The dark atmospheric Arches of Glasgow, where we began the Talk Fracking tour of five UK cities, was a beautiful start. Next was Nottingham at the old Museum, in a stunning room flooded with brilliant sunlight; then onto the oddly oppressive function space in a hotel in Manchester and here now in Swansea, amidst the stunning grandeur of the Guild Hall where every feature from architecture and décor to lighting and art, is quite simply magnificent.
Each room of this tour has had a completely different atmosphere, each city a completely different vibe but each and every event has been received with the same appreciation of the opportunity to actually, at last… Talk Fracking – because we really need to and people across the country really want to.
The events have each been attended by a mixture of those vehemently opposed to fracking, those decidedly undecided because of a lack of trusted information and a very small minority supportive of the industry. The five-person panels each night have been made up of three set-panellists alongside a representative from a local group with an interest in fracking as well as a guest with particular knowledge of the subject from geology to jobs, regulations to finance. We also have the tireless Vivienne Westwood with us as a sponsor along with her son Joe Corré and New Internationalist Editor Jamie Kelsey-Fry handling press, introducing the events and keeping the momentum and interest high. We have tried to have a TRUE debate in these first four cities but no-one from the industry or government has been willing to come along and take part.
I am one of the three set panelists along with Liz Arnold from the fracked state of Pennsylvania and Tom Barlow from UK group Reclaim the Power. For us, this is a surreal journey on a tour bus with some amazing ‘behind the scenes’ people who take care of social media, who film and photograph almost every move we make (not always good before that first cup of coffee of the morning!) and create some fantastic footage from every place we visit. We open each night with a small film from that day; the crew film local residents and passers-by sharing what they know of fracking.
In a few hours, the regional part of this tour will end here in Swansea and we will prepare for the debate in London on Monday 16th June in Westminster, chaired by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News. We are both apprehensive and eager for Monday to come because at last, there will be panellists who are PRO-fracking.
For me personally, having spent more than two years researching, sharing, opposing and confronting this issue with our local group (Residents’ Action on Fylde Fracking www.stopfyldefracking.org.uk) I could not be more grateful for this opportunity to encourage others to ‘Talk Fracking’. We have grown already from just a handful of groups looking into the potential effects of fracking on our communities a couple of years ago, to more than 150 groups across the country today; we KNOW how much this subject matters to UK residents and we know just how important it is that we don’t just TALK FRACKING amongst ourselves but that it is ESSENTIAL for the industry and government to participate in this debate.