Human rights, fossil fuels and contemporary structures of power. A study of fracking in the UK

Master's Thesis, 2017

45 Pages, Grade: A


Table of contents



1. Introduction
1.1 Aims and Objectives
1.2 The right to a healthy environment as a human right
1.3 Human rights in the UK
1.4 Unconventional fossil fuels in the UK

2. Analytical Framework
2.1. Theoretical Frameworks
2.2 Structures of power in a globalised world
2.3 Relevance of this study

3. Methodology
3.1. Design of Primary Research
3.2 Secondary research

4. Findings
4.1 Power structures in the UK
4.2 UK Police and anti-fracking protests, a form of political policing.
4.3 Building the narrative: intelligence gathering
4.4 Building the narrative: ingroups and outgrips
4.5 Tactics on the ground
4.6 The rights balancing act?
4.7 What does ‘peaceful protest’ mean?

5. Conclusion


In the UK, successive governments since 2010 have positioned unconventional fossil fuels at the centre of their energy policy in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that the planet cannot sustain the current level of fossil fuel consumption and that anthropogenic ecological degradation is driving us towards an extinction-level event. They have continued to push forwards with it despite fierce public opposition and mounting evidence of violations of human rights due to its negative ecological consequences and the way the police handle the continuous demonstrations against it.

Through a qualitative study of the policing tactics used at anti-fracking protests; I explore how UK politics and policy-making have moved away from the foundational ideas of democracy (a representative government to protect and promote the wellbeing of the many) to an institutional system that exists to ensure the wealth and power of the few - a hegemonic elite, in Gramscian terms. I argue that the logic of neoliberal capitalism has given rise to structures of power and policy choices are resulting in human rights violations and making it almost impossible to adopt environmental policy options that will prevent ecological destruction.


My deepest gratitude to Dr. Damien Short, without whose guidance and support I would have probably lost my way.

1. Introduction

Today, the vast majority of scientists agree that the planet cannot sustain the current level of resource and fossil fuel consumption and that anthropogenic ecological degradation is driving us towards an extinction-level event (United Nations Sustainable Development, 2016; Abert and Craig Roberts, 2017). Yet fossil fuels remain the primary source of energy in the world (, 2016). In the UK, successive governments since 2010 have anchored their energy policy on the rapid development of unconventional fossil fuels despite strong public opposition and mounting evidence of violations of human rights due to its negative ecological consequences and the way the police handle the continuous demonstrations against it (Jackson, Gilmore and Monk, 2016; Jackson, Monk and Gilmore, 2016; Mobbs, 2017a; Mobbs, 2017b; Cole et al., 2014).

[This has] led to questions about (...) [the] fundamental processes of democracy, capitalist economies and social justice [while the] close relationship between governments and powerful multinational corporations brings to the fore questions about political influence and human rights (Rijke in Short et al., 2015: 8).

1.1 Aims and Objectives

The aim of this work is to explore the structures of power in the UK in the context of a predominant ideology.

The research objectives are:

- To examine why in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, there is a clear move at policy level in the UK towards unconventional fossil fuels;
- To ascertain whether the answer to the above question lies in power structures institutionalised in government that stem from a way of doing politics that has become dominant as a result of the ideological predominance of neoliberal capitalism through a case study.

In sum, through a qualitative study of the policing tactics used at anti-fracking protests; I explore how UK politics and policy-making have moved away from the foundational ideas of democracy (a representative government to protect and promote the wellbeing of the many) to an institutional system that exists to ensure the wealth and power of the few - a hegemonic elite, in Gramscian terms. I do not argue that the current situation is one of insidious corruption but rather that the logic of neoliberal capitalism has given rise to structures of power and policy choices are resulting in human rights violations and making it almost impossible to adopt environmental policy options that will prevent ecological destruction.

1.2 The right to a healthy environment as a human right

When ecological issues give rise to a differentiated social experience where the powerless are denied rights to land, resources and health they become human rights issues (Johnston, 2000: 99). Although there is not an international instrument of law that sanctions the right to a healthy environment; the UN’s Environment Agency (UNEP) has explicitly recognised the relationship between the environment and human rights in 3 ways (, N.D):

- the environment is a prerequisite for enjoying human rights;
- certain human rights (e.g. access to information and justice) are essential for environmental decision making; and
- the right to a safe, healthy and ecologically balanced environment as a human right in itself.

In 2012 the UN’s Human Rights Council appointed a Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment (OHCRH, 2012). Moreover, the Human Rights Council has issued several resolutions clearly stating that anthropogenic climate change is a direct threat to human rights (Short et al., 2015: 25). This heightens the ethically normative value of environmental protection; it gives meaning and legitimacy to environmental concerns in the public eye which adds pressure for their legal codification and in turn increases opportunities for legal protection (Barry and Woods, 2010: 386).

1.3 Human rights in the UK

An important part of the legal framework for environmental protection in the UK originates in EU law. Although the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not include the right to a healthy environment; this right has been recognised in EU case law ‘through an extensive interpretation of the applicability domain of certain other rights, expressly provided for in the Convention’ (Scalia, 2015: 7). In addition, art.37 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (made binding by art.6(1) of the Treaty on European Union) states:

A high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union (European Commission, 2017).

The EU is party to over 55 multilateral environmental treaties which through membership apply in the UK as well (House of Commons, 2017: 10). In its 2015-16 report on EU and UK Environmental Policy, the Environmental Audit Committee (House of Commons) concluded that EU environmental policy had had a positive impact on the UK’s policy landscape as it had spurred the improvement of the relevant legal framework as well as the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms (2017: 9).

The right to a healthy environment is intrinsically linked with other human rights (Short et al., 2015). In this work, I focus on its relationship with the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of speech. The 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA) domesticated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Both the HRA and the ECHR guarantee the rights to peaceful assembly and association (art.

11) and freedom of expression (art. 10). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which the UK is a State Party, also guarantees these rights (arts. 21 and 19, respectively). Taken together, there rights amount to the right to peaceful protest. The rights to peaceful assembly and association are not absolute, and they can be lawfully restricted in specific cases as contained in the respective HRA and ECHR articles .

[T]he only restrictions placed upon the freedom of peaceful assembly should be those ‘prescribed by law’, and are required ‘in the interests of national security or public safety’ or ‘for the prevention of disorder or crime’. In addition, Article 11(2) in both the HRA and ECHR also states that ‘[t]his Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State’ (Short et al., 2015: 19-20).

However, art. 11(2) ‘has been narrowly interpreted to require convincing and compelling reasons for any such restrictions to be valid’ (Liberty Human Rights, 2017).

The HRA, ECHR and ICCPR all contain details as to how and why the right to freedom of expression may be curtailed by the representatives of the state. Article 10(2) of both the HRA and the ECHR state that this right ‘may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law’, which are clarified as ‘the interests of national security’ and ‘the prevention of disorder or crime’. Similarly, Article 19(3) of the ICCPR states that the right to freedom of expression ‘may [ ... ] be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law’, which are, in Article 19(3), described as being ‘For the protection of national security or of public order’ (Short et al., 2015: 19-20).

Earlier this year, the UK Government triggered Article 50, commencing negotiations for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This has cast doubt over the UK’s human rights protection standards and many report that the government’s aim of replacing the Human Rights Act of 1998 with a British Bill of Rights is a clear move toward lowering the protection threshold (Human Rights Consortium, 2017). The UK government stated in its EU withdrawal bill that it would maintain the entire body of EU environmental law but reserved the right of the Parliament to change it in the future. This is hardly a reassuring development; particularly as there seems to be a de-prioritisation of environmental protection and human rights more broadly in the government’s rhetoric while at the same time there appears to be a clear shift towards pro-business policy (Date, 2017; Jolly, 2017).

1.4 Unconventional fossil fuels in the UK

As conventional fossil fuel reserves dwindle, there is increasing pressure to exploit more unconventional sources. The defining characteristic of unconventional fossil fuels is that their production requires higher energy input and yields lower quality and lesser fuel than conventional techniques while carrying higher-risk of environmental damage (Ahmed, 2017; Hulme and Short, 2014: 4, 7-8).

Hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a ’fracking’) is part of the unconventional fossil fuel family. It is 1 The ICCPR is less specific in regards to how and to what extent this right may be restricted by the state; therefore, in terms of applicability, the ECHR and HRA are lex specialis.

a technique used to extract hydrocarbons trapped in certain kinds of rock (...). [It] uses pressurised fluid to free trapped [shale] gas [also shale oil and coal bed methane]. (...) The fracking fluid consists of water, sand and chemicals. Millions of gallons of water are used to frack a well. (...) [It] has never been carried out on the scale now proposed in the specific geological conditions of the densely populated UK (Cole et al., 2014: 7-8).

Although there is need for more comprehensive impact studies, scientists have raised concerns regarding the effects of fracking on the environment and humans; especially in regards to water, land and air pollution, health implications (Mobbs, 2017a; Cole et al., 2014).

In their 2015 paper Extreme energy, ‘fracking’ and human rights: a new field for human rights impact assessments? Short et al. demonstrated that there are serious areas of concern in terms of human rights that arise from the fracking life cycle - from permission through post-extraction refining.

These areas are: water, air, land, health, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, liberty and security of the person, right to a fair trial, right to respect for the private and family life, and anthropogenic climate change (9).

UK governments since 2010 have actively encouraged the development of fracking, making it a priority within the country’s energy policy (Mobbs, 2017b: 1). The reasoning for this policy has always been that fracking can provide a solution to diminishing supplies of conventional fuel given that ’[i]n the UK, North Sea production peaked in 2003 and has been declining since’ (Cole et al., 2014: 10).

The UK is particularly dependant on gas to generate electricity as many of its power stations have been ‘upgraded’ from coal to gas over the last few decades. Because of underinvestment in the sector, renewables cannot be activated fast enough to cover the dwindling supplies of conventional fossil fuel making unconventional extraction an appealing short-term stopgap solution (Cole et al., 2014: 10-11). Successive UK governments have claimed that expanding fracking operations would bring economic growth, reduce fuel prices for consumers and generate thousands of jobs. This is an attractive proposition for a big portion of the electorate that may be underemployed or unemployed. In addition, it has the shiny zeal of being a source of energy that is truly British, as it lies under our feet. The pull of such nationalistic claims should be taken seriously in the current context of Brexit, terrorism and increased levels of hate crime (Amnesty International UK, 2017).

However, a big portion of the British public has been vocal in its opposition to fracking, especially environmental activists and the local communities around planned drill sites.

The first major protests against fracking in the UK came in the summer of 2013 at Balcombe, Sussex, where a coalition of local groups and environmental campaigners from around the country established a protest camp at the exploratory drilling site run by energy company Cuadrilla (Jackson, Gilmore and Monk, 2016: 6).

And public support for fracking keeps declining; a recent government poll found that only 16% of the British public are pro-fracking (Press Association, 2017).

It is doubtful that fracking could make up for diminished supply levels of conventional fossil fuels. Fracking produces lower grade fuel than conventional extraction and therefore requires greater post-extraction chemical manipulation and a more extensive processing infrastructure (Cole et al., 2014: 11). Developing the required infrastructure will take a significant amount of time; production projections from the gas industry estimate that the UK will not be in full production for another decade. These characteristics make it likely that fracking will increase CO2 and methane emissions. It has also been shown to present a serious risk of leaking dangerous gases and liquid chemicals (Cole et al., 2014; Short et al., 2015).

The supposed economic advantages of fracking have also been debunked: shale gas will not bring gas prices down for consumers as domestic prices will still be mostly determined by foreign markets due to a continued reliance on imported gas. Private sector advisors have also presented evidence to the government that the estimations of 74,000 new jobs brought in by fracking were overly optimistic and that the actual number would be between 15,900 and 24,300 at its peak (Cole et al., 2014: 10-15). The UK experience with fracking is not auspicious: the first productive drill site operated by Cuadrilla in Lancashire ended in a damaged well and fierce opposition from the local community (Cole et al., 2014: 11-15).

In sum, available evidence suggests that unconventional extraction will not serve the economic or energetic purposes ascribed to it, and will likely cause further ecological damage. It is also not supported by the vast majority of the UK public. In spite of this, the government has embraced unconventional fossil fuels and continues to put forwards a pro-fracking rhetoric arguably in violation of the Precautionary Principle (art.191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). Why? This work is an exploration of a potential answer: Because fossil fuels are essential to maintain the capitalist social order which provides great wealth and power to the UK’s hegemonic elite that makes up the majority of government positions; therefore, any threats to it must be responded to with force.

2. Analytical Framework

2.1. Theoretical Frameworks

For the purpose of this work, human rights are those legally defined by international and domestic instruments of law that are currently applicable in the UK. In the following sections, I will engage with the right to a healthy environment in connection with the rights to peaceful assembly and association and freedom of expression.

There exists a debate in human rights literature as to whether neoliberal capitalism as an ideology and the global economic paradigm contribute to the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. Rhoda Howard-Hassman (2005 and 2006) and Admandiata Pollis (2005) represent each end of the spectrum. The first one proposed that the globalisation of the capitalist way will usher in an era of human rights ‘leapfrogging’ where human rights standards will be rapidly adopted by states in a bid to become global economic players. Pollis for her part, takes a less optimistic view and highlights the colonialist and violent dimensions of neoliberal capitalism. In the years since this exchange, much has been written on either side but there is enough evidence now to debunk the optimistic faith in capitalism and ‘the market’ and their capacity to further human rights and prevent or fix ecological damage.

Klein offers a journalistic view of this debate in her book This Changes Everything (2014):

[C]orporate interests have systematically exploited (...) various forms of crisis to ram through policies that enrich a small elite—by lifting regulations, cutting social spending, and forcing large-scale privatizations of the public sphere. They have also been the excuse for extreme crackdowns on civil liberties and chilling human rights violations. (...) The [ecological] crisis will once again be seized upon to hand over yet more resources to the 1 percent. You can see the early stages of this process already. (...) There is a booming trade in “weather futures,” allowing companies and banks to gamble on changes in the weather (30-31).

She agrees with Kovel (2007) and Leech (2012) that ‘the things we must do to avoid catastrophic warming are (...) in conflict with the fundamental imperative at the heart of our economic model: grow or die’ (Klein, 2014: 59) and therefore a paradigm change is necessary.

Green criminologists have taken up the study of environmental policy and governance from the standpoint of ecological crimes and harm. Opsal and O’Connor Shelly (2014) provide an example of a methodologically robust study of the social and ecological impact of unconventional extractive practices not only on local communities but also on the fauna and ecosystems. This developing body of research focuses on the notion of environmental harm as a potential crime; the result of activities that are not formally considered a violation of the law.

A substantial portion of green criminologists draw the link between neoliberal capitalism and environmental harm. They see a contradiction between its aim of uncapped economic growth predicated on the use of natural resources and the finite capacity of the natural world to provide such resources. In addition, their work sheds light on how this paradigm defines and is dependent on a specific configuration of class relations and power. It also highlights the fact that legal activities can have harmful impacts that may constitute human rights violations (Opsal and O’Connor Shelley, 2014: 561-565).

However, there is very little work available from green criminologists on fracking. One exception is Opsal and O’Connor Shelley’s work which evidences how the state’s reaction to environmental harms produced by fracking activities is aimed at concealing from the public the contradictions in its behaviour; that is, their commitment to human rights and the parallel protection and interest in furthering fracking because of its monetary advantages. They argue that it is this desire to avoid the weakening of the government’s legitimacy that drives such tactics as denial of the issue; generating confusion; trying to distract the public’s attention by focusing on other phenomena; and attempting to reduce the significance of the problem (2014: 565). Although their work is specific to Colorado, USA, their conclusions are a useful lens through which to look at the UK experience. I follow the same line of analysis; by looking at policing behaviour during anti-fracking protests in the UK as the visible side of the government’s attempt to avoid accountability for an energy policy that clearly goes against the interests of the British public.

Short and Szolucha (2017) provide an analysis of harm as a result of fracking in the UK through an interdisciplinary lens. They argue that

local communities can suffer significant harms even at the exploration stage when national governments with neoliberal economic agendas are set on developing unconventional resources in the face of considerable opposition and a wealth of evidence of environmental and social harms (1).

Human rights scholars have started to call for a human rights-based approach to impact assessments of environmental policy and oil and gas exploration. The human rights-based approach emphasises participation, transparency and accountability (Short et al., 2015). Short et al. provide evidence of the strong link between fracking and human rights. They ‘argue that ‘fracking’ development poses a significant risk to a range of key human rights and should thus form the subject of a multitude of comprehensive, interdisciplinary human rights impact assessments (HRIAs)’ (2015:

1). Their work provides the starting point for analysing the connection among fracking, government policy, lobbying and human rights.

In examining the history of protest in the UK and the government’s response to it since World War II and the advent of neoliberal capitalism, I have relied on Joyce’s 2016 book The Policing of Protest, Disorder and International Terrorism in the UK since 1945. I borrow from his view that policing is linked to the highly contextualised definition of subversion determined by the government and that the police’s role in the UK is twofold: ensuring public peace but also producing and reproducing the social order. Joyce identifies a trend in policing that is of relevance for my work; that following 9/11 the threat of terrorism has been used by the successive UK governments to restrict the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association and freedom of speech and the civil society space in general.

Gilmore, Jackson and Monk follow the same line of analysis in their study of policing tactics at the Barton Moss anti-fracking protest:

The conditions for capitalist accumulation neither appeared organically nor are they maintained through universal consent; the exercise of state power, of police power, has been, and continues to be, essential to produce and sustain the inequality inherent in a capitalist social order. (...) From this perspective policing must be understood as a project involving the confrontation with ‘disorderly’ and ‘disruptive’ subjects and the creation of orderly, disciplined subjects conducive to the maintenance of a capitalist social order. The ideal citizen-subject is orderly in the sense that they comply with, and do not question, the current state of things; to be orderly in this sense is to be sufficiently docile to accept the world as it is and one’s place within it (2016: 86).

Of particular interest for this work is the nascent body of research that looks at ecological degradation contextualised by specific social, political and economic structures. Crook and Short (2014) explore the contraposition of neoliberal capitalism and finite natural resources, the pursuit of unconventional fossil fuels and the resulting human rights violations through the lenses of genocide and Marx’s ecology. Echoing Kovel (2007), they highlight humanity’s dependency on the ecosystems and the self-destructive nature of neoliberal capitalism as well as its structural violence which, they argue, may lead to a form of genocide. Short expands on these notions with the added value of an examination of settler colonialism in his book Redefining Genocide. Settler Colonialism, Social Death and Ecocide (2016).

In his book Capitalism, a structural genocide (2012), Leech presents a robustly researched series of case studies that illustrate his thesis that capitalism is inherently violent.

The logic of capital requires constant growth in order to accumulate wealth, but this growth is dependent on the destruction of nature (...) to benefit disproportionately a wealthy minority at the expense of the basic needs of the majority (7-8).

In his view, this gives rise to a particular kind of violence he denominates ‘structural violence’.

Structural violence manifests itself in many ways, but its common theme is the deprivation of people’s basic needs as a result of the existing social structures. (...) Such inequality is rooted in the oppression of one group by another. (...) [Structural violence] is not as visible a form of violence as direct physical violence. In fact, it often appears anonymous to the degree that people are not even aware that there is a perpetrator (Leech, 2012: 11).

Leech articulates how contemporary democracy is a political system that exists to perpetuate the capitalist paradigm by ensuring the right degree of social control. In his view, democracy and governance do not exist to ensure the rights of people but to perpetuate the wealth and power of the dominant elite.

[A]ccording to the logic of capital, society exists to serve the economy, rather than the reverse. To this end, the ‘rule of law’ plays a crucial role in prioritizing the interests of capital (Leech, 2012: 24-27).

He concludes that this generates present and future genocides of a particular kind - incremental, as opposed to intense bursts of violence. In this author’s view, the only way to stop ecological degradation and the associated human rights violations is to fundamentally change the political and economic paradigm. He finds hope in the socialist attempts happening in Cuba,Venezuela and Bolivia. This is where I deviate from his analysis quite sharply, I cannot in good conscience adhere to the notion that any of those countries should be hailed as an example of an alternative paradigm and much less as examples of respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights.

However, I do take away his application of Gramsci’s political philosophy to the capitalist paradigm and contemporary power structures. I find it a useful framework for analysing the policing of anti-fracking protests in the UK as it helps to understand the dynamics of elite influence and public consent in contemporary politics. Gramsci proposed that a hegemonic elite; defined as a group of people with a shared identity, a shared ideology and the gatekeepers of economic and political power (Morton, 2007) sit atop societies. They maintain their hegemony through the rule of law, the monopoly of violence, and the socialisation of the masses to align them with the elite’s values and interests through education, media, religion and culture. In this way, they control the dominant discourse, the social order, and ensure it stays through time.

Through this hegemonic process, capitalist elites maintain the consent of a majority of the population, while those who withhold their consent and demand (...) radical structural changes are dealt with through more overt coercive measures. (...) Coercion can involve the justice system enforcing the ‘rule of law’ or the use of direct physical violence by state security forces (Leech, 2012: 94-95).

Cox’s neo-Gramscian views add another layer of analysis as he considers how contemporary elites not only own, shape and reproduce the dominant discourse but ground it in the articulation of their interests as the interests of everyone. They present neoliberal capitalism as the ‘natural order of things’ in the public discourse which is then replicated through political and social institutions, and finally adopted by the wider public as an incontrovertible truth (Morton, 2007: 113-115). For this school of thought, government is the institutional manifestation of the hegemonic elite’s social relations and their ideology - neoliberal capitalism, in its contemporary form (Morton, 2007: 121).

Gramsci, Cox and all other neo-Gramcian perspectives have been criticised for being too Marxist or anachronistic; they have also been criticised for not being rigorous enough in their historical materialism (Morton, 2007: 129-130). However, I adhere to their conceptualisation of governance structures as the manifestation of a social order created and reproduced by a hegemonic elite that upholds a specific ideology. This school of thought emphasises the socio-cultural dynamics of class structures and class-based governance. In this work, I use these ideas as tools for thinking and analysing the current UK context and the case study rather than as a source of a definitive explanation of the research problem.

2.2 Structures of power in a globalised world

The contemporary international system came to be after the World War II; when Westphalian balance of power and state sovereignty combined with economic neoliberalism in the UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions. In the decades that followed, there was an unprecedented level of movement of people, goods and capital across borders. This is ‘globalisation’ - the rapid dissemination of ideas, cultural and political identities but particularly the free transnational movement of capital (McCorquodale and Fairbrother, 1999: 738). This new era brought with it the ideological predominance of neoliberal capitalism.

In the contemporary world, there are ‘patterns of systemic inclusion and exclusion of people (...) which can be mapped with reference to the means of economic sustenance’ (Thomas, 2002: 115). Individuals and groups are divided into those that have better access to economic means of production (and thus wealth and influence) and those who do not and see their opportunities for access to resources and influencing policy-making reduced or even blocked. As a result, ‘economic and social structures allow a privileged global and national elite to control a disproportionate share of available resources’ (Thomas, 2002: 116) which also gives them disproportionate influence over political decisions (Connelly and Smith, 2003: 124). This is called ‘social capital’ (Adger, 2003). It gives rise to an elitist pattern of decision and policy-making (Connelly and Smith, 2003: 139). Government mimics these divisions at an aggregated level: the institution. Government activities are carried out by innumerable agencies, each with a specific mandate. These agencies develop their own powerful ideas of common purpose and interest. Institutionalisation creates internal ethical feeding loops whereby individuals that abide by the rules thrive but those that question the status quo are ostracised; hence, within each institution uniform psychological traits and behaviour prevail as individuals become its personification (Kovel, 2007: 83).

The state has seen its role reconfigured by this context: ‘[Its] role is seen purely in terms of allowing markets to “flourish”’ (McCorquodale and Fairbrother, 1999: 747). Consequently, it is very difficult for governments to enact policies that go against the interests of corporations because if they do, corporations can just decide to move to other more ‘welcoming’ places taking their profits with them. And since the government is not a profit-making entity but depends on taxes raised to operate, it cannot afford to lose said profits. As a result, power at all levels, from the local to the global, is being transferred to special interest groups (Thomas, 2002: 122). The resulting governance system ‘simultaneously reflects, constitutes and masks global relations of power and powerlessness’ (Elliott, 2002: 58).

Corporations dedicate a lot of their resources to ensuring the minimum level of government regulation for their activities possible and policies that are favourable to their economic interests. This is known as ‘lobbying’. Lobbying is an exercise in exchanging values; corporations must be able to provide something in exchange for favourable policies. It encompasses a wide range of actions that hinge on having close and mutually beneficial relationships with policy stakeholders and securing public opinion support for corporations’ preferred policies. It is about information dissemination through ‘detailed campaigns designed to challenge or force a policy through’ (Cusick, 2013) based on (often dubious) economic data and designed to change opinions. Much of what this information does is present data framed within political risk analysis of potential policy outcomes which plays right into the heart of what politicians fear the most - a loss of their power and jobs (Cusick, 2013). Politicians are open to being influenced because in the capitalist economy corporations that control most of the resources and means of production and are therefore the primary drivers of a country’s Gross Domestic Product. This gives corporations a very strong hand: if the economy is not thriving and unemployment and poverty are high, it is politicians’ heads that will roll so it is in the latter’s best interest that corporate profits are as healthy as possible.

Even so, governments need a certain level of legitimacy to maintain their power. It is not enough for the government to be perceived as legitimate on a formal level; it must be anchored in an ideology which is accepted by the public as aligned with their values and desires. This ideological legitimacy serves to justify their policy choices (Milgram, 2010). There is a tried-and-tested formula for developing such ideological legitimacy: identify a common enemy that can be blamed for everything that is wrong. This profits from ‘an ever-present [human] tendency to divide the world into ingroups and outgroups, into us and them’ (Staub, 1985: 64). This differentiation generally carries with it the devaluation of the outgroup which is socialised through cultural symbols such as media products. Eventually, this oppositional definition of identity becomes a self-evident truth (cultural prejudice) (Staub, 1985: 61-70). The media plays an important part by highlighting or downplaying issues and defining in-groups and outgroups.

2.3 Relevance of this study

Since the industrial revolution, we have been depleting our higher quality, easily-extractable fossil fuels at such a rate that for the last 40 years we’ve had to employ increasing amounts of fuel (as energy) into producing fossil fuels from lower-quality, harder-to-extract sources to keep up with growing demand. ‘This means that the costs of energy production are increasing while the quality of the energy we’re producing is declining’ (Ahmed, 2017). As fossil fuels remain the world’s primary source of energy (, 2016), the decline in fuel yield from extraction correlates to a decline in production and therefore, growth. The evidence available shows that the UK has already entered a phase of growth-decline due to depleting domestic resources of fossil fuels; as a matter of fact, the UK is dependent on importing fossil fuels to maintain economic output (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 2017).

This is creating a very volatile socio-political environment by casting doubt on the belief we have collectively held for almost a century that the market would fix all our problems and drive endless wealth. In response, many governments are doubling down on their bet rather than accepting that we may need to develop a new economic paradigm to avoid collapse (Ahmed, 2017). Much has been written about the influence of corporations on governments (Taillant, Glaub and Buck, 2015; The Conference Board, 2010; Klein, 2014); the human rights impact of fossil fuels (Global Witness, 2017; Short et al., 2015; Opsal and O’Connor Shelley, 2014) and the grave consequences of ecological degradation (Short and Szolucha, 2017; Hulme and Short, 2014; Klein, 2014; Kovel, 2007) but there is still a need to bring all of these different elements together within the current UK context. In subsequent chapters, I will look at how the fossil fuel industry, the government and the police have built a narrative - which has been in great part echoed in the media, of who anti-fracking protesters are that plays into this outgroup/ingroup dynamic and serves as justification for aggressive policing tactics.

3. Methodology

3.1. Design of Primary Research

This work inserts a case study - policing tactics at anti-fracking protests, within a systemic view of power structures in the UK. The case study is perfectly placed to act as the connector between micro behaviours (policing tactics) to the macro system (special-interest domestic governance; or institutionalised hegemony in Gramscian terms). Studying the policing of anti-fracking protests in the UK helps establish how various aspects, actors, processes and relationships of power and influence fit together within a specific way of governing and policy making. This study is a snapshot of the UK policy context since 2010 when fracking became central to the government’s energy policy. As such, it can only serve as an exploration of the key system structures and dynamics at play.

Primary research tied to the case study has been conducted using semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders; discourse and document analysis of stakeholder statements, media reports on the issue, and the analysis of institutional structures. Semi-structured interviews were designed and carried out with the aim of establishing the perspective of the interviewees on the research problem and to understand how they developed their perspective. Interview questions tended to be open and as the conversation flowed, I probed on those areas that organically surfaced and were of interest to this work. The questions allowed for the manifestation of the interviewee’s opinions but focused on specific situations, examples of actions and sequences of events. Participant recruitment was done through snowballing; the starting point being my own academic network. My aim was to try to capture a holistic view of the problem by interviewing at least 1 person from every key stakeholder group but whenever that wasn’t possible (for example, police officers, government ministers) the data gap was addressed through one of the complementary methodologies and secondary research. In total, 6 people were interviewed.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Chart 1. Interviewee Profiles

Out of the 6 interviews conducted, all but 2 were recorded and transcribed. The reason being that the interviewees preferred not to have their responses recorded. In those cases, I took comprehensive notes which I shared with the interviewees to ensure they faithfully captured their answers. In terms of analysing the data, I borrowed from the Grounded Theory analytical process (Charmaz, 2008); particularly its iterative nature, the identification of core concepts and the development of linkages among them.

Potential ethical issues were considered throughout the design of the study and fieldwork. Prior to fieldwork, I filled out and submitted the University’s self-check ethics form. For all interviews, informed and prior consent was obtained and it was renegotiated throughout the interview. Participants were given my contact details and specifically invited to request transcripts, notes and a debrief of the final analysis if they so wished. The main ethical concern was that some participants may have experienced police violence and speaking of their experiences could re-traumatise them; to avoid this, the wording of the questions was carefully chosen and I ensured that the participants understood that they did not need to speak of things they weren’t comfortable addressing and that the interview was not a therapeutic setting and I could therefore not offer any advice as to how to cope with these experiences. The interviewees were told they could refuse to answer any questions and stop the interview and withdraw their consent at any point.

Due to the controversial nature of the research problem and the fact that it is well known that many of the people involved in the anti-fracking movement are targets of state surveillance, confidentiality and anonymity were essential for gaining access to participants and data. As a result, all names, locations and other identifying data have been suppressed from this study and the bibliography. In addition, all data has been securely stored locally on my computer’s hard drive and backed up on an encrypted cloud service. It will be destroyed once the study has been evaluated.

I have also done some discourse and document analysis of stakeholder statements and media reports, social media posts and official documents with the aim of understanding how stakeholders create and disseminate the meaning and narrative of events surrounding the policing of anti-fracking protests. I also looked into institutional configurations within the UK government, including identifying potential avenues of corporate influence


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Human rights, fossil fuels and contemporary structures of power. A study of fracking in the UK
University of London  (School of Advanced Studies, Institute of Commonwealth Studies)
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fossi fuels, UK, environment, human rights, politics, energy, policy, fracking, oil and gas, theresa may, england, political theory, lobbying, policing, police, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, right to protest
Quote paper
Stef Monaco (Author), 2017, Human rights, fossil fuels and contemporary structures of power. A study of fracking in the UK, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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