How climate campaigners fought a fossil fuels project and won

Climate activists have successfully fought off proposed plans for shale gas testing in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. Find out why this is such a significant win for climate, community and campaigning.
  Published:  27 Jun 2022    |      3 minute read

Despite the damning evidence of the devastating impact of fossil fuel schemes, new proposals continue to pop up across the UK. So, when the energy company iGas put forward plans to “flow test” a well in Ellesmere Port with the intention of scoping its fracking potential, climate campaigners and local residents came together to fight the proposal.

Although a temporary ban was imposed on fracking in 2019, following earthquakes being triggered in Lancashire, the Ellesmere Port scoping occurred before the temporary ban.

What is shale gas production and why is it bad?

Shale gas is a form of natural gas found underground in shale rock. Shale rock has to be fractured to get to the gas or oil. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped down the well at very high pressure using hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking”. The pressure fractures the rock and when the pressure is released, the gas or oil flows back up the well. Another approach to extracting this gas is acidisation, where acid is used to dissolve passageways through limestone or sandstone, which is what was proposed at the Ellesmere Port site.

What is fracking?

Fracking has numerous environmental and public health risks including:

  • contaminating water
  • increased greenhouse gas emissions and worsening climate change
  • triggering earthquakes
  • increased noise pollution
  • increased air pollution
  • damage to natural environment.

Fighting fracking

Knowing the significant risks fracking can have on climate and communities, local campaigners mobilised. The Frack Free Dee coalition were instrumental in leading the charge against the proposed shale extraction scheme in Cheshire, and they worked alongside a number of allies including Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, and Chester & District Friends of the Earth to raise awareness about the impact of fracking in their local community and the wider impact fracking would have on climate change. They organised public meetings across the area, carried out community surveys and mobilised hundreds of local people to object to the plans.

Most significantly, their evidence was presented at a public inquiry (a major investigation convened by a government official that’s instigated when there’s “public concern” about a project or proposal).

A group photo of about 20 people holding up signs against fracking

Following the public inquiry, and after 3 years of waiting, the shale gas proposal was blocked. Peter Benson, member of the Frack Free Dee Coalition and joint co-ordinator of Chester & District Friends of the Earth, attributed the success of the public inquiry in part to the inspirational late Colin Watson, who “did an amazing job putting together the incontrovertible case about the insane volume of greenhouse gases that would have been produced had this gone ahead. We owe a tremendous debt to him”.

A man holding a mic speaking at a rally, there are flags with flowers present, and an audience

This victory is a lovely tribute to Colin and his achievements and demonstrates how the fruits of your lifetime’s labour can continue to benefit others once you’re gone.

Why is this fracking win so significant?

Local people in Ellesmere Port were really concerned about the proposal for a number of years, citing worries about the impact on their local community, such as risk of air pollution, as well as the impact fracking would have on global greenhouse gas emissions. Another key concern which swayed the decision was the Secretary of State acknowledging the "stress and anxiety" that'd be caused to the local population, and the impact it would have on their mental health. They were listened to during the planning inquiry, where they armed themselves with evidence and experts, and thankfully their objections were finally upheld. The decision came on the same day shale gas drilling plans in Woodsetts, South Yorkshire was denied.

The campaign to block shale-gas extraction in Ellesmere Port is one of the few fracking related planning inquiries in which the objections were centred around climate arguments, making this a landmark victory for grassroots campaigning . This win can be taken account in future applications of a similar nature and could have major implications for other similar proposed fossil fuel projects.

How real is the threat of fracking in the UK?

The Ellesmere Port decision shows yet again that the fracking industry has no future in the UK. Over the past decade, several attempts to frack sites in the UK have been thwarted. The grassroots success in Ellesmere Port is another important win. It’s really positive to see groups use the planning system to fight local climate-wrecking proposals.

The Ellesmere Port case forms part of a wider effort to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. Across the UK there are plenty of fossil fuel projects in the pipeline, like the proposed Whitehaven coal mine, that we’re fighting. And earlier this year, plans for gas extraction in Loxley, Surrey, were given government approval.

Although then prime minister Liz Truss lifted the fracking ban in September 2022, the government has since re-imposed the moratorium. The government now needs to focus on real solutions to the energy crisis, leaving fossil fuels in the ground and developing the UK's huge potential for renewable energy.

We know what success looks like, and with your help we’ll continue to protect people and planet from climate-wrecking fossil fuel projects.