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Goodbye fracking! A letter to 2021.

Dear 2021,

The end of the year is a time for reflection and taking stock of the year almost past. You’ve been an interesting year for me, 2021, and I’m grateful for all the lessons that I’ve learnt. You’ve been largely a year of transition when I was moving from one country to another and from one research topic to a newly rediscovered research interest. In this way, you weren’t just another year but a kind of a “quilting point” that marks the end of quite a few years of work and life across several countries.

Appropriately, in these past 12 months I’ve released three publications that I have been working on since I began my research on fracking and shale gas. The first one was a big summary of my research across five gas exploration sites in England. It is based on ethnographic research that I conducted when I lived just a few miles from the potential and operating fracking sites and visited other locations slated for natural gas exploration and extraction. The publication analyses the social impacts of natural gas developments through the lens of those who live, work and protest in the vicinity of these sites. Across its 160 pages are written the stories and experiences of those who were dealing with the reality of living near a gas site at a time of worsening climate change and growing socioeconomic inequalities in England and worldwide. I hope that, like my earlier report, it will be useful for all those who are in decision-making positions locally and nationally, to understand the effects that their choices may have for those on the ground. But most of all, this report was my promise to all those who took part in the research – I promised that their experiences, determination and struggle won’t be forgotten.

And just as you’re drawing to a close, dear 2021, I’ve received an unexpected message from a small local library in Lancashire that I remember fondly from my fieldwork as a place to read local newspapers, print interview consent forms and stay in warmth while my room was getting too cold to sit still. The message was reminding me that my library card was about to expire and prompted me to fill in a renewal form. As I was mindlessly filling in the blanks in the form, I stumbled on a field for my new address and in a flash of consciousness I realised that I may never need the card again! It was hard to come to terms with the realisation that I may never again need the comforts that this tiny library offered its active and thankful community. It may even be the case that I won’t need to go back to Lancashire at all with all the opportunities for staying in touch online! Lancashire was a place where I spent most of my research time in England. From the lovely beaches of St Annes on the Sea through my beloved Kirkham to the slightly rough neighbourhoods in Blackpool, I knew many backroads and country lanes that took me to the homes, offices and farms of those who opened their doors to me and my research. Throughout the five years when I was doing this work, we often pondered on the situation they were in – feeling simultaneously powerless in the face of the government’s determination to facilitate fracking and powerful as part of a community struggle to decide what was best for them. This paradoxical state was what prompted me to write an article about the practice of “watching fracking” whereby members of the local communities observed the fracking process and scrupulously took notes of every vehicle entering the site and every time the pumps started and stopped. Why were they doing it? It seemed to me that “watching fracking” was about trying to have a voice when others were trying to erase it.

The last publication that arrived just a few days before you’re history, 2021, was my first book in Polish. It was also a promise that I gave to the residents of a small village in eastern Poland – Żurawlów. When they took on fighting Chevron, nobody believed their story would become one of the longest-running protests in the country (it lasted 400 days). When I became interested in their experiences, I was still living in Ireland but I contacted then when I visited home for Christmas. It turned out that they were about to go to court because Chevron sued them on a number of different charges. I was invited to attend the hearing with them and soon got completely hooked on the topic of shale gas. Over the years, I decided that I wanted to know more about the history of shale gas in Poland and conducted some more research in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; I also spoke to decision makers, experts and the industry. The book that just came out is about the history of the shale gas phenomenon in Poland but also about its magic – its enchanting and disenchanting qualities that felt so powerful at the time. Although the bulk of the book talks about the protest in Żurawlów, explaining the details of its origins and operation, it does so in a larger context of changes in law, expectations of scientists and experts as well as the long-term diplomatic relations with the United States.

Although there may be a few more pieces about fracking that I will publish in the future, it feels like with these three texts, I can say goodbye to fracking as the main focus of my work!

This work would not have been possible without all the people in Poland and England who have made it such an enjoyable and fascinating experience and for this, 2021, I am grateful to all those who trusted me with their stories and accepted that for academic work, I had to talk with “friends”, “enemies” and everyone in between. Thank you for reading drafts of my papers; thank you for providing encouraging (and at times also critical) feedback; thank you for being willing to explain things to me and meet with me even if talking about fracking was causing sadness and a crampy stomach; thank you for giving me heads-up and for defending my work; thank you for using my work; thank you for sharing endless teas and coffees… and the amazing chocolate cake! 2021, please give them all my best wishes for the upcoming 2022.

As you’re here only for a few more hours, know that I’m grateful to you too! I am moving on to something new now – another journey that will present its own challenges and bring a fair bit of “eventfulness”, I’m sure. But I hope that I will still encounter the same kindness, support and decency that I’ve experienced during my research on fracking and that I will be able to give it back. So please say goodbye to fracking from me, 2021, and wish us all fascinating research and some peace of mind in 2022.



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