Direct action is surely counter-productive

Yesterday (18th August 2014) a group of people linked to the No Dash For Gas 'Reclaim The Power' protest camp near Blackpool engaged in direct action at multiple locations around the UK to protest against the development of Britain's shale gas resources.

By Lee Petts, Remsol.

Here in Lancashire, activists gained entry to the offices of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and occupied the ground floor of the building for several hours.

The Chamber is represented on the panel of the North West Energy Task Force, a pro-shale business group that openly receives funding from both Cuadrilla Resources and Centrica Energy, where it seeks to advance the case for Lancashire businesses to play a key role in a shale gas supply chain.

It's important to note that no organisation or individual represented on the Task Force receives any form of payment directly, and that funds are only provided to facilitate activity such as the hosting of a shale gas supply chain conference in Blackpool earlier this year.

In supporting the local business community, and SMEs in particular, the Chamber is rightly standing up for the people of Lancashire - helping to pave the way for the majority of jobs and skills opportunities on offer to come here.

Take my company, Remsol, for example.

In early 2012, we managed to find work in the local supply chain being built by Cuadrilla Resources. We've helped them to apply for the environmental permits required by the UK's strict regulatory regime, and have been assisting them in the safe and effective treatment and disposal of wastewater that arises after hydraulic fracturing.

As a Preston-based business, employing people that work, live and holiday in Lancashire, I believe we are much more emotionally invested in the success of this county than other environmental services companies from outside the area.

If shale gas extraction takes place here, it makes sense that it's businesses like ours that support it - and I'd like to think the majority of Lancashire residents would support that view too.

The Chamber certainly does, and is eager to see a firmly Lancashire-based shale gas supply chain grow and thrive.

Which is why it's so disappointing that they were targeted for direct action.

It's not the Chamber's place to adjudicate on whether or not shale gas can play a useful role in Britain's energy mix; it's not for them to decide if shale gas can be compatible with our climate change targets; and it's not up to them to determine if the measures proposed to control risks are adequate and supported by the right regulations.

Their role is simply to help make sure that, if it does go ahead here - because policy-makers and independent experts like the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineers conclude that it can and should - the people and businesses of Lancashire are positioned to make the most of it.

Putting aside the voluntary community payments that industry has signed up to making, it appears to me that the biggest community benefit will surely come from people in towns and villages across Lancashire getting well-paid jobs - whether these are direct, indirect (in companies in the supply chain like Remsol) or induced jobs in the wider economy.

That's what the Chamber of Commerce is standing up for and I, for one, am glad that they are. However legitimate the arguments for protest might or might not be (considering all the opportunities for contributing to decision-making during public consultation in the planning and permitting process) and regardless of where you sit in the argument for and against shale gas extraction - or any other proposed energy development for that matter - direct action committed against legitimate businesses and those intent on securing the best possible outcomes for Lancashire is surely counter-productive.