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DECC

Imprisonment of Information

We believe that the Community Benefits scheme for shale gas is shoddily put together, inadequately thought through and shows every sign of being policy made on the hoof.

It talks fuzzily of payments to communities without defining what a community is, it talks about making payments to county councils when they are te ones being asked to make decisions on related planning applications and it suggests amounts which would scarcely pay for a 20 MPH scheme in Lancashire, let alone provide any meaningful compensation for the financial loss and loss of amenity that would be suffered if shale gas exploration and production were allowed to go ahead.

We have asked Mark Menzies MP whether he agrees that there would be a conflict of interest if County Councils both made decisions on planning applications and received funds if, and only, if they were granted. He has not replied.

We made a Freedom of information Request to the DECC to find out more about the background nearly 2 months ago. We asked for

(a) All submissions to DECC Ministers which concern community benefits
relating to shale gas or fracking during the period 1 January 2012 to the date of
this email;

(b) All correspondence between DECC Ministers and the Office of
Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO) which concern community benefits
relating to shale gas or fracking during the same period.

(c) All correspondence between DECC Ministers and Cuadrilla Resources (or
associated companies) on the subject of said community benefits during the
same period.

We finally received this response today from a staffer at the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil

Thank you for your email of 10th July 2013 where you requested the following
information:

(a) All submissions to DECC Ministers which concern community benefits relating to shale gas or fracking during the period 1 January 2012 to the date of this email;

(b) All correspondence between DECC Ministers and the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO) which concern community benefits relating to shale gas or fracking during the same period.

(c) All correspondence between DECC Ministers and Cuadrilla Resources (or associated companies) on the subject of said community benefits during the same period.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’), you have the right to:
• know whether we hold the information you require
• be provided with that information (subject to any exemptions under the Act which may apply).

We can confirm that we hold information in the scope of your questions (a) and (b).

In relation to the information requested under (a) and (b), we believe this information is exempt from disclosure under Section 35(1)(a) of the Freedom of
Information Act, which provides that information may be exempt from disclosure where it relates to the formulation and development of government policy.
The exemption from disclosure under Section 35(1) (a) of the Act is subject to a public interest test.

We recognise that there is a general public interest in the disclosure of information, as greater transparency makes government more accountable, and there is a public interest in being able to assess the quality of information and advice given to Ministers, which is used in subsequent policy formulation.

However, there is also a public interest in the government making the best possible decisions. Good government depends on good decision-making and this needs to be based on the best advice available and a full consideration of all the options without fear of premature disclosure. As the shale gas industry is at an early stage, policy on community benefits for shale gas is being formulated and reviewed as companies move into exploration and production phases and the industry develops operating experience. The onshore industry launched the Community Engagement Charter on 27 June 2013 and has committed to keeping the Charter and interaction with local communities under review. Industry will be consulting communities on the benefits that will be offered to them, and Ministers will continue to monitor developments in this area. Government policy on community benefits for shale will be formulated and reviewed in light of these developments.

We believe that any disclosure of information of the type specified would prejudice the ability of Ministers and officials to conduct rigorous and candid risk assessments of their policies and programmes including considerations of the pros and cons without there being premature disclosure which might close off better options. In our view, the balance of public interest therefore lies in withholding the information you have requested.

We can confirm that we do not hold the information requested under (c).

We have asked for a review of this decision

We need to be able to see what communication is happening around these community benefits because it is currently being handled in such an obviously incompetent way. The results of disclosure might well be embarrassing but that is surely no reason to refuse the request.

Fallon on deaf ears?

Michael Fallon MP has been Minister of State for Energy since September 2012 – it’s a role in which people don’t seem to last a long time. Previous recent incumbents have been Charles Hendry and John Hayes.

Speaking at the first meeting of the new All Party Parliamentary Group for Unconventional Gas and Oil (APPG) in the House of Commons yesterday, Fallon said the government hopes to “accelerate shale gas development in a responsible way” by creating “the right framework“. He added that “robust regulation is now in place“.

Having researched specifically the issues of regulation and monitoring (at a UK and EU level) over the last three years, I can assure the Minister he is entirely incorrect – just as I had to assure his two predecessors.

They made very similar statements about regulation to Mr. Fallon’s until I met them and explained just how poor the regulatory framework was. They then changed the tone of their statements considerably and in the case of Mr. Hendry was promptly re-shuffled off to the back benches for his pains. Mr. Hayes clearly couldn’t get out fast enough, but, whilst he was in post, he assured me he would act on my findings. He did at least set up the Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil but, as expected, that has proven itself to be nothing but a talking shop with no action whatsoever coming out of it.

A senior civil servant at the DECC informed me only last week that there were to be absolutely no new regulations at all. It looks as though Mr. Fallon clearly needs better advice and needs to consult his Department, rather than his SPADs, more often. We have no new regulations and minimal monitoring – it’s business as usual for Cuadrilla and Co. That’s more than can be said for the Health and Safety Executive . The only regulator who understood anything about oil and gas (the OSD – Offshore Safety Division at the HSE) has been scrapped (“re-structured” in State Speak) and we are left with a HSE in disarray and an Environment Agency that is naïve when it comes to oil and gas exploration.

To add some meat to these bones, the OSD (when it existed) did not visit any of the wells in Lancashire even once to verify and inspect for well integrity. This is a simple statement but it means that any amount of leakage, methane migration, or chemicals leaking into formations and the aquifer could have happened, and we’d know nothing about it. That’s what monitoring and ensuring well integrity is all about preventing. The OSD relied on a fax every Friday from Cuadrilla telling then it was all just fine. As for the EA, they classify fracturing flow-back fluid as non-toxic when, according to their own records (as tested by them after the author insisted this was done back in Dec 2011), it contains lead at 1,438 times drinking water, arsenic at 20 times, cadmium 150 times, chromium at 636 times and radiation at 90 times the EA’s own limit. They fail to grasp the fact that this fluid is subject to the risk of leakage 3 miles below the surface where the EA cannot inspect and have neither the resources nor the expertise to do so.

With no new regulations and minimal inspections I can reliably inform Mr. Fallon he is wrong in stating that “robust regulation is now in place“. I would happily meet him to explain, but I fear he would be in danger of being re-shuffled shortly after. Listening to and acting on the truth seems to be more dangerous to a political career than burying your head deep in the sand.

Let’s be clear here – without adequate regulation fracking must not happen – but it is happening and we are not protected!

Frack Free Lancashire

Fracking In the UK

Fracking The UK

If you want to learn about fracking this book comes highly recommended!

"Untrustworthy, unbalanced and potentially brain washing." - Amazon Review - Yes the industry hates this book that much :-)