Last month anti-Coal Seam Gas (CSG) activists in New South Wales celebrated a major victory. Picketers stared down a police threat to smash their blockade and the NSW government was forced to suspend Metgasco’s drilling licence in order to save face.
In recent months a protracted community campaign against fracking in the Northern Rivers region has escalated with thousands joining a picket to block CSG drilling in Bentley, 16km west of Lismore.
As governments and profiteers have pushed CSG in recent years environmentalists, small farmers and local communities have come together to oppose the environmentally destructive practice. We have seen street marches and blockades focused on stopping production as communities realised no one was taking their concerns seriously. In 2012 protesters even took over the NSW Parliament’s lower house, clearing out the MPs for a day!
The Bentley Blockade came to represent the frontline in the anti-CSG movement. At one point in April more than 3000 people were on a mass community picket blocking production. This impressive feat was possible because the Gasfield Free Northern Rivers campaign group correctly opted for an inclusive, outwards orientation.
The Bentley Blockade organisers constantly focused on broadening their support base and drawing in new supporters who could see that direct action was the way to win. Activists were emboldened in this task after an official local council poll revealed 90% of the local community were opposed to fracking.
Currently Metgasco is licking its wounds and working out a strategy to recover from this setback. They’ve already announced plans to seek compensation from the NSW government for suspending their licence. With potentially billions of dollars of profits at stake in the massive CSG reserves, there can be no mistaking that the energy industry will continue to seek a way to exploit this resource everywhere at the expense of communities.
It is positive therefore that Bentley Blockade activists are beginning to talk about extending their fight to stop not just fracking but also other forms of polluting energy production in Australia. The alternative to CSG and the burning of fossil fuels is renewable energy production, particularly solar and wind. The phasing out of coal and massive investment in renewables would create thousands of sustainable jobs.
Polling continually indicates that most people accept the science behind climate change and support a transition toward a zero carbon future. Yet rather than improving, under profit driven capitalism the climate situation is getting worse. Market measures like carbon taxes have been proven to be inadequate.
If we really want to shift to an economy based on clean renewable energy we will need to remove the profit motive from the equation. Both the environmental and the trade union movement need to demand that energy production and distribution is brought into public ownership under the democratic control of workers and the community.
On the basis of public ownership and democratic control we could then begin to develop a sustainable plan to shift energy production from dirty coal and gas and towards clean solar, wind and geothermal while at the same time protecting jobs and local communities.
By Ben Convey