Legal

Investigation underway into firms accused of conflict of interest over seismic monitoring negotiations

Seismic testing Ellesmere Port Frack Free10

Picture: Ellesmere Port Frack Free

Two related firms acting on opposite sides of the table in negotiations over access for seismic monitoring are being investigated by their professional body for alleged conflict of interest.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is examining a complaint by a retired member about the activities of the similarly-named Fisher German LLP and Fisher German Priestner, also called FGP.

In a separate development, the campaign group, Frack Free Nottinghamshire, has questioned whether FGP is complying with its published policy on corporate social responsibility in facilitating shale gas exploration.

DrillOrDrop reported in August that FGP was working on behalf of the shale gas company, INEOS, to gain access for seismic monitoring in the East Midlands. Fisher German LLP, a firm of chartered surveyors and property consultants, had offered to negotiate on behalf of landowners who had been approached by FGP.

FGP, which describes itself as a specialist in the utilities and infrastructure market, was formed 10 years ago from Fisher German LLP and Claire Priestner. It said it now operated as a standalone business “with an ethos that revolves around representing the developer rather than the landowner” (website link).

But Ben Dean, an anti-fracking campaigner and retired chartered surveyor, said links remained between the companies.

In a letter to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Mr Dean said Fisher German has a 50% stake in FGP. He also pointed out that Andrew Robert Jackson, was an LLP member listed under both businesses.

In his letter sent on 4 September 2016, Mr Dean told the RICS:

“I have never come across a more blatant and evidenced conflict of interest.

“The RICS should immediately undertake a major investigation involving the police as there is clearly here the potential for criminal activity to have been undertaken.”

Mr Dean pointed to a Fisher German web page which invited landowners contacted by FGP to use Fisher German services.

fisher-german-webpage

He also referred to links between the firms in Cheshire. FGP has acted for Dart Energy, an IGas subsidiary (FGP website). Fisher German LLP acted for the owner of the Duttons Lane site at Upton, near Chester, leased to Dart Energy.

duttons-lane-1

duttons-lane-lease-2

The RICS had not replied to Mr Dean’s letter until today when it got its investigations team manager got in touch and said:

“I can confirm our Regulation Investigation team have now received your complaint and will be treating your information with high priority”.

Corporate social responsibility

The campaign group, Frack Free Nottingham, has written to the companies asking about their policy on corporate social responsibility.

FGP’s website says:

“Corporate social responsibility is fundamental in the way we do business. We are constantly aware of the needs of our employees, marketplace, community and the environment.”

But Frack Free Nottinghamshire pointed to research suggesting people may be reluctant to buy homes near shale gas sites and to fears that prices may fall as a result of fracking.

“You must surely be aware that there is now a lot of evidence that the development of unconventional gas fields damages the housing market and brings down house and other locational prices and values.

“The fall in valuation is because people anticipate a lower quality of life, health risks and more inconveniences when the gas industry is their neighbour.”

In its letter, Frack Free Nottinghamshire also raised concerns about negative effects of shale gas exploration on farming, tourism and leisure industries.

The letter continued:

“You claim to be aware of the ‘needs of the marketplace, community and environment’ yet you are helping develop an industry that will degrade the local property market, reduce the quality of life for local communities and have a major impact on the local environment – not to mention having an impact, if the industry gets beyond the exploratory phase, on the global climate system and environment.”

It asked:

“How is this compatible with your corporate social responsibility statement?”

FGP replied:

“We are satisfied that our activities on behalf of INEOS are not in conflict with our Corporate and Social Responsibility policy.

“We do not subscribe to the view that shale­ gas extraction itsel­f will negatively affect property price, in fact with payments to communities and landowners and injection of investment capital in areas, the opposite could happen. What we can say with confidence is that scaremongering has a large role to play in temporarily affecting sentiment, however as more and more of the public hear from our clients and realise the shale gas extraction industry is not the issue it is portrayed by others to be, we expect things to settle down very quickly.”

Fisher German LLP said:

“We have a large, long established client base across Nottinghamshire and North East Derbyshire where INEOS are wishing to carry out a Seismic Survey. A large number of these clients have instructed us to act for them in dealing with compensation for any damage caused to their property or crops during the Survey. Our clients will make their own decisions as to whether to allow INEOS access or not.”

DrillOrDrop asked FGP and Fisher German LLP to comment on the issues in this post. We will update with any response.

10 replies »

  1. Excellent investigative reporting by DriilOrDrop and Frack Free Nottinghamshire, thank you. I look forward to see how this develops.

  2. Having a 50% share proves professional interest. A conflict of interest clearly exists. The RICS will have to investigate whether that conflict is unethical or improper. The ‘distance’ between the two sides is substantial and there are clearly a number of potential negative outcomes. FGP will have a lot of explaining to do and the police should work with RICS during the investigation.

  3. It’s not clear to me from what I can tell if this is about doing seismic surveys for the drilling company – in which case I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a stake in surveying company (eg by INEOS) … and not sure why therefore it should be seen as a conflict of interest. INEOS has a lot to loose if they don’t use someone they know, if not a division of their own company, to build their ‘3d’ picture of the geology before fracking.

    That’s an entirely different matter to the choice of a non-partisan company to do any seismic monitoring on behalf of the EA and public (of work in progress). That’s when any developer bias would really need to be challenged.

    Which is it?

    • Hi Philip
      I’m sorry this post was unclear.
      FGP is working on behalf of INEOS to secure access to the land on which seismic surveying would be carried out by another company.
      Fisher German LLP is working on behalf of landowners who have been, or may be, approached by FGP.
      Neither FGP nor Fisher German LLP will be carrying out the seismic survey work.
      I hope that makes sense.
      Best wishes, Ruth

  4. Thanks Ruth
    That’s interesting… Could the actual land owners (not the lease holders) be manorial aristocracy or the Church of England by any chance? If so, as I understand it, they would own the mineral rights and might therefore want their own assessment done separately from the drilling companies.

    While all oil and gas is ‘crown’ or government property whoever holds the mineral rights can claim a stake on the basis that their mineral interests are being disturbed.

  5. For information: the actions of Frack Free Notts and of Ben Dean took place independent of each other. We at Frack Free Notts did not know of Ben Dean’s approach to RICS until yesterday when we read about it here, on Drill or Drop. Obviously we are delighted about what Ben Dean has got going.

    As far as FFNotts is concerned we raised the issue of how helping Ineos in seismic testing was compatible with the corporate social responsibility policies of FisherGerman and FisherGermanPriestner.

    FisherGerman replied that as they were acting for landowners and land occupiers and not for Ineos they were not concerned. (Ignoring the fact that they have an interest in FGP that is acting for Ineos – and are in a position where they could influence the actions of FGP. We did not raise the issue of conflict of interest with them but were beginning to think about this when the news broke on Drill or Drop that Ben had started doing things about this over a month ago)>

    In contrast Claire Priestner of FGP responded that they did not believe that the actions of Ineos would negatively effect the property market and implied that temporary “market sentiment” against fracking at this time was related instead largely to our “scaremongering”. Once people had real experience of Ineos operations the fear would evaporate and indeed the investment would lead to a rise in land valuations.

    I replied to this as follows (I have taken out the web references in this reproduction

    Dear Claire

    Thanks for your reply to my open letter which you sent to Mark Smido.

    According to the website of your professional organisation, RICS, in order to work to professional and ethical standards chartered surveyors should work step by step through a number of questions in what is described as a “decision tree”. The very first question in this decision tree is “Do you have sufficient facts on the issue?”. According to RICS if you do not have sufficient facts you should not proceed. (Reference given)

    We think this is an appropriate question to ask you. This is because, you have, in effect, accused us of “scaremongering” when our open letter drew attention to a large survey of peer reviewed academic literature. This large survey is in an academic study by Jake Hays and Seth B.C. Shonkoff titled “Toward an Understanding of the Environmental and Public Health Impacts of Unconventional Natural Gas Development: A Categorical Assessment of the Peer-Reviewed Scientific Literature, 2009-2015” Reference given

    Since you have ignored this in your response we will quote it for you:

    “Our results indicate that at least 685 papers have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that are relevant to assessing the impacts of Unnconventional Natural Gas Development. 84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes; 69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination; and 87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations. This paper demonstrates that the weight of the findings in the scientific literature indicates hazards and elevated risks to human health as well as possible adverse health outcomes associated with UNGD.”

    We are therefore not “scaremongering” we are drawing attention to good quality independent information. Of course it is unlikely that most people considering buying property will be aware of this academic paper specifically. However, they may be aware that the State of New York has banned fracking after a recommendation of their most senior medical official. Or perhaps they are aware that the British Medical Journal published a letter by 9 professors of medicine and 9 other senior medical personnel saying that “the arguments against fracking on public health and ecological grounds are overwhelming”. (Reference given) They may be aware that France has banned it and that there is a moratorium in Scotland to look into the issues in more depth.

    There are many sources for this “sentiment” as you call it. For example, people who might buy property may be aware about the fracking companies in the USA with whom Ineos does business because they have been in the newspapers, for example the Guardian and the Scottish Herald. Take for example the long term gas suppliers of Ineos in the USA, a company called Range Resources. This has paid nearly $15 million in pollution fines in recent years. This included an $8.9 million fine which was the biggest ever for a shale gas drilling related environmental violation in Pennsylvania as well as a $4.15 million fine for violations at 6 waste water impoundments. (Reference given)

    The same company was so confident about its safety record getting known that when it paid compensation to a family who had to abandon their farm they did so on condition of a gagging order that also applied to their children. The children were forbidden to talk about fracking for the rest of their lives. Will Ineos apply such legal tactics as its American suppliers in the UK if and when things go wrong to disturb the PR facade? (Reference given)

    The result of coming across information like this Claire, is that a lot of would-be buyers of property are put off, not by scaremongering but by facts. When they look into the facts they probably find it hard to believe that Ineos will be able to drill and frack 200 wells safely in PEDL areas which are little more than 6 miles by 6 miles square. They are likely to be sceptical that the resulting pipelines, well pads, access roads, heavy traffic and installations will be erected without disturbance or accidents leave the birds singing, the flowers growing and the air and water just as sweet and clean in spring time. If they read the papers they will probably not believe the Ineos claim that the regulators will keep them safe as they will already be aware of the failure to enforce planning regulations on fracking companies in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere – eg at Daneshill and Tinker Lane. People read newspapers Claire and many people will also have seen reference to the multiple breaches of environmental permits as well as technical failures in Yorkshire, in Lancashire and in the South of England.

    This is where “sentiment” comes from that is driving market prices Claire. Of course, there is a three wise monkeys approach to information of this sort. Refuse to see it. Refuse to hear of it and refuse to mention it. But is a 3 wise monkey’s approach “getting sufficient facts on the issue” as your ethical and professional standards require?

    As regards meeting Ineos. Ineos have buckets of money to produce glossy propaganda and paid spin doctors whereas Frack Free Notts organises through the efforts of unpaid volunteers. As a result we will decide when we engage with Ineos and we will decide on our own terms. This is an assymetric PR debate and we will choose when we want to engage. We have decided that we will take our time to analyse their spin and reply at our convenience. We are certainly not going to drop everything to go to meetings on one days notice – as happened with the invitation to meet Ineos on 2nd June. If the terms of discussion were appropriate we might decide to debate the issues with them in future public forums. In the meantime we will continue to challenge their record in writing – through the internet and through other forums. We have prepared a number of critiques of their corporate PR spin that can be found here.

    References given.

    End of quote. In Response Claire Priestner replied

    Brian

    I have previously responded and answered your queries.

    For all future queries, please forward them to Ineos.

    Kind Regards

    Claire Priestner BSc (Hons), M.R.I.C.S. F.A.A.V
    Managing Director

  6. Thanks Brian … and welcome. There’s a lot of frack propagandists around this site who don’t like facts. So now there’s you and I and just a few others over here who are eminently more qualified to comment on shale gas fracking than Jim Ratcliff (head of INEOS) who stated on Radio 4 last week “there have been no safety of environmental issues” with fracking in the USA. Those were his exact words … but what would he know!

    Here’s a compact survey of research studies from the states btw: http://sites.nicholas.duke.edu/avnervengosh/files/2011/08/EST-Review-on-hydraulic-fracturing.pdf

    • Wow Philip – for someone who has probably never even seen a drilling rig or been on a wellsite you must be a pretty amazing person. I am surprised someone like NASA isn’t head hunting you. Unfortunately it would appear that it is you who don’t like facts but love cherry picking what suits your objectives (whatever they are). You are coming over as [edited by moderator] someone who is anti industry but is happy to live a middle class life with all the frills which industry provides. [edited by moderator]

  7. “Brian
    I have previously responded and answered your queries.
    For all future queries please forward to Ineos.
    Kind Regards
    Claire Priestner. BSc (Hons), MRICS, FAAV.
    Managing Director.”

    Ms Priestner’s reply clearly demonstrates that she’s afraid her company have bitten off more than they can chew and are passing the buck to Ineos pronto.

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