The Bentley Effect - An Inspiring Call to Action

The Bentley Effect is a documentary of resistance currently touring the UK with two of its main protagonists. On Thursday the lucky audience was in Edinburgh. 

The film charts the story of three communities over five years on the front line against Unconventional Gas extraction (UCG) in New South Wales, Australia. When the regional government granted several licenses to Arrow Energy to begin drilling for gas in the Northern Rivers shire, people were rightly angry that there had been no public consultation about the issue given the widely uncertain environmental and health implications. In the first two communities, we witness a build-up of local resistance to UCG activity, and when the issue is finally put to the polls in the regional centre of Lismore, 87% vote against it.

Yet the government continue with their plans regardless, and so the people are forced to stop UCG in its tracks. The creativity of the communities in slowing down the industry vehicles on their way to drill sites is astounding. In front of the convoy, cars ‘break down’, people faint, and others walk painfully slowly to hold up the trucks. At the end of the road, a full blockade contains hundreds of people, from local residents to indigenous tribe members, from conservative farmers to environmentalists, and a handmade rig structure with the ‘knitting nanas’ at the top. The issue rises in salience in the community, yet eventually both of the first two blockades are broken up (sometimes violently) by the police. It is a difficult sight to watch.

By now, however, there is momentum. The final site of proposed UCG extraction that the documentary takes us to is Bentley, where slowly a camp of protesters from all over the region rises to numbers well over 5000. As the camp increasingly receives national attention, more people eager to help join from further afield. Soon, 10,000 people are at the site, playing music, learning non-violent activism, and each member giving in their own personal capacity to the community at large. Equally, the estimated numbers of police increases to 850, with increasing nervousness about what this might mean for people at the camp.

But the number of people and their sheer resilience turned out to be the necessary amount of critical mass. One day, a resident wakes up to hear that the government has suspended the license. Soon the New South Wales government buy back all 18 of their UCG licenses, in what is an incredible victory for people power and an inspiring message for all of those on the environmental frontline.

After the screening, we heard from some voices who have had experience with UCG in the UK at different levels of governance. Tommy Sheppard of the SNP, who is running to be an MP for Edinburgh East, explained from his own accounts how the UK government has gone all out on fracking (another type of UCG), including overturning Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject planning applications for fracking.

Sheppard argued that the Scottish government’s current consultation on whether to permit UCG needs lots of responses to really make the case that the people of Scotland do not want it. Andy Wightman, a Green MSP, spoke of how even if the Scottish government come out of the consultation saying they will not proceed with UCG, the importance is in how they go about this. Wightman makes the case that there either needs to be a full legal ban (which is currently being passed through parliament as a bill by Scottish Labour’s Claudia Beamish) or such robust environmental regulations that it could not be permitted. One of the touring protagonists of the documentary, Ian, mentioned that in New South Wales, the government simply suspended the licenses, saying ‘they don’t intend to come back’ – this leaves wiggle room for a potential return of the industry which Scotland could do well to avoid. After all, Fracking has been banned in New York, Catalonia, Germany, France, and many other places due to its dire environmental impacts. There is plenty of reason for Scotland to pursue a similar line.

Flick Monk of Friends of the Earth Scotland spoke about how after the Scottish fracking consultation closes on 31 May, there will need to be sustained pressure on the Scottish parliament when they come back from recess to ensure the right decision is still made. At the same time, there needs to be continual support flowing to North England where fracking wells are to begin appearing over the summer.

A couple of members of the audience raise the question about how to spread awareness of the impacts of UCG, particularly when it is such a technical issue. Responses from the group include using local groups to put on more screenings (such as Groundswell Rising, Gasland) and public events. If you live in a largely disengaged area, it was suggested to set up in the community regardless of the apathy, and building relationships based on mutual interest before engaging in acts of resistance.

One audience member raised the point that while areas currently exposed to the UCG industry are vast – in the US and Australia – the central belt of Scotland is home to huge numbers of people in a densely-packed space, and so people will notice when vast convoys of trucks start driving past their roads. However, ideally fracking could be stopped before this became a reality.

One audience member also raised the interesting point that they themselves did not feel they were part of the ‘green bubble’. There is often concern about events like this film screening preaching to the converted, and this person felt that after watching the film they still felt unsure about why putting up a gas drill was any worse than lining the landscape with solar panels. At this point the issue of the carbon budget was used to explain how there is only a certain amount of fossil fuel reserves (coal, oil and gas) that can be burnt before we increase global average temperatures to over 2°C, above which catastrophic climate change will occur. While this may not be enough to convince people why UCG must be stopped, the point is also raised that people can educate themselves through the vast amount of material that has now been produced on the dangers of fracking and UCG in general, and on climate change (for example, it was mentioned that Groundswell Rising is a good documentary to be watched alongside the Bentley Effect, as the former is more technical and the latter shows what can be done about it). At the end of the day, the importance is in getting the word out.

Overall I leave the screening and discussion feeling reinvigorated to step up my activism. In the end, enough people doing what they could was what got 10,000 people into the Northern Rivers of New South Wales to halt UCG expansion in its tracks and show communities across the world that people power can, every now and then, prevent the relentless advance of big industry. That can inspire all of us to do more.

Useful links:

The Bentley Effect -

Respond to the Fracking Consultation -

Learn more, and shorter response options to the Fracking Consultation -


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