On Monday, July 7th, 2014, at 4 AM, the employees of the American company Chevron left the village Żurawlów in the Lubelskie Region. After 400 days of persisting protest, the farmers, inhabitants and activists managed to stop shale gas drilling.
Ewa Sufin-Jacquemart, Roman Kurkiewicz and Magdalena Krysińska-Kałużna comment on this event.
People were the most important!
president of “Strefa Zieleni” Foundation
It was the longest local protest against shale gas drilling in the world. Various factors contributed to that. First, before Chevron came to Żurawlów, it operated in Rogów. After seismic surveys, the walls in some houses there cracked and then they left. Even before drilling, something has already happened. It also turned out that the local government was not informed at all. Its members did not know anything about the boreholes and threats associated with them, they were not able to answer any of the questions. Because of that the reluctance to drilling was rising.
The most important are the people, who started and led this protest. There is one farmer, Wiesiek Gryn, who together with his family cultivates 700 hectares. If it wasn’t for him, not much would be achieved. Wiesiek acts within agricultural organizations, he has authority. At the beginning, he was not against drilling. But he changed his mind, just as other farmers did, after what happened in Rogów. It turned out that there are huge groundwater reservoirs below and that if one of them gets contaminated, the same will happen to the rest. Organizational issues were handled by Basia Siegieńczuk and Andrzej Bąk – they are from the city, from Zamość. They had enough knowledge and experience to take it up. There is also a very sensible and wise provost, Emil Jabłoński. After some time young people from all over Poland started coming with an intention to help.
It was the longest local protest against shale gas drilling in the world. The more popular the case of Żurawlów got, the more people felt responsible. It was no longer only about Żurawlów. It ended up as a kind of story about David and Goliath.
We were convinced that if we surrender, nobody will even show interest in taking action.
Chevron has played an important role in the success achieved by the inhabitants of Żurawlów. It invested large amounts of money in image campaign. In the spots, people from Chevron kept talking about how much they care about the environment, working conditions and relations with local communities. Yet we all know the reality. They sued farmers for calling others to resist. Eight cases are still in court. The most absurd charges were directed at Andrzej Gryn. In court, some policemen testified that he burst into the area belonging to Chevron. Yet the judge realized that the witnesses saw Gryn for the first time in the courtroom. Even worse thing were happening in Romania, where the protests were brutally suppressed and the inhabitants of the village were constantly disturbed. Chevron has finally realised the harmfulness of the contrast between the image campaign and reality.
I am in touch with the people form Żurawlów. Since last Monday we hope that it all has ended for good. Yet Chevron’s vehicles left the village in a rather weird way. Secretly, at 4 AM. As the main road was blocked by the farmers, the employees of the company had to drive by the houses of the inhabitants. They jumped out in pyjamas to take photos of this cowardly escape.
The hope that it has been an end does not come out of nowhere. Last month Chevron left Ministrówka in the Miączyn district, near Żurawlów. Some water boreholes were made, but then all the equipment disappeared. The pit was left empty and Chevron does not seem eager to defend the well. At the same time, the equipment disappeared also from Pungești in Romania. The protests there were much more brutal than in Poland, but they also resulted in getting rid of Chevron.
A great advantage of the protesters is based on the fact that they do not act individually, but in group. The most active committees against drilling take action in five countries: Argentina. Ecuador, Romania, USA and Nigeria.
On May 21st, which was an international day of mobilization against Chevron, we signed the Victim’s Declaration. There are also signatures of more than 200 organizations from all over the world. The inhabitants of Żurawlów are also engaged in a national network Złupieni.pl. They act together with people from Mazovia and the Kashubian and Lubelskie regions. They organize workshops and cooperate with the European countries. This cooperation resulted, among others, in an open letter to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who accused environmental groups of acting according to the orders of Russia and its gas tycoons.
The presence of Chevron in Żurawlów has come to an end (at least we hope so), but the employees of the company still have not left the Lubelskie region. It is possible that they will start drilling in the Susiec district, in Roztocze. Żurawlów is to send an open question to PGNiG if they are going to drill in the Lubelskie region, as their arrangements with Chevron remain unclear. First they answer that they are only obliged to exchange the results of surveys, but when asked more difficult questions they seem to be confused.
In the nearest future we will be focused on Roztocze. Yet we cannot forget the victory in Żurawlów. It would not be achieved if it was not for the mobilization of the inhabitants, international cooperation and insolence of Chevron encouraging everyone to act.
Let’s move the capital to Żurawlów!
The fact that a small group of people – farmers and inhabitants of a village Żurawlów near Zamość managed to win over a global concern, Chevron, and force it to leave after the protest lasting 400 days is comforting. It shows that even a small community acting with outstanding civil determination is able to win in an unequal confrontation. It is not only another version of a never-ending fight between David and Goliath. This case shows that the protesters who were left alone, left by the state, the police, the voivode, the local government and media (for media Żurawlów is too far away and they, similarly to the authorities, totally in love with the shale gas remaining blind to the lack of reciprocity and harm caused by drilling), thanks to the loyalty to their rights and for the sake of commitment to something more important than mere interim benefits (that were tempting…) persisted and witnessed the escape of the ashamed vehicles belonging to Chevron – the company that is threatened by the highest fine ever (tens of billions of dollars) for its abusive practices. They won without money and without support (except for some activist, ecologists and the Greens), getting rid of the ones who used to live the shale gas dream.
What kind of victory it was? Real and symbolic. And unfortunately it is a victory in a battle, and not in a war going on on unequal terms.
Even a small community acting with outstanding civil determination is able to win in an unequal confrontation.On one side there is the government (changing without public debate the mining and geologic laws according to the interests of global mining companies) in which the position of the Minister of Environment (who might be considered as a natural ally of the protesters) is occupied by a senior official of the Ministry of Economy in order to facilitate shale businesses. On the same side are global concerns, among which there are companies dependent on Gazprom that is often used as an explanation of a quick shale action supposed to provide us with independence from Russian gas. On the other side there is a group of people asking simple questions: what will happen to the water after fracking? What will happen to the earth? What about the destruction for that, according to the new law, the contractor is not responsible? What about our roads that are not adapted to the arrival of the heavy equipment? Nobody answered any of these questions – neither the state, nor Chevron that actually run away from them. Żurawlów popularity and sympathy from tens of countries and its media. Only Polish journalists seemed uninterested.
After all, we should be glad that thanks to the persistence of the inhabitants we heard the voices full of doubt in the procedures and laws serving mining tycoons at the expense of ordinary people. This and every next government (as far as the enthusiasm for shale gas drilling is concerned, mainstream parties do not differ much) will have to start answering the questions posed by the protesters.
If this does not happen, we will have to make Żurawlów the capital city. That is where we saw people fighting for better future for Poland. May you be praised, defenders of Żurawlów!
Żurawlów is not Manhattan
Plush tigers, 600 meters of pavement, Christmas gifts for toddlers, computers for secondary school students… When I read about presents that Chevron gave to the inhabitants of Żurawlów, where shale gas drilling was supposed to be performed, it reminded me the history of Huaroni from the Ecuadorian Amazon.
When the government washes hands when the actions taken by the corporations are concerned, the citizens have to act on their own so that the rules of the game could be fair.Oil concerns were buying boat engines and engine-powered saws for the local Indians. The companies assumed that these who got presents would be more likely to accept the practices performed in their neighborhood and will consent to drilling during the consultations. At the ceremony that took place on Huaorani terrains in 1993, not long after the Indians agreed to drilling performed by the company Maxus, the daughter of the president of Ecuador, Alicia Durán Ballén took off her golden earrings and gave them to one of the Huaorani women saying in English to the rest of the government delegation: “Is it, according to you, a sensible exchange?”. Mark Wiznitzer, a political advisor from the USA embassy responded: “That’s how we conquered Manhattan”.
Half a month ago to Żurawlów came two Argentinians taking actions for improvement of the living conditions of the local communities and for preserving the good state of the environment in the region Neuquén inhabited by the Indians Mapuche. Shale gas drilling is going to be performed there on a large scale. After talking to the Polish farmers they concluded that the way the mining concerns act are basically the same in Poland as in Argentina.
Ecuador as well as Argentina ratified the 169. Convention of the International Labour Organization that imposes among others the obligation of consulting with the locals the practices of mining and exploiting the deposits on the areas inhabited by them. Signing the contracts with the mining concerns, Huaorani did not know, what was going to happen next. When negotiating with such strong subjects they should have been supported by the government. Yet it was impossible as the government had already been on the other side in these negotiations. Even the appropriate regulations, when not supported by the government and non-governmental organizations, will not work in a situation in which the power balance is highly unequal.
When the government washes hands when the actions taken by the corporations are concerned, the citizens have to act on their own so that the rules of the game could be fair.
And the citizens from Żurawlów, unlike the Huaorani Indians, have apparently known the story of conquering Manhattan.