (such as the Twyford Down, no M11-link road, and Newbury by-pass campaigns).

I think we may see a similar situation as a result of the protests at Balcombe, in that whether or not drilling actually stops before the proposed deadline of sept 28th may not be how the campaign is defined as a success or not, but in its ability to bring the issue of fossil fuel extraction centre stage and to prevent other similar schemes being undertaken in future. post on the campaign web-site looks at how there may be wider issues involved than merely stopping the work at Balcombe. Cuadrilla is undertaking exploratory drilling (and not full scale oil production), and is likely to finish their operations by the end of September, and there are concerns that the data from this project could inform larger scale projects involving much more drilling at multiple sites across the region (which would be necessary to make any extraction economically viable). This could mean that the drilling at Balcombe could be the thin end of the wedge that sees similar operations springing up all over Sussex and beyond. Therefore, one focus of this campaign is to deter other companies from taking on similar projects, and from 1-28th September a rolling blockade of the site has also been announced. Therefore, it seems that the protests will continue for the immediate short term, but I also doubt that the campaign will come to an immediate end if the drilling at Balcombe finishes by the end of this month, and we may see similar protests spreading if further schemes are announced elsewhere in the region or further afield. 


Cocking, C. & Drury, J. (2004) Generalization of efficacy as a function of collective action and inter-group relations: Involvement in an anti-roads struggle.Journal of Applied Social Psychology 34 (2) 417-444

Drury, J., Cocking, C., Beale, J., Hanson, C., & Rapley, F. (2005). The phenomenology of empowerment in collective action. British Journal of Social Psychology, 44, 309-328.

Drury, J., & Reicher, S. (2009). Collective psychological empowerment as a model of social change:Researching crowds and power. Journal of Social Issues, 65, 707–725.

BBC South today Breakfast show 30/8/13 highlights:

1.50 Interview with Vanessa from Frack Free Sussex rejecting significance of 60 locals anonymously signing pro-fracking letter for media, suggesting that they could be people living on Balcombe estate (the land where the drilling is taking place) and so have a vested interested in being pro-fracking, and are not representative of the wider Balcombe community.

2.18-2.23 John Blair-Meyers- representative of Sussex based drilling company. Talks about how drilling companies need 'social license' to operate & need to engage with local community, admitting ‘people have legitimate concerns’ about fracking, and the ‘industry still has some work to do to explain’. 

2.23-2.25 Interview with me. I talk about how companies can be put off bidding for environmentally contentious projects (as happened with anti-roads movement in 1990s). But even if they claim to not be put off (and Cuadrilla are currently very gung ho about continuing at Balcombe) this could be for PR reasons & not wanting to be seen as running scared, when in fact they are concerned about negative publicity. I pointed out that it is also important to consider wider factors such as potential opposition from the local community, local government and sometimes even the local police force (as happened during the Shoreham live exports protests in 1995). 

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