Lord Chris Smith, the head of the new industry-funded Task Force on Shale Gas, yesterday urged the government to be open about all the information it had on fracking.
Giving evidence to MPs on fracking risks, Lord Smith was asked if he would write to the government calling for publication of an unredacted version of a report on the rural Impacts of fracking. He said:
“I would be very happy to say to the government that openness is absolutely essential. I would say exactly the same to the industry”.
The report, commissioned by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was published last July in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. There were more than 60 redactions . The Environmental Audit Committee, which is conducting an inquiry on the risks of fracking, has joined calls for the publication on an unredacted version.
Pressed by the committee chair, Joan Walley, whether he would ask for the report to be released in full, Lord Smith said:
“I would certainly be prepared to write to the government and say you must be open about all the information you have in relation to this subject”.
Lord Smith said people drew their own conclusions when information was not clear and open.
His task force, established last October, has the aim of providing, in its words, “a transparent, trusted, independent and impartial platform for public scrutiny, discussion and information about shale gas exploration and production in the UK”.
Lord Smith told the committee its first report on the local impacts of shale gas was due to be published in March. A second report on environmental impacts would be ready in the summer. The final report would be on the implications of shale gas on climate change.
He said he had already met communities at Wisborough Green and Billingshurst in West Sussex, where Celtique Energie had applied for permission to drill exploratory oil wells. Lord Smith said he had been surprised during these talks to discover that information about the number and frequency of lorry movements needed by the development had not been made clearly available when the planning applications were being considered.
“That is precisely the sort of thing that communities are going to be extremely concerned and worried about. If you don’t have that clarity of information then they are going to draw very obvious conclusions”, he said.
The other witness appearing with Lord Smith was Steve Thompsett, director of the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas. He was also asked if he would guarantee to write to the government about the redacted report. Mr Thompsett said: “No I don’t think I could guarantee that”.
He said: “I don’t know the contents of the said document”. He added: “I don’t know the details of it. I haven’t seen it. It is not for me to comment on whether it should be published”.
Earlier he had said that perhaps people didn’t understand what fracking was. The Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, said this risked sounding patronising.
She said: “People I have met have spent an awful lot of time getting their heads round this stuff and though some things that some people say may not be true the vast majority is pretty rigorous stuff”.
Mr Thompsett apologised and said this wasn’t his intention. He said:
“We need to give people a balanced view from both sides. We need to give people the evidence about the technique that is undertaken, what the operation really is, and let them then form their own view about whether that is something they are willing to accommodate in their community”.
More reports from the EAC fracking risks inquiry: MPs quiz EA on fracking risks and safety