23rd March 2014
According to documents seen by The Guardian, the chair of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith, offered last year to speed up a permit application by Cuadrilla. He also offered to intervene with West Sussex County Council on Cuadrilla’s planning application at Balcombe and identify further risks to the company’s plans.
The paper reported that Lord Browne, Cuadrilla’s chair and also the government’s lead non-executive director, asked for a meeting with environment secretary, Owen Paterson, to discuss a disagreement over which permits the company needed. Within seven days, according to The Guardian, Mr Paterson hosted a teleconference with Lord Browne, Lord Smith, energy minister Michael Fallon, Cuadrilla’s chief executive Francis Egan, and the goverment’s lead official on shale gas.
The teleconference appears to have happened in mid June and discussed whether Cuadrilla needed an environmental permit under the requirements of the European Mining Waste Directive.
According to the documents, obtained under Freedom of Information Act requests, Lord Smith offered “a shortened two week consultation process prior to determining permits”, rather than the usual four weeks. The Guardian said the Environment Agency (EA) redacted this section when it released the meeting minutes under FOI rules but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not when it responded to a separate FOI request.
The Guardian reported that the EA also promised to see “what can be done to simplify the application process further” and offered to engage with West Sussex county council on extending Cuadrilla’s planning permission, which was due to expire in September.
In the minutes the agreed next steps were “The EA will do some additional horizon-scanning for additional risks.”
Caroline Lucas MP told The Guardian she was concerned about the Environment Agency’s approach in the teleconference. It “seems at odds with its responsibilities to protect the environment and to ensure that people have their say on fracking”, she said.