The shale gas company, INEOS, has been accused of bullying landowners to allow access for geological surveys.
The company has denied the allegation. But it has confirmed that it warned the National Trust that it would take legal action if permission were refused for investigations under historic Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.
INEOS has also accepted that in communication with other landowners, its land agent used the threat of court action. The agent also referred without permission to the British Geological Survey and an independent national geophysical survey.
INEOS has the right to explore for shale gas across more than one million acres but as a condition it has to carry out seismic surveying. This involves letting off explosive charges or using specialist trucks and recording the soundwaves to provide information about local geology.
Under the Petroleum and the Mine Working (Facilities and Support) Acts, exploration companies can ask the government to take legal action against landowners who refuse access for surveying.
The role of Fisher German Priestner
In August 2016, INEOS began negotiating for survey access with landowners in the East Midlands, represented by the land agency, Fisher German Priestner (FGP).
DrillOrDrop has previously reported on FGP’s relationship with the similarly-named Fisher German, which has offered to act on the other side of the table, on behalf of landowners.
A retired chartered surveyor has complained to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) that the two companies, which share a director, risk a conflict of interest. DrillOrDrop understands the case is now the subject of an official investigation.
The latest allegations about FGP came to light in emails released under a Freedom of Information request by Greenpeace Energy Desk.
The emails reveal that the BGS received an anonymous complaint about FGP. The BGS appears concerned that the INEOS seismic surveys were being linked to the independent National Geophysical Survey and that landowners were being told they could be forced to give access under a different piece of legislation.
In an email to INEOS on 19 September 2016, the BGS wrote:
“There have been allegations of the BGS name and the geological survey act [sic] being used to bully land owners into giving access to their land. The geological survey act is not applicable to this activity – this brings into question control of the messages the land agents are providing to land owners.”
The BGS added that its name and the National Geophysical Survey (NGS) –which it co-ordinates – had been used, unapproved, by INEOS’s land agent.
“Should any of these allegations by substantiated for the BGS, not only could this jeopardise the NGS as whole, but future surveys that BGS conduct outwith the NGS. It could also risk our impartial and independent reputation and is not how we conduct our public good role.”
The BGS asked INEOS:
“Could you investigate the validity of these claims please and the messaging that your land agents are using to gain access in the East Midlands. Obviously, if your land agents are using the BGS name we would ask that you stop this as soon as possible to minimise the risk for the NGS which we are trying to launch.”
According to the emails, INEOS replied on 21 September 2016:
“We have been assured by FGP that they have been very clear that the survey being contemplated would be a INEOS survey, not carried out under the NGS. I have also been assured that they have been taking a “softly-softly” approach so We [sic] believe there has been no bullying of any kind”.
However, the email said that FGP had told landowners that INEOS had submitted an expression of interest in taking part in the NGS scheme.
“If asked they [FGP] have also been clear that if the NGS had been available earlier that INEOS would have liked to shoot the East Midlands Survey Under [sic] the NGS.
“FGP have also been clear that while INEOS’s preference is always to secure access through reasonable agreement, if necessary – for the exploration of an area – INEOS use the [sic] provided for in Petroleum and the Mine Working (Facilities and Support) Acts to ensure adequate coverage in an area.”
INEOS also suggested that the complaint had come from an opponent of shale gas explorations:
“We don’t want to give the impression that INEOS does not take allegations of this sort serious, only that we have to accept that we will be dealing with these types of allegations from people with particular agendas.”
Two days later, the BGS wrote back to INEOS, complaining that FGP had said INEOS was interested in taking part in the NGS.
“This for us is a risk as NGS/BGS are being mentioned in association with INEOS survey, especially since we have taken a decision not to participate in survey acquisition under the NGS. Non sanctioned communications regarding the NGS and BGS could jeopardise the NGS as a whole and also any future surveys that BGS may carry out. It would be appreciated if you could stop FGP using the BGS/NGS name in the East Midlands with immediate effect.”
The BGS called for an urgent meeting with FGP:
“In order for us to understand communications and reputational risk to us and to ensure that we can mitigate any risk we would like to arrange a meeting as soon as possible with FGP discuss [sic] who they have spoken to and what has been said to date. It would also be useful for us to reiterate to them that the East Midlands survey is not a part of the NGS.”
Issue raised with government
Greenpeace also revealed that INEOS had been concerned for more than a year about gaining land access for seismic surveying. In 30 October 2015, the company raised the issue at a meeting with the then business secretary, Sajid Javid.
From notes of the meeting it appears the company had proposed working through the BGS to deal with refusals of access. The notes recorded:
3D seismic survey access – we’re aware of the increasing difficult in accessing land to carry out geological (seismic) surveys. You should welcome INEOS’ leadership in proposing a solution working through the British Geological Survey; a working group is considering this proposal.
Hannah Martin, Energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said:
“Landowners, local communities and the UK public are tired of being overpowered on the issue of fracking. It is particularly concerning that INEOS appears to be using heavy handed tactics, since they were the biggest winner from the latest licensing round for fracking exploration, with 21 blocks of land across the UK. The government needs to make sure the fracking industry isn’t operating without impunity, and should be supporting clean energy technologies, like offshore wind, that will create jobs, investment and help us meet climate targets.”
INEOS issued the following statement:
“As part of being granted Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences, Ineos has obligations to carry out agreed exploration activity, including seismic. In gaining access to land for seismic surveys we have two avenues we can pursue; commercial agreement and the exercise of rights under the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966. We have discussed each of them with landowners. Rights under the Act are similar to those enjoyed by utility companies where access is required for national benefit if access is withheld by a landowner.
“Although we have had a very positive response amongst most landowners that we have approached, we anticipate that we may need to exercise those access rights in some discrete areas.
“We have indeed mentioned that the BGS could undertake seismic surveys under its powers however this was in the context that our financial offer was better than the fee the BGS would pay.
“We were invited among other companies, by the British Geological Survey in July 2016 to express interest in participating in a National Geophysical Survey and we duly expressed an interest. However it would not have applied to our East Midlands survey as the NGS survey arrangements would likely not have been concluded before we wanted to make a start.
“The BGS did write to us to ask that we did not reference the NGS in our discussions with landowners in the East Midlands and we confirmed our position with them. We have though offered to make the survey results available to the BGS under the terms that would apply if the survey had been acquired under the NGS.
“We expect to start our East Midlands survey in the next few months.”
National Trust “stands firm” over INEOS access
Today’s Sunday Times reported that the National Trust had refused access to INEOS for seismic surveying on 3,800 acres of Clumber Park.
The National Trust has a presumption against exploration for shale gas. Its external affairs director, Richard Hebditch, told the paper:
“The trust is opposed to fracking on its land and will reject any fracking requests or inquiries.”
Tom Pickering, operations director of INEOS Shale, said:
“If we cannot achieve access by negotiation, then the provisions under this act [Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966] are available to us and we would pursue them.”
Chatsworth estate update
The Chatsworth Settlement Trustees has confirmed it has given INEOS permission to conduct seismic surveys on the Scarcliffe and Staveley estates between Chesterfield and Worksop.
Jonathan Fish, the estate’s Marketing Manager told a correspondent:
“INEOS informed us that where they do not achieve access to and via negotiation, they would pursue the provisions available to them under the Mines (Working Facilities & Support) Act 1966, in order to gain access for the purpose of the survey. We have therefore agreed to the survey”.
Mr Fish continued:
“At this time, there are many questions and concerns regarding shale gas extraction. In light of this, we have no plans to permit the extraction of shale gas on our land. As an environmentally responsible organisation, will [sic] continue to monitor developments relating to energy production.”
Last year, DrillOrDrop reported that the then Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, had been preparing to take court action against three landowners on behalf of Aurora Energy Resources. The company wanted to carry out seismic testing in PEDL164 in Sefton and West Lancashire. The action was later dropped when the landowners agreed to negotiate.
One of the major landowners in that area was the Church Commissioners for England. It agreed to seismic testing on its land. But its head of responsible investment, Edward Mason, said:
“The regulatory framework for these applications is weighted in favour of the company applying, and landowners who withhold consent risk being ordered to allow access by the High Court.”