Interview: Government must make case for onshore drilling and companies must talk to communities – industry body


Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG

The organisation representing the onshore oil and gas industry has called on the government to educate people about the country’s energy needs. It also urged the industry to “communicate effectively” with local communities.

In an interview with DrillOrDrop, Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said he expected companies would gain the trust of local communities and that support for the industry would increase when sites were developed. Transcript of interview with Ken Cronin (pdf)

But he said operators must continue to inform the public about their work – not just when they were applying for planning consent.

He said community engagement was part of the industry’s “ethos” and its “DNA”:

“We need to carry on what we’re doing in terms of meeting local communities, saying and doing what we’re meant to do in terms of monitoring etc.

“We do need to get on and show people, because I think part of trust is actually showing people you can do it.

“What they [site operators] need to do is to carry on doing what they’re doing and make sure that it’s not just for the planning application – that they move onto the community liaison groups, they give information to local people etc.”

“People will start to see industry in a more positive light”

The latest quarterly government survey of attitudes to shale gas, released after the interview, put support at a record low, of 16%, and opposition at its highest level of 33% (DrillOrDrop report).

But Mr Cronin said he expected this would change once the industry began operating.

“As time progresses, and as people understand the issues and see sites starting to be constructed and things not being as bad as they were made out to be, I think that people will start to look at it in a more positive light than maybe they have in the past.

“I think the trust in the industry is growing, I think the industry is doing a much better job in terms of local communications, and that’s improved steadily over the last three or four years.

“On the other side, I think there are still certain fears that the local communities have, particularly around some of the really local issues, so transport, noise, light, air emissions, and then there are the fears that have been propagated by some of the anti groups, which we try very hard to give proper factual information against.

“I think trust works over a very long period of time, and the industry has to continue to communicate with local people.  They have to continue that communication, whether it’s with local liaison groups as operations start, they have to ensure that information gets out there.”

Asked which of his opponents’ arguments worried him most, Mr Cronin said it was claims about health.

“It’s not because of the impact it has on us; it’s the fear that they put people in, and I think that’s wrong to put people into that fearing position.

“All of the evidence in terms of the UK-based research that’s been done have said that a properly regulated industry will have limited or no impacts on the environment and health.”

He said the industry had operated “happily” across the UK over the past 40-60 years.

“We have built the social licence in those areas and we will build the social licence in the areas that we are working in now.”

He said questions asked in the public attitude survey lacked context about where hydrocarbons came from and how electricity was generated.

“Part of what we need to do moving forward, particularly as climate change has become so important, is give people information about where things come from and how we use them.

“Government and industry, but government in particular, need to start making people aware of where our energy comes from.

“We have a growing problem with imports and that’s not just gas, it’s electricity, heating, cars.  Our import dependency has increased by 57% since the year 2000.  I think we need to get that message out there more about why we’re doing this and why it’s important.”

“Bewildering regulation”

regulator logos

The Conservative manifesto included the proposal for a single regulator for the shale gas industry. Mr Cronin said he had questions over how the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency, in particular, could be integrated into a single authority.

“The evidence that has come out of the industry over the years has shown that health and safety should be quite separate.

“The EA, for example, doesn’t work on a sectoral basis.  It works on either a regional basis or a discipline basis.  There is a group for groundwater that looks after all sectors.  Having one regulator will disrupt that.”

“The devil is in the detail”, he said.

“Quite a lot of the Conservative Party manifesto needs to fleshed out.  I think the one regulator issue is something that certainly does need to be fleshed out.”

Asked why some opponents of shale gas did not trust the industry regulators, Mr Cronin said:

“I don’t think it’s because people are not confident of the regulator, I think it’s just the fact that it’s a bewildering number [of organisations] and people want to talk to somebody face-to-face that understands the whole of that regulatory system.”

The proposal for a single regulator was not in the Queen’s Speech. Nor were related ideas of making non-fracking drilling plans a permitted development and classing major fracking developments as national infrastructure projects, taking them out of local authority control.

But Mr Cronin said their absence from the Queen’s Speech did not mean they had been abandoned by the government. He said the industry would be asking parliament to look at the issues.

On permitted development, he said:

“A lot more detail is required in terms of that, but I can see, for example, where you have an existing site of four or five wells, some form of permitted development that allowed another well to be drilled, for example, because you’ve got an existing site.

“It would be helpful in terms of existing sites, and I think we would need to have a discussion about brand new sites.”

He also said commercial shale gas production should be treated as a national infrastructure project, in the same way that nuclear facilities had been.

“Planning taking longer and longer”

Mr Cronin said he had concerns about the length of the planning process for onshore oil and gas projects.

“The planning process does appear to be getting longer and longer and longer. Three or four years ago we were able to get a planning permission for a simple well through in three or four months.  It’s now taking a year and a bit.

“That is unhelpful for us, it’s unhelpful for the councils because it becomes a much bigger chore and more expensive, and I don’t think it’s very helpful to local communities that it’s going on and on and on.”


Horse Hill in Surrey, where a planning application for extended flow testing is expected to be decided in the autumn, nearly a year after it was submitted. Photo: Eddie Mitchell

He attributed the length of the process to what he called “last minute challenges” and the “extremely detailed” work of planning officers and councillors.

“I think we just need to take a long hard look at this and go through why it is taking so long, and I think part of it does come down to this understanding between the regulatory auspices of each regulator and if we could better understand that, put that down on paper, that would be part of the solution.

“What we need to do is to try and find a way of getting people to agree or to understand where those demarcations lie so that everyone concerned can use their time efficiently.”

“Positive year”

The past 12 months had been “quite positive” for the onshore industry, Mr Cronin said.

“We now have sites in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Nottingham that are either in the process or ready to go into the process, so I think that’s very positive.”

He also said he was excited about proposals to explore for Kimmeridge oil in the Weald in southern England.

“We also have a number of sites starting to go into planning in terms of INEOS in Derbyshire and Rotherham, which again I think is good, and on the conventional side, we’ve seen a number of conventional projects taking place – Horse Hill, Broadford Bridge, the Angus site at Brockham.”

In the next 12 months he said:

“We should see results coming out of all three of those sites I mentioned, in terms of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottingham.  The hydraulic fracturing operations in Yorkshire and Lancashire are going to be hugely pored over by the geologists and geo-scientists to see what kind of results we get.

“I think the next twelve months also will map out a little bit more about what we understand is in the Kimmeridge on the conventional side.”

You can read the Transcript of interview with Ken Cronin (pdf)  for his thoughts on other issues, including:

  • Arguments made by opponents of shale gas
  • Role of gas as a transition and destination fuel
  • Planning for need
  • Cutting emissions
  • Choice of sites
  • North Yorkshire Minerals Plan











21 replies »

  1. “Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said he expected companies would gain the trust of local communities and that support for the industry would increase when sites were developed”

    He said community engagement was part of the industry’s “ethos” and its “DNA”:

    I think the word is “delusional” isn’t it?

  2. He might want to educate Francis Egan and Cuadrilla on effective communication with the local community, they clearly lost the memo!

  3. Ken Cronin said:

    (b) That energy mix will change over time, but the reality of where we are now is: renewables are increasing; gas is increasing; coal is going down and there’s a question mark about nuclear, and that’s in power.

    Gas consumption has DECREASED over the last 20 years, not increased, with domestic use falling to levels below that of 1991 consumption. Industrial use has fallen to below 1973 level. Services’ use has fallen to below 1987 levels. Since 1973, electricity generation using gas increased 35-fold from 1973 and other consumption by other energy industries has increased 7 fold, but over the last 6 years these have both fallen to below 1999 levels.

    Historical gas consumption 1973 to 2016.

    Year Town Domestic Industrial Electricity Other energy Services (c) Total
    gas generators industries

    1973 68,286 94,515 125,552* 8,453 12,514 68,286 319,917
    1987 322 307,578 164,442 2,415 43,743 95,746* 614,247
    1991 333,963* 157,932 6,650 41,472 101,746 641,763
    1996 375,841 177,794 201,969 65,336 117,908 938,848*
    1999 358,066 190,415 315,493* 102,502* 106,487 1,072,963
    2010 389,595 117,358 377,116 108,699 101,598 1,094,366
    2016 311,375* 103,106* 297,643* 89,288* 95,115* 896,527*

    No wonder that the British public have no faith in the fracking industry, with support at an all time low of 16%, when data is misrepresented by the onshore oil and gas industry in the name of shale gas development.

    • Lock the Gate, Lancs
      While gas consumption has decreased as you note, since 2014 it has increased in the power generation sector by some 20%. This to replace coal. The consumption in other sectors continues to decrease, although cold winters such as 2010 cause spikes as would any such event.
      The increase in the power generation sector has caused gas consumption to increase overall since 2014 by more than 15%, with no severe winter in that period.
      So, looks like gas use is increasing both in total and as a % of the energy mix.
      How much more and for how long depends on electricity demand and gas power station availability. But more gas will be required it seems to replace all coal.

      In the PDF doc of the interview, as per the section you highlight, I do not see a misrepresentation of past gas consumption data, rather view on forward demand, in the context of the energy mix.

      Data source. DOE Energy Consumption in the U.K., 2017 update, table 1.10

      • I understand the government’s own figures state offshore wind will be providing well over 50% of UK power by 2035. Mainly from the huge two planned and phased North Sea projects. Surely with solar, nuclear, biomass, hydro etc, wouldn’t that mean the amount of gas in the mix will be actually declining? And isn’t this why the argument for fracking shifted from “keeping the lights on” to heating homes and chemical feedstock?

        • KatT
          Sorry for the late reply. Just cleaning up the mail!
          Yes, you would expect gas to reduce, but it has displaced coal in the mix. Hence the recent rise in use.
          How much it drops next will depend on remaining coal fired use and nuclear availability. Plus cold windless winters. This is all power generation use of course. Domestic use is more resilient it seems as even though wind power etc is getting cheaper, gas fired heating remains cheaper than electric.
          To move from gas to electric heating for the home is a big jump.

  4. It takes a minimum of two to communicate. Don’t have to look too far on this site to see a preference for a monologue, but public will demand that ceases as and when they see there is something in it for them. Whilst they don’t, they will let things roll, but not then. There are plenty of examples to prove that, but not sure the antis are interested.

    • Ken Cronin desperate to try and put a positive spin on a non starter industry with no viable market and plummeting support. He will know the latest Government polls showing public support still dropping but still puts on a brave face.
      Nice try but complete nonsense.
      I wonder if he has explained to the Government how he would like to stop importing from Norway and loose our £1.5 billion annual trade deal with Qatar?
      I presume he drives a Morris Marina. He wouldn’t want to drive anything imported or get involved with anything Chinese.

      • Response from a local Councillor who attended one of Cuadrilla’s early attempts to win over the public.

        Following my attendance of the meeting 13th February 2013 held by Cranfield University and arranged as the second of two such events that claimed to be ‘Public Consultation’ meetings, I felt compelled to challenge the methodology of the consultation process. It was claimed that the reason for the small number of people involved, was that it was the most effective way of ‘cascading’ information down to the local community, through the members present.

        The very fact that some of those elected members present were in turn asking Cranfield University who was going to ‘consult’ with the wider community, palpably demonstrates the major flaw in the process.
        A total of Twelve elected members were invited, but not all attended, which again erodes the efficiency of the ‘cascade’ method of consultation.
        Put simply, if no information cascades down to the wider public, how can the public have any meaningful input back? If Cranfield University feel that the elected members present were sufficiently well informed about the risks as to accurately represent the public on their behalf, then any reasonable minded person present would be able to confirm from the questions raised that this was not the case.

        As an exercises in consultation, it is difficult to try and think of something less effective in terms of engaging the public and to use this method to set the standard for further Environmental Risk Assessments hardly inspires confidence in the Industry’s commitment to responsible working practises.

  5. Win over the public? Community engagement part of the industry’s “ethos” and its “DNA”? Don’t make me laugh.
    At Woodsetts in South Yorkshire, the first the villagers knew about the potential drilling site was when they saw injunction notices being put up around the field.

  6. Note Ken Cronin says trust is gained over a long period of time, which to me could be interpreted as judge us when the industry is a long way down the road i.e. with many hundreds of wells drilled. He also says the public will realise that fracking isn’t so bad once they see these first sites. But here we have the problem and a shining example of exactly why the public does not trust this industry. If all that was required was the odd well drilled here and there, I doubt there would be such huge opposition to the industry (climate change aside). But we know that a few exploratory wells is not the reality of fracking. Those that oppose fracking know that an established, viable industry requires many thousands of wells, pipes and infrastructure etc. So on the one hand it seems he wants the public to judge fracking based upon a few exploratory wells, which is not a true representation of the industry but then at the same time we are expected to allow the industry to build public trust as they merrily drill hundreds of wells. Thus allowing the industry to become established and then whether you trust the industry of not make it very difficult for the public to stop/influence.
    The industry has never been honest with the public, never been upfront about what and established industry really would entail. What infrastructure will be necessary, how the huge volume of waste will be dealt with. The public was assured by Andrea Leadsom that there would be no wells drilled at the edge of villages, only to find out later that Ineos propose to drill less than 200m from a village primary school. Similarly the public were assured industry would respect a communities wishes only to be subsequently informed that they will use legal powers to drill on land even if the landowner refuses access.
    On current performance, [edited by moderator] Cuadrilla have committed breaches to planning regulations and conditions and in the case of Cuadrilla many times over. In addition, the industry has lobbied government for more favourable planning controls, including the outrageous permitted development right proposals and to roll back climate change targets post Brexit. It is no wonder the public do not trust this industry and their public relations campaign and monetary incentives have been nothing short of a complete failure.

    • KatT
      Which Ineos well is less than 200m from a village primary school?
      Marsh Lane looks not to be and Harthill likewise.

      • hewes62 – many thanks for pointing this out, it is in fact 400m – but I stand by my original comments. 400m from a school and homes is unacceptable and completely ignores the concerns of the community. Studies in the US have been mixed but many consider a much greater set back for blast zone risk alone is required. Most people consider a fracking pad should be nowhere near a school.

        • KatT
          It’s 800m to the school, but only 300m to a farm and 400m to housing. It will be interesting to see what blast zone is considered suitable for a UK frack well.

  7. So Sherwulfe, you feel that only worthwhile to have a dialogue with someone where “you speak the same speak, think the same things.” Thanks for proving my point.
    I suspect Ken, rightly or wrongly, feels that the two thirds are more open minded.

  8. I have just re read the extended interview pdf, and would just like to point out with regard to Ken Cronin’s comments regarding the definition of fracking as contained in the Infrastructure Act, where he states for HVHF (a frack must use 10000 cubic metres or more of liquid) is a European definition. However, what Ken Cronin fails to state is that it was the UK i.e. David Cameron that lobbied and secured this definition. Make no mistake the industry wants the Infrastructure Act definition used in the Yorkshire Plan because it provides a huge loophole for them to exploit. This loophole would mean almost half the unconventional wells drilled and fracked in the US would not be classed as fracking. This loophole does not just have implications for protected areas but could a “non fracking well” under permitted development rights also use the Act’s definition, thus allowing widespread fracking? Who knows? Another prime example of why we cannot trust this industry one jot. And in terms of planning, a development plan does not have to use the Act’s definition to describe the fracking process of the development it is controlling. So well done to the joint authorities for not letting this loophole be exploited through the plan.

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