Shale gas 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 pre-prepared statements with the industry last year before 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 was guilty of cheerleading, but officials defended the discussionsaid facilitating discussions was “right and proper” as “right and proper”.
This week David Cameron said the government was “going all out for shale” and announced financial incentives for councils and local communities, labelled bribes by opponents. There have been major protests against fracking at sites across the country, and a Guardian poll last summer showed the public 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’s chief executive, Ken Cronin, tells Duarte Figueira, head of Decc’s office of unconventional gas and oil: “Thanks for a productive meeting (it’s like being set homework).”
Decc emailed what it called “lines to take” to UKOOG before the publication of a review by Public Health England of the potential public health effects of chemical and radioactive pollutants from fracking. One such 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.”
Another email, from the big six energy company Centrica to Decc officials, warned that Lancashire county council was far from convinced about the level of regulation. Centrica, which spent £100m on a 25% share of Cuadrilla’s fracking operation in the county, said: “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.”
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 told Decc it was 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 told Centrica the discussions between the two were “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.
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