British government officials have been collaborating in private with shale gas companies to manage the public’s hostility to fracking, it was revealed in emails released under freedom of information act.
The UK government has been found sharing pre-prepared statements with shale gas bosses as well as meeting for elaborate dinners, as well as tet-a-tet for “further discussion over post dinner drinks”. The fracking industry also shared lists with the government of ‘stakeholders’ to be targeted.
The emails were sent throughout 2013. In one email discussing contentious policy plans the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) apologizes to the UK Onshore Operatives Group (UKOOG): “Sorry to raise your blood pressure on this subject again, no expletives please!”
Another email from Centrica to Decc officials warned that officials in Lancashire County Council (a country which has seen earth tremors from exploratory fracking) were not convinced there was enough government regulation for shale gas.
“The most common theme [of a county council 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,” the email read.
But Decc emailed UKOOG before a review by Public Health England of the health and environmental impact of fracking that the regulation was already sufficient.
“We are confident that there is robust appropriate regulation in the UK to ensure safe operations that minimize impacts to human health.”
In yet another email Ken Cronin, UKOOG’s chief executive, tells Duarte Figueira, head of unconventional gas and oil at Decc: “Thanks for a productive meeting (it’s like being set homework).”
Lawrence Carter, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace, who made the Freedom of Information request from Decc, said that the government has been acting as an arm of the industry.
“The government is 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, which owns Centrica – a major player in the shale gas industry – has an executive working within Decc on secondment.
Officials have defended the revelations saying that such discussions were “right and proper”, reports The Guardian.
David Cameron, one of the government’s biggest supporters of fracking, has rejected EU proposals for binding rules for shale gas exploration. Earlier this week he also announced financial incentives for councils and local communities, slammed as bribes by opponents. The PM said the UK was going “all out for shale”.
Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP, said the revelations were an example of the “creepily cozy” relationship between government and big energy companies.
"Apparently it's not enough to give fracking companies generous tax breaks, the government also has to help them with their PR. Instead of cheerleading for fracking, the government should be working with community and renewable energy to move us towards a low carbon future,” she said.
Extraction by fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals into the ground, which creates excess hydro waste, which over time local residents worry will result in contamination of the water table.
Environmental protests have stalled exploration efforts across the UK.
The most recent protests were targeted against IGas, when demonstrators blocked access to a shale gas drilling site outside Manchester with a 1.5 ton wind turbine blade tied up with Christmas bow. A local activist group says the act is “symbolic” and the Britain should be pursuing more environmentally-friendly energy sources.