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Emails reveal UK helping shale gas industry manage fracking opposition

 
David Cameron

Prime minister David Cameron visits Total’s shale gas fracking site in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, UK. Photograph: Wpa Pool/Getty Images

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Emails reveal UK helping shale gas industry manage fracking opposition” was written by Damian Carrington, for theguardian.com on Friday 17th January 2014 15.37 UTC

Shale gas industry executives and government officials collaborated in private to manage the British public’s hostility to fracking, emails released under freedom of information rules reveal.

Officials shared “lines to take” with the industry ahead of major announcements and hosted high-level dinners with “further discussion over post-dinner drinks”, while the industry shared long lists of “stakeholders” to be targeted.

Critics said the government was acting as an arm of the gas industry and guilty of cheerleading, but officials defended the discussions. David Cameron said on Monday the government was “going all out for shale” and announced financial incentives for councils and local communities, labelled bribes by opponents. But there have been major protests against fracking from Lancashire to Sussex, and a Guardian poll shows the public are evenly split for and against shale gas wells near them.

The emails sent throughout 2013 are often chatty, with summer holidays discussed, and in one case the department of energy and climate change (Decc) apologises to the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG): “Sorry to raise your blood pressure on this subject again, no expletives please!” following a discussion of contentious policy points. In another email, UKOOG chief executive, Ken Cronin, tells Duarte Figueira, head of Decc’s office of unconventional gas and oil: “Thanks for a productive meeting (its like being set homework).”

The Decc emailed “lines to take” to the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG) ahead of the publication of a review by Public Health England of the potential public health impacts of chemical and radioactive pollutants resulting from fracking. One line was: “We are confident that there is robust and appropriate regulation in the UK to ensure safe operations that minimise impacts to human health.”

However, another email from big six energy company Centrica to Decc officials warned that Lancashire county council (LCC) was far from convinced about the level of safety regulation. Centrica, which spent £100m on a 25% share of Cuadrilla’s fracking operation in the county, said: “The most common theme [of an LCC meeting] was that separate onshore regulation is needed of shale, they clearly don’t feel totally comfortable with the current situation/or understand how it will work.” Cameron has rejected the need for specific shale gas regulations and has seen off EU proposals for binding rules for shale gas exploration.

Centrica also met Decc to discuss “managing national and local stakeholders”, and shared a list of stakeholders, as did IGas, the company facing fracking protests in Salford. In another email, Centrica tells Decc it is planning to line up academics to make its case: “Our polling shows academics are the most trusted sources of information to the public, so we are looking at ways to work with the academic community to present the scientific facts around shale.” Decc tells Centrica the discussions between the two are “really useful”.

Centrica emailed Decc a figure of 74,000 potential jobs linked to shale gas development, a number later repeated by Cameron and ministers despite Decc’s own study estimating a peak of 16,000 to 32,000 jobs.

The emails also give further details of a dinner in May hosted by Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood at which senior civil servants and fracking executives met. The two hour dinner, at the Preston Marriott, was to be followed by “further discussion over post-dinner drinks”.

A spokeswoman for Decc said: “Decc has working relationships with external partners across its portfolio and this is no different with regards to shale gas. It is right and proper that Decc facilitates discussions between companies, regulators and other interested parties as part of this. The government believes that shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. We are encouraging safe and environmentally sound exploration to determine this potential.”

UKOOG’s Cronin said: “Given the amount of regulatory and wider industry issues at present, you would expect Decc to have a fairly open dialogue with the industry trade body just as Decc has with environmental NGOs, as witnessed by the NGOs’ input into the strategic environmental assessment announced in December.”

Lawrence Carter, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK which made the FOI requests now published by Decc, said: “Decc has again been revealed to be acting as an arm of the gas industry. The government are supposed to represent the interests of the public when they deal with these companies, but the evidence is piling up that they’re all in it together.” British Gas owner Centrica currently has an executive working within Decc on secondment.

 

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