The MP who represents the North Yorkshire village where Third Energy wants to carry out fracking has resigned as the vice-chair of an industry-funded parliamentary group on unconventional oil and gas.
Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, said this afternoon:
“I can confirm that I resigned from my post as Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Committee (APPG) on Unconventional Oil and Gas on Thursday January 14th”.
In an email to the chair, MP Nigel Mills, he wrote:
“A number of constituents have contacted me to express concerns that my involvement with the above [the APPG] is inappropriate, due to the amount of sponsorship it receives from the oil and gas industry. Clearly, this would never influence any of us to take a particular view, but nevertheless, I think I should resign as an officer to make sure that my impartiality is not called into question.”
Mr Hollinrake’s resignation emerged when Frack Free Ryedale, a group campaigning against Third Energy’s planning application, criticised his position on the group and urged him to give it up.
He said: “I understand why Frack Free Ryedale has made its comments but I stand by my commitment to be open-minded and will not be distracted from my duty to represent my constituents, to get the best outcome for the future and to promote and protect our precious countryside”.
“If they had approached me directly, I would have been able to advise them of my letter of resignation from the APPG, which I sent to the chair shortly after being made aware of the funding issue”.
Chris Redston, of Frack Free Ryedale, said:
“We note that Mr Hollinrake now claims he resigned from this APPG committee last Thursday after constituents raised the issue of funding with him.”
“However, there is no confirmation on this on his website, Facebook page or Twitter account, and we wonder if this is simply an attempt at damage limitation, having been caught in bed with the fracking industry. Again.”
“It is simply not credible for Mr Hollinrake to claim that he had no idea that this APPG is funded by the fracking industry. One can only conclude that either Mr Hollinrake is not telling the truth, or is incompetent and unable to do the most basic background checks on a committee where he is the vice-chair.”
The House of Commons register for 2015 shows that APPG had received contributors from Cuadrilla, which has shale gas exploration rights in Yorkshire. PowerBase listed contributions for 2014 from IGas and INEOS, which also hold licences in the region, and the industry group, UKOOG,
According to these lists, funding has also come from: Arup (the consultancy which has prepared reports for Cuadrilla), as well as Total, Centrica, Calor Gas, Shell International, Schlumberger, Ground Gas, and the conference organiser, Shale Gas World.
The group is run by the international lobbying group, Hill + Knowlton Strategies Ltd, and its eight-member advisory panel includes INEOS, UKOOG and the Institute of Directors.
The APPG’s members include the MP Mark Menzies, who represents the Fylde constituency where Cuadrilla has applied to frack two sites. The chair, Nigel Mills, is the Conservative MP for Amber Valley, in Derbyshire, where INEOS was awarded a shale gas licence last year.
New independently-funded APPG
Mr Hollinrake is setting up a new APPG on shale gas regulation and planning, which he says will be independently-funded.
“I have been careful to be entirely transparent about my role in the debate about fracking in his constituency. I paid for my own trip to Pennsylvania in September 2015 to find out more about the fracking industry as part of the learning process to better understand how it would affect the constituency of Thirsk and Malton.”
“Since then I have spoken to many different people including the Environment Agency, the Health & Safety Executive, Public Health England, Yorkshire Water, the British Geological Survey, local authorities and representatives from the industry.”
“I joined the existing APPG on shale gas in May 2015 to increase the opportunities for this dialogue. However, when it came to my attention that the administrative function of the group was funded by producers, I resigned with immediate effect.”
“Having weighed up all the arguments I have concluded that fracking should go ahead in the constituency so long as it is monitored every step of the way.”
Chris Redston said Mr Hollinrake was “the last person” to set up a new APPG to investigate the regulatory system for fracking. He said:
“He has shown many times in recent weeks that he is strongly in favour of shale gas by voting to allow fracking under National Parks and then arranging secret Westminster meetings with fracking companies.”
The “secret meeting” referred to is a summit, organised by Mr Hollinrake for early February, to which INEOS, IGas, Cuadrilla and Third Energy have been invited. It has been criticised by opponents of fracking (see DrillOrDrop report).
Russell Scott, of Frack Free North Yorkshire, said:
“This secret meeting with fracking companies has angered many people in Ryedale, where it is seen as the first stage in planning a PR offensive designed to foist fracking on an increasingly unwilling local population.”
“The fact that he has been chairing a committee funded by the same companies for the last eight months does nothing to restore his shattered credibility.”
But Mr Hollinrake defended the meeting today:
“This is not a secret meeting, as details of it have been published on the website and mentioned in correspondence with constituents. The aim of the meeting is to ask producers to develop and publish a clear, five year local plan for shale gas exploration in my constituency to share with local residents so that, if fracking goes ahead, it is properly co-ordinated and regulated.”