A shale gas company is offering £200 to selected residents in the area around north Nottinghamshire who allow access to their gardens for seismic surveying in preparation for fracking.
INEOS, which holds at least seven shale gas exploration blocks in the area on the border between Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, has confirmed that it usually pays £100 for access and a £100 bonus for prompt agreements.
But residents may be forgiven for becoming confused about who is acting in their interests and who is acting for INEOS.
A firm of chartered surveyors called Fisher German Priestner Limited, also known as FGP, is working for INEOS as a land agent. FGP won a contract to secure access to properties for INEOS’s forthcoming seismic surveying programme.
DrillOrDrop understands that FGP has recently written to residents about seismic surveying in INEOS’s licence blocks in Nottinghamshire. The card, pictured below, was left on a field gate in the area on the border between north-east Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. When contacted, FGP said it wanted to include the field in a seismic survey.
But a similarly-named firm of chartered surveyors, Fisher German LLP, has also written to some residents offering to act on their behalf in negotiations with INEOS.
Fisher German LLP has a 25% interest in FGP and one director sits on the board of both companies.
It now looks likely that two related companies will be on opposite sides of the table in any negotiations over access to land: FGP for INEOS and Fisher German LLP for any residents who take up its offer.
In its letter, Fisher German LLP said it had an interest in FGP but added:
“They are entirely separate businesses and we will be acting exclusively against FGP on this project, ensuring the best interests of property owners are protected”.
We asked Fisher German LLP a series of questions about its letter to residents. We asked how many people had received the letter, how did the firm know who to write to and what was its relation with FGP and INEOS Upstream. Our questions also included: What would householders who accepted the payments be required to agree to and would any payment indemnify damage caused by seismic testing?
Fisher German LLP refused to answer any of the questions. A spokesperson said:
“At this time Fisher German have no comment to make on the matter.”
DrillOrDrop put similar questions to INEOS. A company spokesperson told DrillOrDrop:
“It would appear that Fisher German LLP did a bit of test marketing of its services by sending a mailshot to less than 200 households.
“INEOS has engaged Fisher German Priestner Limited (FGP) as our managing land agent in speaking to landowners about allowing our contractors to access their property to undertake seismic surveys.
“Fisher German LLP has a non-controlling shareholding in FGP, however they are two separate legal and business entities. INEOS Upstream has no contractual relationship with Fisher German LLP in relation to approaching landowners.”
In the letter to residents Fisher German LLP said:
“When you instruct us, our professional fees will be wholly payable by INEOS Upstream Ltd.”
But the spokesperson for INEOS told DrillOrDrop:
“As these are very simple access agreements we wouldn’t expect to pay for independent advice provided to homeowners. If there was a particular issue that needed expert consideration we would discuss those costs on a case by case basis.”
The INEOS spokesperson said with large estates, farms and industrial areas a land agent would often work on the landowners’ behalf.
“It is likely that Fisher German LLP among many other firms will have such clients and act across the table from us (and FGP on our behalf) in this capacity.”
INEOS said seismic surveying on large estates and farms would involve geophones and what it called “source points for creating sound waves”. This usually involves detonating small explosive charges.
But in gardens, the company’s spokesperson said: “We would only seek to place receivers to record sound waves.”
Flat fee and bonus
“We anticipate only a small percentage of householders in an area would be asked for access to their gardens and if granted a flat fee payment is customary. The flat fee is £100 for access plus a £100 bonus if the signed paperwork is returned by a certain date. The agreement does not indemnify INEOS from liability for damage if any is caused.”
A local anti-fracking group has described the offer of money for access as “bribery”. Sheffield Against Fracking said the payment was “disgraceful”, particularly following Theresa May’s proposal to make direct payments to households in fracking areas.
A spokesperson for Sheffield Against Fracking said:
“It seems that INEOS are attempting to bribe people in north Nottinghamshire with £200 to allow their seismic surveyors into gardens to survey the area.
“This on the heels of the Governments attempt to bribe people to accept fracking. People’s wishes and fears are not being listened to and the Government’s only stance on what they are doing to the people of the UK is to act as cheerleader and PR machine for UKOOG [the industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas].”
Updated 30/8/2016 with photo of card left on a field gate in area on the border between north east Derbyshire and South Yorkshire
Updated 5/9/2016 to correct that Fisher German LLP is a firm of chartered surveyors, not a law firm.