Gas pollution seeps into government

Guildford District Councillor Nick Sutcliffe is paid to lobby for fracking company Cuadrilla, just one of the ways the gas industry pollutes our democratic process

The gas industry is not only environmentally irresponsible – it’s lobbyists, paid representatives and vested interests also pollute our democratic process.

To do this, the industry uses a complex series of interventions to promote their case, almost all of it hidden from public view. Below we reveal some of the ways the gas industry exerts informal influence on decision-making:

Secondments
Earlier this year MP Caroline Lucas revealed 50 people working inside government are paid by energy-related industries. These ‘secondments’ are placed inside the Treasury, DECC and DEFRA, amongst others. They work for companies such as Centrica (parent company to British Gas), oil company ConocoPhillips, and lobby group the UK Petroleum Industry Association.

One DECC official – paid by ConocoPhillips – works in the Oil and Gas licensing, Exploration and Development team. He oversees DECC scrutiny of North Sea oil and gasfields (confirmed via phone call to DECC press office). ConocoPhillips have several rigs in the area.

Debts of allegiance
A controversial figure within the fracking debate is the chairman of Cuadrilla Resource Holdings Ltd, the UK’s first fracking company: Lord Browne.

Browne works in the Cabinet Office and has spoken publicly in support of fracking. Yet the peer’s influence also comes from the many allegiances he has created during his time in the corridors of power. One of Browne’s government tasks has been to appoint non-executive directors to each government department. The people appointed to these jobs have one thing in common: they owe their position to Browne.

Other government insiders also owe financial allegiance to the fracking industry, such as Barroness Hogg. Hogg is a non-executive on the board of BG Group which previously owned Scottish fracker Composite Energy. BG Group also has a contract to buy fracked gas from Composite’s new owner, Dart Energy.

Hogg also sits on board of the treasury (in a Browne-created position), arguably the most powerful department in government.

Co-opt research institutes
Two major government-commissioned reports on fracking have been released this year.

Both reports were issued by seemingly august institutions. And both had hidden financial ties links to the oil and gas industry.

In May the the Royal Academy of Engineers recomended fracking continue with minor caveats. In the last three years the RAE has taken £601,000 from oil and gas companies. It’s previous Chairman was Lord Browne.

In March the British Geological Society studied fracking and earthquakes, failing to consider an earthquakes effect on the integrity of a well.  The BGS also supports a project which bears the logo of 23 oil and gas companies, most of which have interests in hydraulic fracturing

One report author, Peter Styles, had a gas well drilled on his university’s campus (it didn’t produce).

These diverse levers inside and outside government can be used in many ways: from obfuscating Issues around climate change to advocating inadequte risk assessments. Legislative controls are always an important target, as is the pretence that they’re doing just the opposite.

Gas, in other words, is a professional corporate game.

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