Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Activists Blockade BP Refinery
Photo by Nick Cobbing.

News And Other Busyness

Activists Blockade BP Refinery

Mark Brown reports amidst the action.

Squall 16, Summer 1998, pg. 12.

FINDING THEMSELVES travelling along the approach road to the Coryton BP oil refinery in Essex, a group of daytrippers were so appalled at the sight that they decided to act as concerned citizens and block the road.

Minutes later their antique, deep green Volvo was straddling both lanes and two citizens were attached to the underside of said vehicle. Banners appeared reading 'OILING THE WORLD'S ILLS' and 'TAX OIL NOW', a reference to the absurdly lenient treatment of the oil industry by government. The tax message was particularly apt in that the following day would see Gordon Brown fail to crack down on this ridiculously over-subsidised energy source in his budget.

"It's a clear case of corporate welfare before social welfare," said a UKOOA (UK Oil Overthrow Association) spokesperson. "In the budget we saw the Government pandering to some of the world's richest companies, whilst attacking single mothers, the disabled and the unemployed."

The UKOOA is a group of activists set up after the Kyoto climate conference. The group aims to "keep Kyoto on the agenda" and focus on the oil industry, its infrastructure and the Government which supports it, despite growing evidence of destructive climate change, pollution, human rights abuse and a society addicted to oil.

But back to our story: very soon the approach road was backed up for at least three miles, with over 100 tankers unable to enter the refinery. The citizens, calling themselves UKOOA (accidentally echoing the UK Offshore Operators Association) insisted on meeting with the refinery manager - a Mr Paul Maslin - to discuss their demands; the shutting down of Coryton and a bottle of organic champagne. When the manager finally arrived, there was a wide-ranging, "full and frank exchange of views" between said gent and the two citizens tucked cosily beneath the Volvo, although he was not delighted to be negotiating with two pairs of shoes sticking out from underneath it.

Gradually it became clear that the refinery would not be shut down that day (and that the champagne was not forthcoming), even though the pinioned citizens appeared to have a firmer grasp of the arguments over climate change, oil's social ills and tax breaks than Maslin. At this point the police stepped in and arrested the five unattached citizens for obstruction of the highway (even though many of them were standing on the grass verge at the time). Essex' finest then returned with the largest pair of bolt-croppers they could find, intending to liberate the two remaining citizens: one attached to the steering column with a serious motorbike lock, the other locked to the axle with some well enhanced cuffs. But the copper's croppers proved unequal to the task. At which point the fire brigade were called out, who completed the job inside an hour.

All told, Coryton's one approach road was inaccessible for over two hours, and one of Britain's most admired corporations was in the dock on the day its annual report hit the Net and the doorsteps of its shareholders. The seven citizens were all charged with wilful obstruction of a public highway; what sort of thanks is that for acting so nobly in the public interest?