Just five days ago Tina Rothery was facing the prospect of spending Christmas this year in a cell at Styal Prison.
Now, after her hearing, Ms Rothery has spoken to Quays News on how she felt leading up to the decision, her jubilation afterward, and how worldwide support for her campaign can lead to positive change for her anti-fracking community.
Tina Rothery, 54, has been involved in the anti-fracking campaign for five years.
Her passion for her cause was demonstrated in 2014 when she and other protestors occupied a plot of land in Lancashire planned for exploration for fracking by British oil and gas firm Cuadrilla.
The protestors, later calling themselves ‘The Nanas’ because of their dominant population of elderly women, began the protest on August 7 and occupied the land for three weeks.
Two months later Cuadrilla submitted an order to prevent protestors from gathering on the land. The oil and gas firm claimed an overly amount of stress was caused to the landowners nearby.
What is fracking?
Fracking is a drilling method used to extract valuable natural gas from shale rock formations in the earth.
People from Lancashire are acutely concerned about the consequences of drilling in their area. Fracking was temporarily suspended in UK in 2011 when minor tremors were reported around Blackpool.
Experts argue the large amounts of methane released by fracking is more damaging to the environment than coal burning. Reports in the United States suggest fracking has caused minor earthquakes and polluted the water table also.
Tina volunteered herself as a representative of the group—known as ‘Residents Action on Fylde Fracking’ at the time—and sought an adjournment to the order, but in submitting a defence she did not reveal her financial details.
Ms Rothery was subsequently charged with contempt of court. She was ordered to pay for Cuadrilla’s legal costs of £55,342, or she could face a 14-day prison sentence.
The mother-and-grandmother said: “I worried was the night before the trial when I had gone to bed and realised that maybe tomorrow night I could be somewhere that isn’t my bed- somewhere very scary and very alien.
“I was upset a little bit the night before because anything you do not know is scary. I hated the thought of being trapped and I hated the thought of not having my freedom.”
The 54-year-old’s fate was uncertain until a private hearing on Friday December 9 at Preston Combined Court.
Ms Rothery, representing herself in the hearing, was elated when the British oil and gas firm decided not to pursue costs, and contempt of court charge was thrown out.
Around 500 people joined Tina in marching with her to the court building, and were overjoyed when the decision was made. Ms Rothery was mobbed with champagne and celebrations after the decision was made.
Ms Rothery said: “It was such a relief to know that we are all going to have a good Christmas. There was nothing I could do to replace that.”
“Being able to see things like nativity plays and Christmas markets, and having some of my older supporters in the fracking community knowing I was safe is completely comforting for me.”
Ms Rothery noted Cuadrilla had “foolishly shown their hand taking a grandmother” into court, and said the potential bad publicity toward the company could have caused them to drop all pursuit of costs.
Yet Ms Rothery’s turbulent history with fracking has been typical of British campaigners who are trying to stop shale gas drilling across their countryside.
Over 500 anti-fracking groups have been set up in the U.K. Not only this, but British public opinion is also against the prospect of fracking.
Why is fracking still being pushed on the public?
It is clear that recent events such as Ms Rothery’s legal case and the Conservative government overruling Lancashire County Council’s judgement of rejecting fracking in October showed a disconnection between the state and public.
Tina Rothery said Communities’ Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision to overrule Lancashire County Council shows that conclusions made by elected councillors “do not make an ounce of difference”.
She explained: “It means that not only are the government are willing to shove fracking down our throats and take risks with our children’s health when we do not want it. It also means they are prepared to fracture democracy to make it happen.”
Tina also believes there is unfairness between communities campaigning for change going up against the extensive legal teams of oil and gas companies like Cuadrilla.
She said: “Companies like Cuadrilla can wield the legal system against us because they will always have more money, more time, and they will always have more lawyers. They can drag legal battles out and the community can’t afford to fight it.
Ms Rothery added that recent legal challenges such as that of Preston New Road should not have to crowd-source to build funds for their challenge: “Justice should not have price- justice should be free”.
The mother and grandmother’s belief that Cuadrilla dropped all costs due to fear of public backlash could show a significant shift in the public attitude towards the government and their plans for energy resources.
With over 2000 people from across the nation attending Manchester’s anti-fracking rally on November 12 this year, including speeches from Manchester mayoral candidate Andy Burnham and Bianca Jagger, the movement is clearly picking up steam:
— Jack Donnelly (@JackDonnellySOL) November 12, 2016
Ms Rothery spoke at the event, and said: “People who came out to the march came with for the same reason: they wanted to protect something that was important to them.
She added: “Even when you look down at big crowds you see the same people down at the community meetings. It’s the same cause that has brought them out.”
Ms Rothery herself has been also the subject of support from celebrities ranging from actor Mark Ruffalo, actress Emma Thompson, and designer Vivienne Westwood in the social media campaign #IAmTina.
Emma Thompson teamed up with Tina earlier this year to raise awareness in combatting fracking.
The pair, amongst others, broke a court injunction to occupy a fracking site near Preston to film a ‘Frack Free Bake Off’ special episode.
Tina said: “Having Emma Thompson there as a friend gave me some real solidarity- but it helped that she had such a high profile to get the spread the word as well.
She added, laughing: “So now we have The Hulk and Nanny McPhee. You just know we are the good guys”.
What’s next for Tina, and the campaign against fracking as a whole?
Cuadrilla could begin drilling for shale gas by as early as April next year at its Preston New Road site.
With environmental campaigners launching a legal challenge against the drilling proposals, the near future debate over the use of fracking looks to be fierce.
The Conservatives are confident that fracking will be successful however. Sajid Javid believes fracking will bring in 75,000 jobs and £3bn in investment.
Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan has also claimed that the U.K.’s gas supply could power the nation for 40-50 years.
Yet prominent campaigners such as Tina will continue to campaign, knowing that the British government’s decision on fracking will shape the worldwide perspective on the controversial energy source.
“Almost every country around the world is watching what the U.K. will do with fracking. South Africa are waiting for our next decision on what we’ll do before they move forward with it.
“If we stop the process, it will set a beautiful precedent that people can rest their hat on.”
“What I do know is we will continue to run all around the country trying to speak to every person we can,” she said, smiling, “I’m feeling very optimistic for 2017”.
Just five days after her court hearing, Tina Louise Rothery is already looking for how she can promote her cause further. With the waves of public support rising across the nation and now the world, her fight against fracking may be taken to greater heights.