Protesters gather near a Cuadrilla gas fracking site given the green light near Blackpool © Getty
Ineos has won a High Court injunction against unlawful protests at its UK shale gas sites in an escalation of the industry’s battle with anti-fracking activists.
The ruling will put protesters in contempt of court if they cause any obstruction to Ineos’s shale operations — increasing the powers of police and the judicial system to clamp down on lawbreaking by demonstrators.
Ineos said it was the most wide-ranging injunction of its kind secured by the shale industry and the first issued pre-emptively before a company had planning permission to start drilling.
“We have a duty to do all we can to ensure the safety of everyone on and around our sites, including the protesters,” said Tom Pickering, operations director of Ineos Shale. “Our people and suppliers have the right to come to work free from harassment and intimidation.”
Mr Pickering added that the injunction would “protect our sites, our people, our suppliers and the public from the militant activists who try to game the system and cause maximum disruption”.
The injunction follows weeks of intensifying protests at a site near Blackpool, Lancashire, where Cuadrilla, another fracking company, is preparing to start what it hopes will be Britain’s first commercial shale gas operation.
Disruption such as criminal damage to equipment and sit-down protests to stop traffic at the Cuadrilla site, and another operated by Third Energy in North Yorkshire, have highlighted the difficulties facing Britain’s nascent shale industry as they attempt to bring US-style fracking to the UK.
Ineos, the UK petrochemicals group privately controlled by its founder and chairman Jim Ratcliffe, is the biggest owner of shale licences in Britain, covering more than 1.2m acres of land across the north-west of England, Yorkshire and the Midlands.
Whereas Cuadrilla and Third Energy have permission to start drilling, Ineos is still taking seismic surveys and pursuing planning permission. Its decision to seek an injunction at this stage is intended to head off the disruption encountered by its peers and send a message to protesters.
Mr Pickering said the injunction would not interfere with the right to peaceful protest and that Ineos remained committed to engaging with local communities to address concerns about the environmental impact of fracking. But he said the company had a responsibility to tackle dangerous and threatening behaviour.
Ineos submitted to the court 17 ring-binders full of documents detailing the threat it said was posed to the company by unlawful protest, including abusive emails and social media messages and accounts of intimidation against people working not only for Ineos but also for its suppliers.
Activists vowed via social media to challenge the injunction and accused Ineos and the court of undermining civil rights by barring peaceful direct action including “slow walks” on public highways.
Ineos said the injunction was the most far-reaching of its kind since one issued in defence of Huntingdon Life Sciences, the pharmaceuticals research company which was besieged by animal rights activists in the 1990s and 2000s.