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CWA # 338, 17 September 2020

GLOBAL PROTEST MOVEMENTS
Digital platforms as tools: Rise of Anti-Fracking protest movements across the world

  Arjun C

Never before have corporate interests and people’s movements clashed so strongly on energy policy making, with the challenge from people taking newer forms and gaining ever widening support.

Background

The world stands at a crossroads regarding the future of energy production with countries struggling to take a decision on whether to go with short term gains or sustainable long-term ways. Never before have corporate interests and people’s movements clashed so strongly on energy policy making, with the challenge from people taking newer forms and gaining ever widening support.

Unlike the past, internet offers previously unimaginable possibilities of projecting one’s own version of what is happening with an audience that is spread across the world. The ever-increasing number of users on various social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, Youtube etc, forecast tremendous potential for easy proliferation of information, something that was only possible by traditional media earlier. Any debate now has thousands of participants worldwide with local groups using online platforms to gain and extend global solidarity. These developments and increasing digital accessibility make online platforms a crucial factor in all sociopolitical movements. This article aims to look at the global anti-fracking movement and how internet as a platform has affected the cause.

Causes, Concerns and Fallouts

Fracking which was highly concentrated in US for decades, later started moving into Latin America with the political leaders around the world calling shale gas the “Game Changer”, “New Gas Age”.

With fracking, it’s the siting location that forms the foundation of movements against it. The modern society’s need to provide energy for transportation and infrastructure collides with the local communities where the fracking is supposed to begin. The process also known as hydraulic fracturing is a horizontal drilling technique for removing oil and gas largely from traditionally untapped shale. The controversial part is that environmental groups and NGOs have been producing evidence of the disastrous effects of fracking in the surrounding areas. The process involves mixing highly toxic chemicals with water before drilling and it has been found out that 80 percent of these chemicals remain underground after fracking is done. The technology behind USA’s natural gas revolution began gaining supporters after oil and gas prices spiked around 2008 and companies started taking interest in “unconventional gas”, soon making the country the world’s largest gas producer. The anti-fracking movement in USA began taking proper shape after release of Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland released in 2010 along with resistance across the nation even leading to people under the banner of “Occupy the Pipeline” attending a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hearing with gas masks and hazmat suits. The adoption of this technology had a very low profile in Latin America with the Interamerican Association for Environment Defense (AIDA) stating that there was “no previous consultation with communities, nor holistic studies carried out about the impact and risks of these techniques in any (country of Latin America). There is also no access to information about the oil companies’ contract and operations.”

Right after Latin America was thrown into the debate, community resistance and opposition have consistently grown. The most famous protest being the one that happened in early 2018, when a biologist named Esteban Servat mobilised thousands of people in Mendoza, Argentina using Facebook. He published a secret Argentine government study of the environmental effects of fracking, after which protests erupted in Argentina forcing seven draft laws to be in Argentine congress to ban it. As a result, criminal charges were filed against Servat and a judicial investigation was launched against him and others associated with a group they created - Ecoleaks. He later had to escape to Europe fearing arrest and further continued using online platforms to spread awareness, even garnering the support of Pope Francis. Likewise, the subcontinent has witnessed multiple protests with the movement showing no signs of slowing down. Esteban Servat’s case was mentioned here as he has turned into one of the most vocal figures of the anti-fracking movement. His shot to international fame was only possible with heavy campaigning through social media.

Similarly, the anti-fracking struggles around the world have successfully extended and gathered solidarity forming what we can all a truly trans local movement. Online forums such as the Global Frackdown, Camp Frack have been generating common space for small groups and organisations to come together on an international scale in the cyberspace for organising events and sharing information. As a result, protests have been going on with many winning bans and moratoriums against fracking. In the online platform, such wins are not just local wins but becomes of global significance, filling the pages of websites around the world, fueling the movement.

Click the PDF file to read the full essay. It was first published in the NIAS Quarterly on Contemporary World Affairs, Vol 2, Issues 2&3. 

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